For better or worse, partisan journalism is here to stay.
The arbiters of information, perpetual seekers of a scoop, the sometimes-affirming, sometimes-spurious mouthpieces of the body politic — call them media, call them press, these are the hats of a journalist.
These roles of the press remain today, and have remained as such since the inception of the profession. The speed, pressures and influence of reporting, however, have evolved with dramatic effect.
Pamphlets and periodicals marked humanity’s initial foray into the world of news; penny papers followed shortly thereafter.
The Boston News-Letter of 1704 was America’s first regular newspaper. At the time, the news of the day could more aptly be described as the news of last week, sometimes last month. Information moved like a cloud in a windless sky.
Local news took the slow lane (the fastest lane available at the time) and intercontinental news traveled as if by sloth. The advent of the telegraph in the mid-19th century extended the reach of news.
Innovations abound, the swiftness with which information spread skyrocketed.
An evolution was under way: hearsay from a tête-à-tête at the local watering hole became ink on a newspaper, which ultimately beget the enterprise that is the news media industry.
The onset of printed news as a new medium was not without a ripple effect (McLuhan’s dictum comes to mind). What started as a new form of information dissemination became not only a lens with which to view the world, it became the lens.
Independent thought became greatly crowdsourced. To ensure you were keeping abreast, top reporters and journalists could — via newspaper column or periodical — sit in with your morning coffee or afternoon biscuit.
The news (i.e. the press, the media, journalists) became the mouthpiece of the nation, the means with which places and events interacted and danced within the minds of the public.
The role of the press today remains unchanged — arbiters of information and mouthpiece of the body politic — yet the landscape today is different. The demands of the press have become increasingly complex with the rise of disinformation and the overabundance of newsworthy events.
Distinguishing what could be reported from what should be reported is of utmost importance, as is disseminating news in a manner that goes beyond mere recounting.
Unlike in previous decades and centuries, the press today has more reach and a louder voice. Thus, journalism now must extend past bare bones reporting to actively separate the wheat from the chaff.
The press is responsible for creating a conscious, awake citizenry that can respond accordingly to the system that governs it.
Given the reach of the Internet, people are tuned in to happenings like never before. Smartphones, social media, blogs — certain modernities have afforded journalism more nuance and minimized barriers to entry.
The doors to sharing news remain open for those savvy enough to hit “Tweet” or “share” from their handheld devices. Because of this, mainstream media platforms must provide ever-sharper analysis and more pertinent, contextualized guidance.
It is no longer enough for the press to name what’s what and who’s where — news must include insight.
Among contemporary news sources, partisan sources run amok and often bear the brunt of public criticism. Yet, undoubtedly, partisan sources are vanguards of opinion and trailblazers of thought.
Given the sea of media, discerning up from down can prove challenging for an audience provided with facts sans insight.
In short, the public is not always served better by news that eschews opinion. Two news outlets that demonstrate an acute understanding of this are Fox News and MSNBC — two famously partisan networks.
Insights are only insightful if an audience deems it as such. A journalist throwing wisdom to the unreceptive viewer is doing no favors. Fox News and MSNBC have taken this sentiment and built successful enterprises: flagship programs of right and left, thought leaders of their respective ideologies, veritable arms and mouthpieces of their parties.
Certainly, they are partisan. But they do not feign otherwise.
My stance here is for neither network in particular, rather I posit that each plays its role (as a partisan network) exceedingly well — they do exactly what they have set out to do and have done so with a high clip of success.
In 2010, MSNBC launched a new slogan, “Lean Forward,” a nod to its progressive political stance. In the same vein, Fox News began quietly phasing out their long-time slogan, “Fair and Balanced” in 2017.
People rarely turn to news to learn about events of the day, told plainly; rather they turn to news for contextualization, emotive deliveries and — for better or for worse — entertainment.
Because they are not neutral, these outlets have the opportunity to voice authenticity to a degree that cannot be matched by a wholly objective source.
A rigid belief in objectivity is admirable, however it is not without misgivings.
Two long standing bastions of impartiality, The Associated Press (AP) and Reuters, put forth facts for readers to interpret on their own. While maintaining a neutral stance is often a source of pride, complexities demand analysis, and the public should be privy to the insights of those best-equipped to analyze said complexities.
Neutrality should no longer remain the pinnacle of journalism, which is why AP and Reuters have fallen short in the present era.
If journalists — who are typically well educated and regularly investigating beats — have insights to offer the public but then opt not to share, this seems more damning than noble.
Calling for the silence of those who have the most to say is intellectually and morally indefensible; yet those in favor of impartial journalists seem to demand exactly this.
Rather than trying to find the most antiseptic, neutral source we should instead seek biases and take them on balance.
The future of journalism lies not in the reporting of facts, but in the espousing of interpretation.
When analysis becomes siphoned out of circulation in an attempt at evenhandedness, the public is left scrambling, bereft of understanding.
Partisanship be damned, the press must rise to the challenge and offer guidance and insight.