Wednesday, November 12, 2014

The Credibility of the 4th Estate


I don't think I've ever written a proper news item on this blog. Most everything I write here is an opinion that I have to express, which sometimes makes me worry that I'm not really doing my writing chops—or my blog—any justice.

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I find nothing wrong with standing on my own soapbox. But making your posts subjective has the tendency of turning you into a dubious source—something that often makes a world of difference, as far as journalists are concerned. See, I believe that in order to be a credible source, you need to focus on the facts, and less on your gut feel. Back in the day, when the facts were in limited supply due to one reason or another, journalists focused on the little information they had, and built on them.

It wasn’t the best kind of journalism, but at least it didn’t rely on the broad leaps of logic that most of the columnists today employ.

You’d think that that’s still how it works today, but the truth is, it isn’t. Let’s use my process to get this point across. Note that this may effectively expose me as nothing more than a bag of hot air, so bear with me.

For the purposes of this blog, I usually just need one stimulus to write an article. Most of my politics-inspired pieces were written as a reaction to a news item I read somewhere. I find that I react on something whenever 1.) the item interests me, and 2.) when I know something about the topic at hand. If I don’t have one or the other, I usually have nothing to say about it.

You might think that this is sloppy, but in my defense, I don’t see anything wrong with that. I mean, I already write and edit for a living; this blog is supposed to be a source of stress relief. I don’t want the additional stress of having to go through scores of other reference materials just to make my point in a space that for all I know, are only read by my girlfriend, my cat, and a handful of my friends.

That sorta ruins the point of an online journal, for me. If I wanted to write a proper, straight-up news magazine, then I would, and back everything I write up with proper references. But a blog is a blog is a blog.

The thing with this, though, is that I’m not the only one blogging in this day and age. And not everybody makes the distinction between rhetorical claptrap and news. I can sometimes read articles in the broadsheets that sound like something I’d find from somebody’s blog (the lifestyle sections in most newspapers are the worst). How many blind items can you post without people starting to doubt your credibility?

I don’t understand where the scholarly act of researching your claim went; I often instruct my writers to back up their articles with at least three credible sources—I have a list of blacklisted websites that they’re taught to avoid—and recently, I’ve taught them in the usage of the APA citation style, which makes following up their references an easier task. See, knowing that they actually went through the trouble of backing up their claims gives me the confidence that what I’ll be reading won’t be filled with sound bites from the black lagoon.

I don’t know how it is in the newspaper and magazine industry, but I can’t help but wonder whether the need for news has become such a big business that a lot of people cut corners just to get their items in before press time. I mean, the news is supposed to be the fourth estate. We’re the watchdogs of the first three estates. If we can’t be trusted to provide credible, unbiased news items, then what’s the point?