Behind the Scenes: No Comment

by - December 05, 2012

Members of the media aren't expected to have opinions, but when it comes down to it that expectation of impartiality is probably the hardest journalistic character trait to embody.

I speak from personal experience when I say it is impossible for news people to be impartial. We are human. We have opinions. Most importantly, we're allowed to have opinions. Where things get tricky is when we're allowed to express those opinions.

This week, one of our anchors expressed his opinion on the air about this year's college football bowl game assignments. As a producer, this is something I wouldn't even flinch at. Sports is really the only place within one of my shows where opinions are generally accepted. However in this instance, the anchor angered a viewer who supported a particular team. That viewer has since blown up our Facebook page, which in turn has invited other viewers to get in on the "argument". Fortunately for us, most of the viewers are supporting our anchor saying that he is entitled to his opinion.

So is there really no room for opinion in a newscast? And if the answer is no, is it truly possible for opinions not to somehow work their way in?

It's my opinion that opinions are always interjected into a newscast in some way. Now, I'm not saying that when I write a story I slant it one way or another. In fact, we strive to show both sides of every story in an equal way.

However, everything about my show in some way reflects an opinion - from the way it's stacked, to the way it flows together, to the very words that are chosen to tell the story.

Here's the bottom line: delivering the news is just like telling a story. Everything from the inflections of my voice to the facial expressions I'm making to the words I choose to tell you about my trip to the store make a difference.

So where do we draw the line? Obviously I'm not going to tolerate one of my anchors or reporters saying "I think he's guilty" about someone who's been arrested on murder charges. That would be ethically wrong. But should we be banned from saying "I don't agree with the way the playoffs are set up?"

One of the things we've found viewers like is when our on-air talent show their humanity. If we don't allow any opinions at all, that humanity is lost. But in allowing our anchors to express themselves, we risk angering at least one person.

So are we damned if we do, damned if we don't?

Maybe as journalists we should just go back to the basics and address our ethics. We should ask ourselves if voicing our opinion about a particular subject, story or person will jeopardize our integrity and hurt our credibility. If the answer to that question isn't clear, maybe we should avoid it.

We have to remember that journalists don't have a voice. It's not our job to tell people what we think.

It's our responsibility to give the people a legitimate voice.

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