Keep it to yourself: Leave opinion out of news writing


Over the weekend I got into a conversation about the definition of journalism.

The person I was discussing this with actually told me that news outlets like The New York Times and Los Angeles Times need to be MORE opinioned in their news writing.

It was then that I realized that we are part of a generation that replaced real journalism with the vast array of talk shows and websites that appear to be journalism on the surface, but in reality are opinion.

People confuse being overly opinionated with being well informed. I don’t know when it became such an inconvenience to listen to the other side of an argument, but choosing to ignore other points of view is a disservice to the public we journalists serve.

When people tell me that anyone can be a journalist, I counter by saying that anyone can also be a lawyer or a doctor, but not everyone who “can” do something should.

For me, this was not a strategic career choice or part of my Student Educational Plan. I didn’t choose journalism. It was a calling.

Pseudo-journalists disguise opinion as news and seek to manipulate the public rather than serve it.

Unlike doctors or lawyers, journalists do not need to pass a qualifying exam or obtain a license to practice, but we are held to a code of standards and media ethics that some “citizen journalists” don’t always uphold or feel the need to comply.

With no official governing board or oversight committee for journalists, we “self police” each other with our own system of checks and balances. Just ask Brian Williams.

As the public blowback from the whole Williams incident demonstrates, when even one journalist, from someone as esteemed as Williams to the lowly Times beat reporter, messes up, the result can be devastating to one’s reputation and integrity.

The journalism program at Citrus College adheres to the same values and standards of any major news organization. Those values are hammered into every student who writes and works for this news organization. Journalism has given me so much in my two years at Citrus that when I see it come under attack from critics and pseudo-journalists, I fight for it.

Recently, a news article was posted and shared via Facebook regarding Citrus cancelling  part of an emergency drill that would have included an active shooter with a real gun firing blanks.

I think we all can agree that this scenario may not have been the smartest idea.  Thankfully the administration cancelled it. So, where is the news angle here? If the school already recognized the scenario as a bad idea and already scrapped it, why write about how bad of an idea it was?

That is not news, that is opinion.

The article goes on to quote a Glendora police officer who had no real knowledge of the upcoming drill and didn’t really offer any insight other than his own personal opinion.

Why did the reporters not speak with the planning coordinator of the Emergency Operation Center on campus or even the Glendora Police Department liaison? Probably because their facts and insight were not part of the opinion that article wished to express.

The piece also features quotes from the current president of the Citrus College chapter of Young Americans for Liberty, a nationwide Libertarian student organization. The author of the piece is the current vice president as well.

The article was posted on campusreform.org, a conservative-based “news site” that is a project of the Leadership Institute, an organization that provides training, fundraising and grassroots organizing and according to their website, “teaches conservatives of all ages how to succeed in politics, government and the media.”

So what is wrong with being associated with YAL or with Campus Reform? Absolutely nothing. Being active and involved about political issues is something I wish more students would engage in.
But to be fair and objective in news writing, one has to stay clear of opinion and bias to one side and show fairness.

What I am presenting are facts. Facts, that when pieced together start revealing more to this picture than just the “news” that this article tried to convey.

My main gripe with the article is that it made the administration out to be this imbecilic and insensitive entity whereas I am sure that they had nothing but the best of intentions. This article was slanted, one-sided and stands against everything journalists worldwide strive toward, truth and objectivity.

Was a shooter scenario a rather half-baked idea on the administration’s part? Perhaps, but it’s certainly not fair to drag them across the coals for it, especially when it did not happen.

Although our news story doesn’t include loaded words like “plots” and “surprise attack,” what I can say with certainty that it is balanced and fair. We talked to sources from all sides, because these are the people and community we serve.

It upsets me that an article written with a slanted opinion for a conservative-based website based in Virginia by one writer who is not even a Citrus College student is what some students and faculty choose to read and accept as truth.

The Citrus College campus is the community and public we serve. We may not be first to post something, but we do our best to get it right.  The students and faculty here should look to the Clarion because we strive to keep objectivity in our news writing, just like some of our mentors and heroes in major news organizations.

Just like you wouldn’t trust an unlicensed doctor, neither should you take pseudo-journalism as truth and balance. Words are a powerful weapon. They are tools that can help bridge understanding and give voice to the voiceless. Just like you would not trust an unlicensed doctor, neither should we take pseudo-journalism as truth and balanced.

 

edit: The article originally stated that the student president and faculty advisor Young Americans for Liberty were quoted in the campus-reform article. It was only the student president who was quoted, the current advisor of YAL was not.

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About

Evan Solano is the current Managing Editor of the Citrus College Clarion for Fall 2015. This is his fourth semester on the Clarion, having also served as Managing Editor in Fall 2014. He is a journalism major who hopes to transfer to Cal State Fullerton. He has been a member of the Clarion since Fall 2013, and does freelance writing, photography and graphic design.


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