Subjective journalism?

A reader commented on Facebook about the My Turn I recently wrote regarding a letter to the editor.

She asked, “I wonder if there was ever a time that news and journalism were about just the facts and not personal subjective opinions? I appreciate your reference to the regurgitation of information based on the different sources. I do miss my old-fashioned printed newspaper though.”

Let me give it a shot, and these are my opinions. They are not news.

Yeah, I’m a print guy, and I always will miss and mourn the real physical product. Now I’m doing what I can to help provide information to my community. If my desire was to get rich, I wouldn’t take over a local news website, I guarantee you. Instead, I believe I offer something of value to our community, and I believe our community will support that effort.

Most people don’t realize the very idea of freedom of the press began to satisfy the needs of commerce. Merchants bringing goods for sale in England had to pay a tax to print their advertisements. So, the first press freedoms were not the free speech protections we enjoy contained in the First Amendment — they were about doing business.

When most Americans think of objective journalism, they harken back to good old Walter Cronkite — who famously took off his horned rimmed glasses and looked straight into the camera after reporting on the Tet Offensive in Vietnam and said that the best the United States could hope for was a draw. I guess one could take that as a statement of fact — and maybe it was. But I take it as an opinion, and actually maybe a prediction.

While some talk about journalists being “objective,” I think “fair” is a better, more attainable goal. I can’t set aside everything I know and believe to write a story, but I can hold that stuff back when I start pecking on the keyboard. Regardless of me, I can be fair.

Here are a few local examples
During Congressman Doug LaMalfa’s recent visit to Susanville, he alleged that environmentalist Democrats in Congress want us to go back to eating bugs and living in caves. I quoted him without comment even though I’m pretty certain that isn’t true. He also said the increase in the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere — reportedly one of the main causes of global warming — is actually a good thing, and in any case, the increase in that gas is so small it doesn’t make any difference. Again, I quoted him without comment even though I’m pretty certain that isn’t true, either.

Way back when the Tea Party started here in Susanville, they held a rally and march that began at Riverside Park, and I was assigned to cover it. When I got there, some participants protested that I couldn’t write about the event because I was “a liberal.” There’s no bias or comment from me about the politics of the day in my reporting. It was their event, not mine.

Conservative folks gathered at Lloyd Keefer Park in Janesville to drive through town protesting vaccines and the lockdowns. I boldly drove into the park and asked to interview one of the organizers. The response was a laughing, OMG, the Fake News is here. I pointed out I was the only one in the local media interested in their event — Susanville Stuff wasn’t there, KSUE wasn’t there. But I was, and you’re giving me this grief? I never did get my interview, but I wrote a fair story about the event anyway.

I figure this is an occupational hazard. I do not hold grudges about this stuff, and I don’t take it personally. It just comes with the territory.

Here’s my bottom line on this topic. I firmly believe news and opinion are two separate beasts. I can be fair reporting the news. That’s what you can expect from me. I’ve been involved in journalism more than half my life, and I’ve been doing it here in Susanville for nearly 25 years, so everybody knows me, and I think deep down in their heart of hearts, they know I believe in being fair in everything I write. That’s the best I can do.

Should I ever fall short of that ethical standard, let me know. My phone number is (530) 310-0459 and my email address is swilliams@lassennews.com

I hope I answered the reader’s question!