Stick to the Facts!

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I’ve alway loved to write. As a child I often created little newspapers that I crafted on eight by ten sheets of paper. I didn’t have access to a typewriter so I carefully printed the words and headlines. Sometimes I even drew illustrations to go with the stories. I imagined myself one day being a journalist for one of the major newspapers or magazines, so when I got the opportunity to be on the staff of my high school newspaper I leapt at the chance. 

By the time I was a senior I was a seasoned reporter. More than anything I wanted to be the editor-in-chief of our student publication. To my dismay that honor was given to a young man. In retrospect it was probably a wise move on the part of our sponsor because at that point in my life I was still lacking in the confidence needed to lead a staff of students with varied personalities, talents and work ethics. It would be later when I learned how to diplomatically get things done. Nonetheless, I had firm opinions about things even then. I had so desperately wanted to write the editorial pieces that were the favorites of the students. Instead I became the news editor, an honor only in that I was in charge of the front page.

I was filled with visions of becoming the next best-selling author of fiction back then. I saw myself more as a poet laureate than a newsie, but there I was. My creative bent was hemmed in by the realization that news should only contain facts, not opinions. It all seemed so sterile, but I kept the pledge to keep editorials out of the stories that I featured. 

In today’s world of journalism there are outlets that call themselves providers of news when they sprinkle opinions throughout their stories without noting that they are simply editorials. I have to say that I prefer the old days when news and opinion pieces were clearly delineated. I want to read or hear the who, what, when, where and why of a news story. Viewpoints belong on another page or in another venue and should always be presented as such. 

Back when I was a cub reporter Walter Cronkite was the master of reporting. I can only think of a few times when he lost his cool and uttered his personal opinions. Usually he simply used the old school rules of keeping the public informed of what had happened without any kind of prejudice. We never really knew what he actually thought about anything until his voice cracked and he shed a few tears on the occasion of President John Kennedy’s death. 

I doubt that I am alone in thinking that all of the talk, talk, talk on virtually every single channel purporting to deliver the news is tinged with bias of one kind or another. I don’t mind shows that advertise themselves as a haven for differing viewpoints, but when those things tinge the reporting of various events I grow angry. I think that many of the problems plague the world today derive from the propaganda that is flooding our airwaves and printed information. We used to be more forthright about what was news and what was nothing more than a personal way of looking at things. This blurring of reality is literally confusing people and making our world sick. People have a general distrust of the media because stories are so often presented in ways designed to skew them toward one belief or another. 

A perfect example is the reporting of a disaster. The news should simply give the pertinent details of what happened, where it happened and to whom it happened. Any theories about blame or negligence and so forth needs to be clearly labeled as opinion. This was once the way we did things and it worked out well. Firing Line was created to provide a venue for debates from the various sides of an issue. The Sunday morning shows provided the same kind of discussions, but in an earlier time the hosts of the programs did not interrupt or debate the guests who spoke. If there was bias it was miniscule. 

Today editorials and opinion pieces dominate the airwaves and creep into printed matter. I don’t mind such things when they are clearly described as what they are.The PBS Newshour has a feature each Friday evening that allows David Brooks and Jonathan Capehart to discuss their political beliefs on different topics. It is clearly identified as an editorial part of the programming. This, to me, is the way it should always be done. Instead we hear about totally slanted news outlets as being “fair and balanced” when the reporting all day long is filled with editorials. Little wonder that we hear so many complaining about fake news. Unless a person takes the time to do extended research it’s often difficult to determine what is fact and what is opinion.

The voices of newspapers, magazines, television and radio that used to be our source of information have all too often become megaphones for political ideologies and even hoaxes and conspiracy theories. Little wonder that we the people are at odds with one another even when it comes to our safety and health. When a renowned medical doctor is accused of being part of some deep state darkness, we have to know that our reporting systems have jumped the shark. Too much of what we read and hear is little more than a tool for some particular point of view. Thus we politicize even the diagnoses and treatments of our healthcare community. We demonize our teachers and our schools without taking the time to actually know and understand what is happening in them. We distort the meaning of a democratic republic and the definition of liberty. 

I ultimately enjoyed my time as the news editor of my high school newspaper. Sometimes my creative side felt a bit constrained by just reporting the facts, so I played with the fonts of the headlines and the overall look of the front page. What I never did was allow the editorials to creep onto that page. I understood the importance of knowing the difference between reporting and inserting opinions. Today’s media would do well to get that straight as well. They might want to study Walter Cronkite to see how much better news is when it just sticks to the facts.   

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