Journalism isn’t punditry
By Patrick Vaillancourt, News Editor
The only truly individual thing about each of us stems from our ability to formulate our own opinions on any number of issues we deem worthy of our attention. It’s fortunate that we here in Canada have the right to express our thoughts and participate in a lively exchange of ideas. This is evidenced by this very article and that of Mr. Chan, who has taken a contrary position to the one I’m about to express.
It is, however, an objective reporting of facts and events that makes it possible for one to formulate an opinion that enhances the level of discourse in a society. Journalism, at its finest, presents someone with the facts and allows them to formulate their own conclusions and opinions. Opinion passed off as news isn’t journalism at all—it’s punditry.
Allow me to illustrate my point with a well-known example.
Barack Obama was elected in 2008 to be the 44th President of the United States. Prior to and immediately following his election, American talk personalities, such as Rush Limbaugh, took to the airwaves making irresponsible and untrue claims about Obama’s birthplace—despite the widely reported fact that Obama is an American-born citizen. The place of Obama’s birth had been objectively determined when the media began publishing copies of his Hawaiian birth certificate. The pundits, however, fuelled by partisan political purposes and the promise of media attention, continued to impress upon Americans that their opinion (that Obama was not constitutionally eligible for the presidency) could be passed off as news.
News at its purest is the quest for truth, no matter where it leads. Ordinary people rely on this information for a variety of purposes, including the formulation of an opinion on any given subject. It’s for this reason that stories passed off as news must be factual and up to date.
In the example above, the opinions of right-wing ideologues were delivered to media consumers as news items, sparking a nationwide debate in America about their president’s legitimacy.
No doubt, my friend and colleague will argue that news stories cannot be truly objective; that humankind doesn’t have the ability to present an unbiased version of events; and that news is only as objective as the source telling of the story.
Alex Jones, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, distinguished between objectivity and bias, saying that “objectivity does not require that journalists be blank slates free of bias. In fact, objectivity is necessary because they are biased.”
I’m as biased as they come. I’m a card-carrying member of the Liberal Party of Canada. As a citizen, I’m entitled to my own opinion, no matter how partisan it may be. As a journalist, however, my role is to present the public with facts, not speculation or conjecture.
Journalists contribute to raising the level and quality of public discourse in a community, but can only do so by presenting the public with a truthful account of facts.
The pure journalist neither panders to political ideology nor to a group. The journalist must be prepared to ruffle some feathers for a story, understanding that their constituency isn’t a readership, a viewership, or sources—their constituency is the truth.