'Strong Thoughts: Should opinions impact our news coverage?
by CHRISTY ARMSTRONG Banner Staff Writer
Jan 26, 2014 | 382 views | 0 0 comments | 32 32 recommendations | email to a friend | print
It is a constant debate, a question about whether or not to cause controversy that can be controversial in and of itself.

Everyone has an opinion. Should people take personal opinions into account when trying to figure out what’s going on in the world?

Journalists are no strangers to this debate. The idea that someone reporting the news should be as impartial as possible is (hopefully) drilled into the minds of students hoping to enter the profession one day.

There is a reason for that. Personal opinions can sway how news is covered if left unchecked.

The remedy to that is to present readers, listeners or viewers with as many sides of an issue as possible.

The problem is that you can’t please everyone.

I have received angry phone calls and emails from people who did not like the fact I tried to quote people on both sides of an issue.

In one instance, a woman saw I had quoted someone who had views that differed from hers and called to complain. She accused me of being “biased” because of that. She said I had not gotten the whole story.

Having quoted a few different individuals in the same article, I believed I had touched upon every angle I could have at the time. However, it was not all about her, and that made her unhappy.

I had interviewed this lady for the story and included her comments as well. I cannot say I understood the reasoning behind the angry phone call, but she must have thought I would be devoting an entire article to just her views.

In the name of striving to be as unbiased as possible, I had actually included multiple views.

That was my way of being sure I gave readers the issue at hand. In fact, had I given my personal opinions the chance to take precedence, I might not have quoted this woman at all. After all, I disagreed with her views.

That’s the beauty of the kind of journalism that includes as many different views as possible. The views of one source or even the author of the piece do not get in the way of the story.

Any view that differs from one’s own can be quite uncomfortable to read.

That, readers, is the point.

In a world where everyone has something different to say, it is important that news coverage reflects the fact everyone has something different to say.

Of course, there are limits to what can be printed by news organizations like this one. Rants laden with swear words and other childish profanities will not make it into the news, but reporters can still find ways to say that so-and-so said they felt a certain way about something.

Including multiple perspectives in news stories can add to local conversations in ways communication methods like advertisements and press releases cannot. Instead of just sharing one or two voices on an issue, journalists can share as many as they are able to find.

It is a challenge that reporters who are committed to doing their jobs well choose to take on each day, though it is not always easy.

Despite the weird hours and the weird lifestyle choices those hours can sometimes bring, reporters are not robots. They are humans who do feel certain ways about the issues they cover, and they have opinions that could threaten to get in the way of telling others’ stories if they let them.

An editor I worked with at another newspaper once told me the secret to being a good journalist is being able to ignore one’s own opinions — to “check them at the newsroom door.” 

The sentiment of ignoring personal views can be taken to a negative extreme (like being totally apathetic or insensitive), but the gist of it means ignoring the kind of passionate rhetoric that can get in the way of reporting what is actually happening.

Some readers may say news organizations should not cover news that is offensive. Whether the topic be how schools should be run or who should be able to marry whom, there are always disagreeing opinions. One need only look at comments on websites like Facebook to see that some arguments can get pretty nasty.

Sure, reporters could try to sugarcoat things for readers. The problem is that what a reporter may consider to be offensive may be perfectly normal to someone else. In the same way, a reporter’s views on what is normal and right may seem shocking to others.

It seems the best thing a reporter can do is make sure one view is never the only view getting addressed in news coverage, and to try to make sure what is being reported is truthfully accurate.

A man who attends many of the meetings I cover once paid me a compliment that I have not since forgotten. He said he liked that my articles stated what happened and provided necessary background information without trying to skew the story to paint one side of an argument in a more favorable light.

That confirmed that I was doing part of what I had set out to do — to report what happened and find out why while giving voice to more than just one side of the issue at hand.

While we journalists are humans who make mistakes sometimes, I hope we can continue to tell the stories of those around us in just ways. I also hope our readers can understand that some of us do try.