The Politics of a News Story

A popular critique of current media, one which I shared, was the editorial natures of broadcasts and reporting (an editorial being an analysis and opinion piece).  People say they want unbiased factual reporting.  Just the events and relevant details without injections of opinion, analysis or speculation.  We, people, can arrive at our own judgments given the facts.  There are at least two problems with this position.  

One, is that determining what is relevant to report, and the words and organization of how to report it, involve judgments on the part of the reporter or editor.  But, let’s assume that the reporter and editor are aware of this and so use the most general and universal language to describe an event.  For example, “He said” rather than “He sneered”.  In essence, the reporter avoids adjectives and singularly descriptive verbs that necessarily invoke an emotional response.

The second problem, is that by trying to be as “objective” or “impartial” as possible, the reporter leaves out many relevant details and descriptions that a fair-minded reader would need in order to make a judgment on the rightness or wrongness of the behaviors of the subjects involved in the story.  By being non-descriptive, the reporter leaves these value judgments open to the reader.  Isn’t this a good thing?  Well, no.  Without relevant details to base value judgments on, the reader either resorts to their partisan affiliation to judge guilt and innocence based on the identity of the parties involved; or the person who values bland, boring compromise believes justice must reside equidistant between the partisan views; or the cynic abstains and withdraws from participating at all.

In this sense, by adhering to a method of journalism which refuses to offer value judgments, the reporter is leaving the gates open to partisan conflict and preconceived notions of justice.  While this may promote factual accuracy, it doesn’t promote justice, which is what citizens are generally and genuinely concerned with.  In this sense, such journalism fails to promote moral truth (which is a disputed concept) and as such frustrates readers as well.  It is not that the public needs to accept the moral judgment of the reporter as absolute, but they need morally relevant details which the reporter juxtaposes against countervailing positions.

In sum, this type of journalism, in the opinion of professor Paul H. Weaver, thwarts the type of opinion, “…which attempts to understand the world of events from a comprehensive rather than partial viewpoint, which is committed to intellectual honesty rather than to simplistic preconception…In the nation as a whole, then, this [type of reporting] encouraged needless conflict (among the various parties) and mindless consensus (among the groups of partisans), and to this extent it [is] an instrument of political drift rather than public mastery of events.”

Source: “The Politics of a News Story”, Paul H. Weaver  (Mass Media and Modern Democracy, edited by Harry M. Clor.  Rand McNally Public Affairs Series, 1974)
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