Sep 10

The case for a point of view

It’s time to retire the exhausted idea that the best journalism separates “fact” and “opinion”. The invaluable weekly roundup from NiemanLab carries (second item here) a summary of the current debate inside the US about the rival claims of neutrality for journalists against the growing number of voices arguing for reporters doing their work from an openly-declared point of view.

Calling this the “exodus from objectivity” (a perhaps partial description in itself), the note underlines that people leaving jobs in mainstream media for ones in new media are now citing the lack of freedom imposed by neutrality rules in reporting. NYU professor Jay Rosen, who has been writing about this for years, said that “centrist detachment” was now so unpopular that it is driving talent away from traditional newsrooms .

I say “current” debate because of course this has been an intermittent issue for journalists since anything called journalism began. I say “inside the US” because if you read this American discussion from anywhere else in the world, as I do, the missing element in US argument is any sense of how this goes anywhere else in the world.

Try the British perspective for size. In Britain, the first newspapers grew from partisan newsheets; ideas of civic responsibility or inclusiveness weren’t uppermost in the minds of most editors and publishers. By the twentieth century newspapers had become more serious-minded, sober and influential. But even so, the separation of “fact” and “comment” was never as strict as that enforced (or at least declared) at US papers. Reporters on British quality papers, depending on their experience and seniority, were and are expected to make sense of the facts they report.

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