Telling people I am working towards becoming a journalist is usually met with one of two responses: praise for my aspirations and a comment about the need for “good journalism” or a shake of the head, telling me not to work for one of those mainstream news outlets everyone seems to hate. I usually respond with an awkward laugh, thinking to myself, “who does this nimwit think they are, giving me advice about something they know nothing about?”
I agree, “good journalism” is important for obvious reasons and there is plenty of “bad journalism” out there. But I think the real problem lies in the difficulty to differentiate between traditional reporting and opinion journalism.
The news you see on TV is hardly ever pure reporting, the personalities on those mainstream news outlets are called commentators for a reason. They get fed information from people out on the field doing the real reporting, read from a script usually written by someone else, and then offer their comments on the events that are making headlines.
Though it is totally reasonable—sometimes even desirable—for this type of journalism to be met with anger and disagreement, to say that these journalists are doing a bad job for voicing their opinion is insulting. Insulting to opinion journalists and traditional journalists that are out there, everywhere, working hard to make sure the public is informed.
Traditional journalists are taught to write objectively, even though total objectivity is impossible because our personal beliefs naturally shine through in what we choose to write about and how we write about it. Nonetheless, to the best of their ability, they present their audience with the facts. But how is someone with little knowledge of a subject expect to know what to think when presented with pure facts? This is why opinion journalism is important.
Have you ever read an article about something you knew very little about and were left questioning what to do with the information you just absorbed? Sometimes I end up reading the comments to see other people’s reactions to help formulate my own thoughts. This is the purpose of opinion journalism, to facilitate the thought process.
Opinions aren’t meant to be taken as fact. They are meant to spark debates in hope that those debates will lead to social change. Personally, I believe that the better the journalist, the more people will disagree with them.