From the Editor: Fair and Balanced

September 25, 2008

by Rebekah Ray

C___onvincing you with this column will not prove effective, but I do not intend to focus every piece I write for this section on “the news.”

Recently, though, several discussions have been swirling around me concerning partisanship in the media, and I have been itching to put in my uninterrupted two cents.

So far the main ideas in question have boiled down to these: what is the role of a journalist? and what role should opinion play in journalism?

A post from a student in History 495 (see “Decision 2008,” page 3) unknowingly provided me with the perfect discussion opener.

GoGreen wrote, “Republicans have so worked the refs (the so-called ‘liberal media’) over the past few decades that commentators go to absurd lengths to appear balanced.”

GoGreen went on to name a journalist and specific interview, then wrote, “[The journalist] conducted it as a ‘he said, she said’ whereby each person got to tell their interpretation of the comment. She didn’t challenge them or provide any analysis of her own.”

GoGreen quite staunchly opposes almost all of my opinions on the role of journalism and the role of the journalist.

If you agree with GoGreen that journalists should provide insight or commentary in interviews, tell me: at what point does it become inappropriate for journalists to insert their analyses? How familiar with the subject do they have to be to comment? What types of remarks are acceptable?

Oh, that we might return to the time when an interview posed a straightforward set of questions in order to allow the source’s answers to be heard in a public arena.

Don’t misunderstand my point, though; I am not making a plea for simple interviews. Hard questions must be asked, and interviewers should craftily construct queries that demand well-worded, truthful answers. But when an interviewer pushes the same question over and over because the source does not provide an answer the interviewer wants to hear, I change the channel.
If an interviewer goes into a Q-and-A session gunning for particular answers, she or he is much more apt find a way to force those words out of the source. I prefer for my information to come from the source, not the source as-guided-by-the-media.

Journalists’ opinions have their place-here, in columns, and on the editorial page (see page 4), but not in hard news.

Journalism may have multiple roles in culture and responsibilities to society, but its main prerogative should always be the straightforward relaying of information.

This is journalism at its purest, a medium which conveys or relays information in as untainted a fashion as possible, undirected by government, not driven by personal ambition or opinion, but honestly conveying information to the public.

The more journalists get by with sneaking opinion into news pieces, the more we run the danger of seeing our media converted into a propaganda outlet.

No journalist should or can be perfectly unbiased to the core. If one is, someone should check his or her vitals for signs of life. I do not believe any individual can have a genuine, active, engaging approach to politics or any other type of news or element of culture unless she or he holds an opinion about it.

But to fulfill the positions they have chosen, journalists have to remove themselves from their opinions as much as possible. The American people watching, listening and reading should base their decisions on the facts relayed by journalists, not parts of a story that have been created or sensationalized by members of the media.

I cannot stress enough how important it is to remember it is not the job of the media to inject their opinions into news or analyses into interviews, but to provide truthful, factual, investigated information to the people.

Rebekah Ray is a senior journalism major from Martin, Tenn., and serves as editor of The Tech Talk. E-mail comments to rlr017@latech.edu.