Sep
2009

“Where Do We Draw the Line Between Opinion and News?”

Dogfish60 asked in her blog this week, “Where do we draw the line between opinion and news?” The posting goes on to ask ” how do we know where one begins and the other starts?” This really got me thinking. In some cases, it does seem clear to most of us, but in other cases we need to make the line more clear.

These days the cable news networks have dressed up talking heads like Bill O’Reilly, Glenn Beck, Kieth Olberman, and Nancy Grace into looking like news shows, but in reality they display anything but news, these shows are simply entertainment shows that cloud themselves in a vail of news. They appeal to a demographic that can’t distinguish the difference between news and the entertainment of opinion. With 24-hours a day to fill, cable news networks are desperate to hold viewers attention and stay on the air. Simply reporting the news just doesn’t cut it in the cable news world. As it is most 24-hour networks only give you headlines at the top of the hour.

Because of this, we live in an age when the most trusted name in news is Jon Stewart, according to a recent online poll taken by TIME magazine. While I personally love Jon Stewart and never miss The Daily Show, at the end of the day, he is a comedian doing satire. I will be the first to admit his show does highlight more issues than a normal broadcast like NBC news might, but that says more about network news than it does Jon. So the question is, do broadcast journalists need to be more entertaining in order to not lose viewers? Certainly that’s what we seem to expect on the web. As Burns writes that wikinews can’t make it in the world without more flash, or specifically entertainment value, life opinions.

Less and less people watch the news anymore, this is both on a local level and on a network (or national) level. There are many more options today for people to get their news. Certainly the Internet offers a great many options, but the 24-hour news channels are also choking the local news too. In my newsroom we get more calls and emails today questioning our position on a story. We report the news. The moment we start sharing our opinions on the news we lose our credibility. So to me Wikinews not allowing commenting gives them credibility. Comments on web stories can be very vulgar and vicious. A great deal of time is spent in my newsroom policing the obscene comments posted on our site.

Getting back to cable news channels, I would love to see a graphic before shows like Nancy Grace and Glenn beck and all the others that states clearly for the viewer, “The following in an entertainment show, and should not be considered a news broadcast.” Maybe that would make things more clear.