I’m a journalist. I’m not supposed to have an opinion.

*Blogger’s note: This blog is mostly about journalism, but this specific post is going to take somewhat of a detour into the wonderful, crazy, obnoxious world of independent wrestling. So, please bear with me.

Before I start going on and on about indy wrestling, let me preface this by saying that from my sophomore/junior year of high school through my first year at college I wrote for a professional wrestling website/blog focused on the independent wrestling scene in the Midwest.

It was amazing. I got to interview local wrestlers and write recaps/reviews of local shows. Needless to say, as a 15 (or 16, I can’t quite remember) year old wrestling fan, being exposed to the world of independent wrestling — and being able to write about that world — was pretty much a dream come true.

I stopped writing for the site when I got promoted to Opinion Editor at my college paper, but I didn’t stop following local wrestling. For better or worse, I was hooked. The two companies I follow the most (partly because of proximity and partly because they are two of the best in the STL area, in my completely biased opinion) are Dynamo Pro Wrestling and St. Louis Anarchy.

Last night, SLA put on its biggest show of the year in Circus Maximus. It was, for lack of a better word, awesome. Every match had the crowd going and there were a couple standing ovations. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen a crowd like that at a local show. Usually, it’s like pulling teeth getting the fans involved. Now, I really can’t complain about that aspect because I barely clap for the guys I like, let alone stand up yelling and screaming.

But anyway, back to what I think the point of this post was… when I was writing for the wrestling site, I did my best to keep as objective of an approach to my writing as I could. I wrote what happened, didn’t insert opinion into show recaps or interviews and generally tried to stay clear of all the political b.s. that comes with wrestling. Now that I’m technically not “involved” in the “business” anymore, I feel a little more comfortable giving my opinions.

Sure, people could probably tell by how I described a match or what shows I typically covered which guys I liked and respected and which companies I preferred to watch. But if that happened, it was never my intention. Keeping an unbiased outlook on things is so important, not just for wrestling, but in any aspect of anything, especially (shocker!) journalism.

By keeping that outlook, I think it makes people respect what you’re doing a lot more — even when the subjects you’re covering ask for your opinion. And when you’re out of the profession/business/etc. they look to you for advice or feedback. That hasn’t really happened to me, and I don’t expect it to, (It’s not like my opinion means that much to a bunch of wrestlers and promoters, right?), but the possibility is there.

So, with that said, I guess the point of this whole post is just that it’s important to remain as objective as you possibly can (duh), especially when sources ask for your personal opinion on topics you’re covering. I don’t like giving my opinion. I’d rather just write a good story that people can appreciate and leave it at that.

But some people either love the adoration or honestly want to know what you thought because they value and respect your opinion. Regardless, until you’re out of the journalistic realm, my theory is that it’s best to say as little as possible for fear of even the slightest appearance of bias in your coverage.

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4 thoughts on “I’m a journalist. I’m not supposed to have an opinion.

  1. I’m going to play ‘devil’s advocate’ to the whole objectivity argument. Edward R. Murrow is the most famous radio newscaster and – along with Cronkite – arguable the most famous TV newscaster ever. H.L. Mencken is one of print journalism’s sacred writers and founding fathers. What do the two have in common? They’re best known for their opinionated pieces (Murrow on Joe McCarthy and Mencken’s coverage of the Scopes trial).

    They brought truth through subjectivity. Had they followed conventional rules in their most famous works, the result would have been to allow McCarthy’s nonsensical attacks and the ridiculousness of the Scopes spectacle go unnoticed. So, while objectivity undoubtedly has its place in day-to-day reporting, aren’t their times when objectivity only covers up the ridiculousness at play? Doesn’t passivity in reporting limit the watchdog role of journalism?

  2. There’s definitely a place for subjectivity. But from a strictly newspaper point of view, I think that should stick to the editorial page. And it should be made clear that the opinion was in no way reflected in any of the reporting done on the subject, especially if the op-ed is written by the same author as the news piece.
    I know there are always exceptions to the rule, but as far as I’m concerned, I think if someone wants to write an op-ed piece on an issue they’re covering, it should be written after the news article has been published, rather than with the news article.
    Also, just because you’re not voicing your personal opinion doesn’t mean you’re being passive. Showing all the facts, having sources speak to and about those facts and reporters holding people accountable in as many ways as possible (without giving their opinion) can do just as much good, I think. Granted, that doesn’t work in every case. But that’s the way I prefer to function. Then again, I also haven’t covered many in-depth, investigative stories at this point in my career. It’s possible my view could change as I get more experience covering those types of stories.

  3. You made some good points and I agree that in 99% of cases, objectivity is the way to go. It just seems like there are times, especially when the stakes are high, that objectivity leads to uncritical and bland reporting. For example, as you undoubtedly know, both the New York Times and Washington Post apologized for their reporting in the months leading to the invasion of Iraq. In an attempt to be objective, they allowed the Bush Administration to dominate the dialogue and a large majority of their sources came from the administration. Had reporters and editors (the best of the best in their field) been given an opportunity to insert their own doubts about the administration’s claims, perhaps we would have seen more critical and “watchdog”-style reporting.

  4. Yeah, I definitely agree. There’s obviously a place for subjectivity. It just has to be done in the right manner and made clear that it doesn’t affect the objectivity of the hard news reporting being done and is simply a reflection of opinion (with facts to back it up). My issue is more with the day-to-day “What did you think of my comments at the board meeting?” “What do you think of my new policy?” type of questions just between a reporter and a source, rather than challenging officials through research and questioning in a professional, public way.

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