How to Be A Journalist In A World Full of Opinions


I spent a lot of time trying to decide which words to use for this headline (yes, I write headlines before I write articles). For the word journalist, I almost wanted to put “objective person” or “standout,” but those words are awkward.

For the word opinions, I wanted to use a word that was catchy, like “noise” or “biased nutcases,” but I didn’t want to insult myself and everyone else I know. So I settled on this headline.

How to be an objective standout even though everyone else is a noisy and biased nutcase.

The goal here is to be less biased. If you want to become more biased, read a newspaper or something. But if you want to become a person open to knowledge that disagrees with your innate prejudices, then keep reading.

You see, nothing is wrong with opinions. They cement us. Ground us. Challenge us to have passions, even when we write fragments instead of sentences. Having an opinion is fair, but we sometimes have bad opinions, or ideas that are objectively wrong.

That’s why having the mind of a journalist is valuable. Instead of going on about what the story means, they tell a story from the outside. A great journalist will let the story create a conclusion, even when it doesn’t beg one.

You’re probably reading this because you want to talk and write like a person with credibility and integrity, which is what good journalists are mostly known for. That’s why we are told to dislike pundits and respect Wolf Blitzer.

I’m not trying to glamorize all journalists and say they’re better than anyone else. In fact, most of them infuriate me, which is why I’m writing this in the first place. You see, in a world full of opinions, real journalism isn’t always the attractive option.

Being a good journalist isn’t easy. It requires a drastically different approach to approaching things, namely ideas. The time will come when you read or hear something you feel intense passion about, like this headline – “Obama Approval Ratings at an All-Time Low,” which is an article I read on Huffington Post yesterday afternoon.

Now, there are two potential reactions you had toward this headline. You may have joined in agreement or validation because you dislike the President. “Hooray!” you may have thought involuntarily.

Alternatively, you may have felt a disagreement over this headline, believing that it can’t be true because it conflicts with the positive beliefs you have toward the President.

Both reactions I’ve cited are awful, and for many of us, irresistible. They’re awful because we’ve assigned a conclusion to a headline, not a story. We have an opinion before we have a fact.

“But Jon! The headline gave us a fact.”

Yes it did, in a sense. But we don’t have the whole picture, something that you can only get from reading the information.

Let’s say you are in the “Hooray, I don’t like the President” camp. You’ve reacted positively because you don’t agree with the President’s policies, so you neglect to read the article or ask any questions. Instead, you go around to your conservative friends and brag about the misfortunes of someone you dislike.

First of all, that is annoying. Second of all, you have broken a major rule of journalism: know the context. Why are his approval ratings down? What are the approval ratings of past presidents in comparison? What are the approval ratings of Congress?

These questions would have given you answers to a more important question related to the insight of the article: What are people thinking about government at this moment?

Being a person of intellect requires a measured approach to opinion execution. You can’t always control your prejudices, as our environment and nature likes to do that for us. But we do have the willpower to be intellectually honest and open-minded.

What if you were in the camp of the person who believes the news story is biased because it doesn’t agree with your perspective? You may have seen the headline and stated, “Republican-run media will say anything to slight the President.” An odd statement to make about the Huffington Post, a self-discribed utopia of progressive politics (and a true statement I read in the comments by the way).

No matter what your politics are, vitriolic reactions like this should not be the norm for you if you want to have a fully formed conclusion on a complex and sensitive topic.

Extreme opinions will get you attention, of course. Just look at Rush Limbaugh and Al Franken. But the downside is that those two individuals have many enemies who don’t even disagree with them. They just dislike the abuse of bias to gain attention.

Here’s the tangible advice you’ve been waiting for. The next time you read a headline like “Congress Approves Bill That Will Taser 7-Year-Olds,” (thank you Brian Regan) try to assume that the bias and/or conclusion you’ve automatically assigned to this topic is false and work backward. You may find that your initial thought (that Congress is full of sickos) is justified, but you may also find that you were wrong (7-year-olds are the next big threat to society).

Weird sentences I never thought I’d write down aside, the point is for you to stand out in a noisy world. Before you get caught up in the drama of the topic at hand, whether it be politics, entertainment, technology, religion or anything else people take way too seriously, take a step back and ask the right questions before you write the story.

Thanks for reading! You can subscribe to this blog by email via the prompt on the left sidebar. Otherwise, be sure to stay connected with me on Twitter (@JonNegroni). I’ll follow you back if you say something witty and awesome.

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