Behind the privacy of the closed doors of media corporations and the friendly smile of the receptionists an eternal and from the public hidden battle is raging. News reporters and columnists each insist their job is the most difficult in the journalist profession and compete for public and professional recognition. Mark M., former foreign correspondent for the Reuters news agency states: “It is easy to write opinions, but it is difficult to report facts”?. He adds with a smile “But you have 800 words to convince me otherwise.”?
“Now that the facts are free, comment costs?”, counters Cristina Odone in her Media Guardian article about the “rise of the supercolumnists.
Facts are no longer sacred and are free, thanks to Google and Wikipedia.
Cristina Odone further points out that columnists are not shying away from passing judgment whereas news reporters fear being attacked as “biased”?.
Regarding simple stories, Mark M.’s statement is undoubtedly true. Factual reporting requires research, which is more time-intensive than opinion pieces. Furthermore, investigative news reporters also need to be able to proof their facts are true. “Partial truths are insufficient in defamation cases and the burden to proof the truth lies on the defender.” teaches Douglas M., lecturer in Media Law.
Especially war and foreign correspondents often gather news and information for reporting under difficult, psychologically and physically hard and threatening circumstances.
Benjamin Joffe-Walt reports from China an attack on a human rights activist who is nearly beaten to death before his very own eyes: Then it hit me: I’d done absolutely nothing to save Lu Banglie. I stood there watching. I’m trained as a medic, and I did absolutely nothing to save Lu Banglie. Absolutely nothing.
Another aspect of the complexity of the task is the extraction of facts at first. Facing public relation statements for new products, finding any flaws or negative elements will be incredibly tough. As the PR Newswire Publicity state, the influence of PR is huge: PR newswire. The leading source of news from corporations worldwide for media.
Other obstructions to access the facts can be exercised via different means by government, authorities or multi-national corporations to protect their interests and their public image. This can be like in the gulf wars, restricting access of journalists to areas, embed them into the military, create fake stories, like in the case of the nurse Najirahâ in the first gulf war, or restrict information flow or access to information. The facts have to be carefully evaluated and their relevancy has to be examined to be put accordingly into context for news articles. As Kovach and Rosenstiel point out in their book about the Elements of Journalism: _Propaganda will select facts or invent them to serve the real purpose “ persuasion and manipulation.
Writing opinions might be easy if the author, the owner of the publication and the employed editor hold the same opinions. However, it is far more difficult in any other case. Robert Fisk left the Times, he says, _because of the quality of journalism demanded by Times owner Rupert Murdoch. I would not accept the Murdoch ethos. Over and over again, I was writing against the paper’s presumptions. I was in the odd situation where the Times didn’t want me to leave but they would find themselves embarrassed at the content of what I wrote.
_ It depends also for which publication the author writes. In an academic publication facts are not the main focus, the opinions concluded and proven are the main priority for progress. This is important for specialist areas, such like history, too. Horst Stowasser, for example, writes in his book Leben ohne Chef und Staat (translation: “Life without boss nor state”) one story in three different styles: as a short story, historical report and commentary, pointing out the ethical lessons to be learned and used for the future in the later. Die strikte Einteilung Story/Geschichte/Moral soll jedem zeigen, wo Phantasie, Fakten und Interpretation beginnen und enden (translation: The strict separation of story, history and ethics shall show everybody where fantasy, facts and interpretation start and finish.).
Commentaries which get reader thinking and leave the audience considering or even convinced of other points of view are difficult to write and might even be more work, time-intensive in preparing the structure and use of language than reporting simple events based on facts.
So is the statement true or not? Are opinions easier to write than reporting facts? It is tricky to answer generally, so it comes down to asking people individually about their personal preference between factual news reporting or writing commentaries and what they find for themselves more difficult. The individual will know the answer, depending on his or her interests and what (s)he finds more enjoyable. But whatever the journalistic task, what is most important is to face the upcoming challenges and difficulties. To keep and strive to improve your own integrity, to avoid compromising your conscience, – in news reporting and in commentary.
1.) The Guardian, Media Guardian, Monday, October 3, 2005, page 7, Cristina Odone: “The rise and rise of the supercolumnist”?
2.) Kovach, Rosenstiel: The elements of Journalism, Atlantic Books, London 2001,
3.) Steven: The No-Nonsense guide to Global Media, New Internationalists & Verso, London & Oxford 2003,
4.) Stowasser: Leben ohne Chef und Staat, Karin Kramer Verlag, Berlin 1993
5.) McChesney, Nichols: Our Media, not theirs, Seven Stories Press, New York 2002
6.) Keeble: Ethics for Journalistsâ, Routledge, New York 2001
7.) The Guardian, Monday, October 10, 2005, front page, Jonathan Watts: Mob attack key Chinese democrat
8.) Haus der Geschichte der Bundesrepublik Deutschland: X fuer U – Bilder die luegen, Bouvier Verlag Bonn, 2000