Study reaction: Fear about opinionated news

Study reaction: Fear about opinionated news.
I came away from the Project for Excellence in Journalism inaugural “State of the News Media” study yesterday with a profound sense of hope. That’s probably because I’ve been writing about this stuff for so long that it’s gratifying to see others saying the same thing — especially from such a visible platform.

The study has been dissected and reported on in every major publication (and on most blogs). There’s been fear and trepidation expressed, but Dante Chinni, writing for the Christian Science Monitor, sees the changes as a threat to democracy itself:

…in 21st century America, …choice reigns even when it comes to what sort of news you are looking for. Don’t like what you’re hearing about the world on CNN? Try Fox. Is The Washington Post too conservative? Tune in Air America…

Opinion journalism is becoming less a way to round out the average American’s news meal and more its main course. We’ve been living in the world of instant spin for some time, but we’re now entering the world where the line between news and spin is vanishing. And of all the disquieting trends in journalism, this may be the most troubling because it touches on this country’s ability to make decisions as a people.

Everyone has opinions, but for those opinions to be worth something, they have to be based on facts so that we can come up with an accepted version of reality. That’s how democracy works. Some of the media are entering an age where facts are based upon opinion. And reality? Well, that all depends on whom you get your news from.

I think Chinni is dead wrong on this. “Accepted version of reality?” Says who? You mean, that’s what the “objective” press has been doing all these years? Oh, puh-leeze.

I don’t view any of this as a threat at all. In fact, I think it’s healthy that we’re losing the monolithic media machine in favor of those who are unafraid to mix argument with information. Opinion isn’t what’s happening in the epochal changes noted by the study; argument is the new ingredient. It’s actually taking us somewhat back to the future, because this country was built with a press that mixed argument with information. Chinni fears the loss of decision-making power, but I view it as just the opposite. Rather than be led along the primrose path by elites, argument helps empower people to govern themselves. Chinni is expressing the ultimate fear of the media status quo — that someday, they’ll be found out for not being as important as they think they are.

Welcome argument. Don’t run from it.

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