9 July, 2010 — Editors Weblog – TechCrunch
In a recent article, Michael Arrington, writing for TechCrunch, argues that journalists should openly express their opinions and biases, despite the longstanding idea that journalists should hide their political biases. This argument by Arrington comes on the heels of CNN’s firing of Octavia Nasr because of a controversial tweet and the forced resignation of Helen Thomas because of her statements about Israel. ‘I think journalists have the right to express their opinions on the topics they cover,’ he writes. ‘More importantly, I think readers have a right to know what those opinions are.’
Arrington points to a particular conversation he had with one journalist who refused to state his political party outright. While this journalist felt that hiding his bias would allow him to maintain public credibility, Arrington argues that it is ‘necessary for people to know his political biases in order to understand his content in context.’
Moreover, Arrington points out that so-called unbiased articles are really just opinion pieces masquerading as objective reporting. He writes: ‘an added adjective here, an added paragraph there, just the right quote from a source and voilà, you’ve got yourself an opinion piece masked as a straight up unbiased piece of reporting.’
Also, after the advent of the Internet, many journals were left asking themselves if they should go in a more opinionated direction to satisfy readers’ inclination toward more overtly opinionated articles.
Rather than striving toward honest journalism, Arrington argues that journalists twist the words of their sources to fit their argument. He writes: ‘Pretending that you’re writing one story when you’re really writing another, and then twisting what your sources tell you to fit whatever it is that your editor told you to write isn’t ethical journalism.’
While journalists may try to minimize their political bias, completely eradicating opinions from their writings is practically impossible. Journalists’ writings are inextricably attached to their opinions, whether or not they realize or acknowledge it. And Arrington in right: advertising articles that are inherently biased as completely objective journalism is unethical. In subscribing to the idea that journalists aren’t biased, readers are only getting half of the story.
If given a context, (i.e. political opinion) readers would be better equipped to differentiate between fact and opinion. Media (writing, photographs, even tweets) is an imperfect medium: given that it is created and perpetuated by humans, it will always be biased. Yet, the recent firings of Thomas and Nasr signify that the media industry clearly has no interest in the personal opinions of journalists. Yet pretending that omnipresent journalistic bias doesn’t exist is not only dangerous, it is also hardly the way to go about striving toward ethical journalism.
As Arrington concludes, for the future of journalism, ‘here’s hoping we’ll start to get those deep, dark opinions out in the open for everyone to see.’