Fact, Voice, Blogs and the Times
Debate within the New York Times over longstanding distinctions between editorial opinion and journalistic reporting prompt reflection upon two parallel issues: (1) do blog readers prefer opinion to reporting and (2) do academic bloggers maintain distinctions like that and distinctions between scholarly presentation and essayistic voice?
Clark Hoyt, Public Editor at the Times, wrote in Sunday’s paper about business journalists/columnists both reporting stories and expressing prescriptive opinions on them. He instanced recent cases, including Joe Nocera and Andrew Ross Sorokin (both covering General Motors and opining strongly on whether bankruptcy versus federal financial support is the better policy) and Gretchen Morgenson (covering Congressional hearings on credit rating agencies and separately opining on the credibility of the agency witnesses).
Those writers, along with the paper’s editors, say they are evaluating applicable policies concerning the division between reporting and opinion. But, in general, all seem to suggest that there is little or nothing wrong with reporters also expressing opinions. They do recognize the importance of clearly distinguishing when one is reporting versus opining. An example of a policy they would support is that writers could not publish a news story and an opinion column on the same subject the same day.
Mr. Hoyt, essentially the public’s watchdog at the paper, expresses more serious reservations. He sees a profound problem of blurring the lines between news and opinion at the paper. The current business section’s activities are a continuing manifestation of a practice that puts the paper’s credibility at risk, he worries.
Mr. Hoyt says he prefers drawing and maintaining the distinction sharply. He would eliminate first-person opinion by reporters entirely. He laments that this result is unlikely, for two reasons. First, economic pressure on newspapers may require having employees capable of providing both reporting and opinion. Second, Mr. Hoyt cites: “the Internet, which puts a premium on opinion and voice.”
The Internet, by which one may infer a reference generally to blogging, does seem to do that. Should it? Should writers clearly distinguish between fact and opinion? Does it matter whether the topic is business news and policy compared to other subjects?
Do readers, especially concerning business issues, prefer opinion and voice to objective reporting that includes probing alternative ways to evaluate complex issues? Do bloggers, in general or at all, seek to maintain such a distinction, blur it, or obliterate it?
Analogously, how do professorial bloggers separate traditional notions of academic inquiry and scholarly objectivity from opinion, views, and other prescriptions not based on traditional styles of inquiry, exposition, and assessment?
In my opinion, as a blog writer, maintaining such distinctions are important. In fact, it may be difficult to do.
As a blog reader, I’d love to hear other opinions—along with fact-based assessments of them.