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Feelings or facts?

| Monday, January 22, 2018

If there’s one thing I’ve learned writing for The Observer, it is that good journalists must always avoid bias. When I was on student government, I could not write about student government events or elections, because that would be seen as me promoting a group I’m part of. Of course I wouldn’t say anything negative yet true about student government. I was in it.

But look at any news outlet, and it seems like the bias rule just doesn’t apply. This isn’t just the cable news channels, like liberal CNN and conservative Fox, which are known for being biased and have every right to be. Lately, this seems to apply to the major broadcast networks: CBS, NBC and ABC. What were once our trustworthy fallbacks if we ever wanted objective reporting have now started to let their opinions show.

It’s never completely obvious. Instead, the bias is implied. A sneer here, an eye roll there. A broadcast anchor may never reveal which candidate they support or their feelings about the new tax law outright. Still, actions speak louder than words.

The recent election brought “fake news” to light: stories shared on social media that were completely false, especially by Russian bots. But I think we also need awareness of opinion news. Not only are the broadcast networks starting to show some bias, but newspapers are doing it, too. Perhaps it’s because the internet age encourages clicks over objectivism. Nowadays, opinion columns are shared all over Facebook as being news. Readers take the writer’s feelings as facts.

Of course, I still think the broadcast networks are better than cable news. And news sources like The New York Times are certainly better than Buzzfeed or Breitbart. But it’s important to remember that there is a difference between news reporting and opinion writing, and in the digital age, it is becoming harder and harder to see that thin line.

Trump recently gave out his “Fake News Awards.” It was a list of all the times the media got it wrong, and to no one’s surprise, CNN was mentioned the most, along with The Washington Post, The New York Times, ABC, Newsweek and TIME. I doubt any of these major news outlets outright lied, but I’m sure they mixed opinion with fact. After all, journalists are people with opinions, too. It is important to be aware of that as a media consumer and to always use facts to draw your own opinions, rather than opinions to form opinions.

And yes, I am aware of the irony of advocating for facts in an opinion column.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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