Misunderstanding others’ opinions


On Tuesday, Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen faced allegations that he himself made a racist comment, when in fact he was expressing the views of some of the subjects of his article.

The exact quote he used was that “people with conventional views must repress a gag reflex when considering the mayor-elect of New York — a white man married to a black woman and with two biracial children.”

The problem is that Cohen was trying to convey the sentiments of a particular group of people separate from himself, but readers confused this with a statement of his own opinion.

This is one hardship of journalism.  If we are writing about controversial topics, we are going to have to express others’ opinions that we do not share (or that we do share but do not wish to disclose).  How do we avoid being called “racist” or “sexist” when we are only retransmitting someone else’s message?

The task is not an easy one.  Some readers automatically perceive what they read to be the opinion of the author.  These people might be stubborn and hard to convince otherwise, no matter what you do.

With people who don’t jump to this conclusion, journalists can be overly clear that they are not the ones with the thoughts they are writing or speaking.  Stress your sources.  In situations when you might be tempted to write “many believe that” or “some think that,” reconsider this.  Instead, wherever possible, insert the identity of the party, such as the name of a group or a specific individual you are quoting.  This should take as much suspicion off of you as possible.

Still, no matter how hard you try, it is difficult to tell how readers will view others’ opinions you write about.  People, like journalists, are always looking for drama.  The more scandalous an issue, the more scandalous it would be for you to express your own unpopular beliefs.  People tend to see what they want to see, which is not always what is actually there.  Unfortunately, to maintain your professionalism, you cannot write in block letters “I DO NOT AGREE WITH THE STATEMENTS THAT I QUOTE IN THE FOLLOWING ARTICLE” at the top of your story.

Just as fiction authors do not necessarily share the same experiences as their narrators, journalists do not always hold the same opinions as their articles’ subjects.  As the saying goes, don’t shoot the messenger.

How do blogs affect news?


For starters, bloggers are the lucky ones. They have a lower standard to uphold and can therefore speak freely, with bias, opinion and all of the forbidden aspects of news writing.

Bloggers can speak without regard, because they have no boss. Their only standards to uphold are their own.

In journalism, it is frowned upon to use your boyfriend, best friend or cousin as a credible source; however, bloggers are free to use all three of these people – making their information easier to attain.

Although bloggers have the easier job, their work complies with news writing with a funny cycle.

If a person’s social media news feed is fluttered with their friend’s opinions on a certain topic, this will encourage users to want to know the facts. Fortunately, when people want the facts, they refrain from blogs and turn to the news.

If these users are equally as inspired as their Facebook friends were by a certain topic, they may take to sharing their opinions as well – thus continuing the cycle of blog-inspired news readings.

However, because blogs can be more entertaining than hard news, it becomes a struggle for news sites to compete. With the need for pictures, videos, colorful sites and interactive features, online news sites are compelled to comply with their new competition: the bloggers.

This competitive edge has led to website design, live news feeds, use of color, trends and advertisements on online news sites. News sites also broadcast on social media in order to compete with bloggers by featuring “share” buttons at the beginning or end of each online story.

Additionally, the interactive features on news stories have dramatically increased since social media has taken off. The incorporation of user comments, user photos, and overall user input allow online news sites to stay in the running against bloggers.

So, a little competition has pushed online news to new heights. And, no matter how much easier or controversial a blog story may be, no body of writing can replace the facts and credibility that is the news.

Citations, accuracy, and credibility


Expert witness William Gulya talks about citations and credibility in journalism on the Experts.com website at http://www.experts.com/Articles.

Gulya defines citations as an “abbreviated alphanumeric expression embedded in the body of an intellectual work that denotes an entry in the bibliographic references section of the work for the purpose of acknowledging the relevance of the works of others to the topic of discussion at the spot where the citation appears.”

And citations, of course, are at the heart of sourcing for journalists. We call it attribution. Gulya explains the important of accuracy in the stories we write, since our words should always be completely truthful, supported by sources and by the right evidence.

“Whether you have been an expert witness for years or are just starting out, accurate research, proper formatting of citations and clarity will make your written report accurate, impressive and, most of all, credible,” Gulya wrote, also explaining that making improper citations is a “critical error” which can lead to future complications.

Writing unreliable stories will provoke a loss of credibility from the audience. This is something we as journalists want to avoid, because losing credibility means what we write is not going to be taken seriously; not now, or in a close future.

Gulya also talks about stating facts and opinions, explaining that facts are objective, they are statements which can be proven. He also defines them as “something that can be verified and backed up with evidence.”

On the other hand he says opinions are subjective statements which express a certain preference or bias, and that they are basically based on a certain belief or point of view. He says opinions, on the contrary of facts,  are “not based on evidence that can be verified.” His advice is to always revise, check and cite your reference and source correctly when stating a fact or opinion.

I believe all of this information has to be taken seriously into account and we should definitely take notes from it, because what makes a journalist a good one is being able to present the information as clear as possible to his or her readers, using honesty as the first principle.

Timing, impact, prominence, proximity, human interest and novelty, all are part of the main factors that make a story newsworthy. But the element that will complete the story will always be good evidence and reliable sources to support the words written, in other words, to provide honesty to the story.