Editorializing is killing journalism

As I cruise cable news, I generally watch “Smerconish” – a Saturday morning offering on CNN.  Like virtually every personality and panelists you see on CNN, Michael Smerconish has a leftward political lean – but his tends to be much more balanced than the other program hosts.

On this particular occasion, Smerconish discussed newspaper editorializing – something radio and television gave up years ago.  The topic centered on the division between editorializing and reporting.

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The Fourth Estate has long claimed that there is a firewall between the street reporters and the folks formulating editorial opinions. As the theory goes, the former only focus on the facts in a balanced manner – reporting objectively on both sides of an issue.  That claim has never been true, and separation of news and opinion is virtually non-existent today.  The reporting staff of major newspapers are all over cable news as analysts – rending more opinion than reporting.  The modern-day reporters are the lead editorialists and spin doctors.

Even worse, they express their opinions as if they were facts.  They are right, you are wrong.  They are smart, you are stupid – or worse.

As guest on his show, Smerconish had David Haynes of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel – a publication that no longer endorses candidates.  Haynes said that such endorsements have very little impact on influencing voters – something we political consultant-types have known for years.  Remember that Hillary Clinton had a lopsided majority of the newspaper endorsements — more than any presidential candidate in history.  But Donald Trump became President of the United States.

Haynes  also argued that readers were increasingly confusing opinion and commentary with news reporting.  Smerconish agreed, saying that the journalism well has been “poisoned” by excessive opinionating by reporters.  He added that it is increasingly more difficult for readers “to discern that which is opinion from that which is straight news.”  That is largely because traditional reporting has been abandoned.

The opinion-as-news problem is exacerbated by the fact that cable news features a very small clique of east coast reporters as regulars on their broadcasts.  In fact, they embrace them as partners with such titles as “contributor,” “analyst” and “regular panelist.”  Often these “guest journalists” take over the hosting chair when the regular host is taking time off.  What passes off for news today is news personalities interviewing other journalists – and only from a few select outlets within the elitist east coast media bubble.

At one time, New York Times management said that they did not want their reporters appearing on cable opinion and commentary programs since it undermines their credibility.  The thought was correct, but it has not had any apparent effect on the daily appearances of Times reporters on virtually every left-leaning program on CNN and MSNBC.

John McCormick, editorial editor for the Chicago Tribune, all but admitted – albeit unintentionally – that opinion influences the news side of the publication.  Writing in the Columbia Journalism Review in January of 2017, he said (emphasis added):

“Swaying voters is only one reason for endorsing [candidates], and arguably not the most important.  Every few years, endorsements bring the publication to a full stop.  They explain to the world what the publication is, what it advocates, how it thinks, what principles it holds dear.”

McCormick seems to be saying that the editorial side drives the view of the entire publication.  That is no secret.  Reporters are hired because of their compatibility with the editorial policy of the news outlet – and they write and report according to that bias.  The more biased the management and editorialists, the more biased the reporting.  News analysis has now led to preconceived narratives that bend both reporting and truth.  That is propaganda – not journalism.

While the news media tends to be smug in their self-assessments and pompous in their sense of self-importance, the corruption of journalistic ethics and standards has left the mainstream news media with a low regard from the American public.  Every poll and academic study show that as the media has become more biased and politicized they are less trusted by the public.

Politicians and journalists often express chagrin that so much of the information consumed by the public comes from social media – which they claim is plagued with inaccuracies.  But it is the mainstream media that may be driving folks to social media because they find the traditional press to be even less reliable.

So, there ‘tis.