By Brian Harris
News organizations exist for one single, solitary reason and that is to report the goings-on in the world, no matter how big or small they may be and let the viewers/readers decide for themselves on how they interpret these facts, news and reports.
In recent times, for some reason unbeknownst to me, it seems that the vast majority of the news organizations around the world have lost sight of this simplistic, yet honest way of journalism ranging from egotistical to fiscal and points in-between. Now instead of you, the viewer figuring out what to believe, you are told what to believe.
Most “news” networks and newspapers no longer ever bother to pretend to have any sort of integrity and simply just pump out story after story with whatever slant that that particular organization wishes to have to assuage the similar-minded consumers that the particular organization or to bring in new viewers with similar civic and political thought processes.
You really don’t have to look hard to find something about today’s news media that leaves an icky feeling in your stomach (imagine how I must feel, this being my chosen career path, at all). With the results having been released of the SGA elections, which had some shenanigans involved, as you’ve read in previous issues of the Observer, I feel that the time is right to discuss one of the many things that bothers me about journalism today and that is the endorsing of candidates by news outlets.
During the recent SGA elections, I received an email from one of the campaigns asking for our organization to support their particular campaign. Now if we accepted their offer to support their particular campaign, or any of the other campaigns for that matter, how could we, as The Observer, been taken seriously and take ourselves seriously as a news organization? There’s no way that we would be able to cover any goings on in the SGA in the future if we decided to support this particular campaign.
Raising this same question in a Nov 12, 2012 interview for NPR’s “Talk Of The Nation” is David D. Hynes, who is the editorial page editor at the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, in which he says to host Neil Conan:
“It really boils down to this notion of independence. We work very hard each day to provide a balance of views on our pages and on our website increasingly and mobile devices as well. And we work hard to be open-minded and approach issues that we’re going to editorialize on independently,” Hynes said in the interview.
“I think that [endorsing a candidate] tends to undermine this whole idea of independence, and it really undermines this idea of being an honest broker of opinion. Again, that forum, that’s our real mission,” Hynes added.
This mindset that Hynes has is something that I share as well. Going back to the email I received, the following day, when I was discussing this email and the subject of endorsement and my utter disdain for the concept, I was told by the paper’s advisor that my opinion towards the subject “goes against the previous 200 years of American journalism.”
To be honest, the first thought in response to that was “fuck the previous 200 years of American journalism.” Seriously, while there have been numerous cases of simply fantastic examples of journalism, what the fuck is to be proud of about what journalism has become over the past 20 years or so? Gone is the careful, detail-oriented journalistic process of the past and its place is the slapdash, ham-fisted, TMZ-esque, we-must-be-first-so-fuck-if-it’s-right-or-not journalism of today. As you can imagine, there was no show of support of any campaign by The Observer.
It’s seems that college newspaper are the jump-off point for the “anti-endorsement” movement, for lack of a better term. The following is from an editorial written before the last presidential election by The Royal Purple, which is the independent student newspaper at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater.
“One of the most important purposes of media is monitoring the government. Newspapers, TV stations and websites help keep the inner workings of government visible,” the editorial states.
“Media exposes corruption and keeps politicians under a microscope so the public always knows what is going on. To be an effective watchdog, media must remain unbiased. It is impossible to do this when entire institutions are endorsing politicians. When a company states its support of a candidate, it is establishing a political preference instead of remaining neutral,” the editorial added.
The editorial goes on to say, “As journalists, we follow a common ethical guideline of forfeiting our right to publicly get involved in politics. The public has to be able to trust us to report fairly and honestly. The authoritarian approach of telling readers what to think isn’t ethical, as opposed to providing them with the information needed to make their own decisions.”
There’s a flipside to this anti-establishment stance on endorsing that I have which former editor and Silicon Valley CEO Alan D. Mutter raises in his Nov 8, 2012 article, “Newspapers endorsements: Out of step?” by saying the following:
“A non-endorsement policy might be good for a newspaper’s credibility, because it eliminates one of the potential arguments that its coverage is biased. And a gelded editorial page might be good for business, because an endorsement-free publication minimizes the chances of offending readers and advertisers,” Mutter said.
“But a newspaper lacking the gumption to endorse a presidential candidate looks pretty lame in a day when opinions are a dime a dozen on the Internet and the airwaves.”
It’s a fair statement to make, but as a reply to Mutter, I’d like to say that while it may look “lame” for a news organization to not endorse a candidate but if that particular news organization instead focuses their effort on doing their due diligence in reporting on the campaign and affording its readers the opportunity to get all sides of the story and then mold and form their own opinion from there.
The only endorsing that should be done by any news media organization is the endorsing of the facts in the story, not a particular person or group of people.