Let me make this clear. This is not a breaking-news opinion piece. Facts will be thin on the ground here. Straight out opinion: that’s what we’re talking about. Opinion writers (read bloggers) are fascinated by news. Not that they really want to report the news. They just want to have their say. And mostly they are never short of a view or position.
Sometimes, they might stumble across a great piece of news. They might have overheard something. They might have seen something. Remember, as opinion writers, they have spent months, perhaps years, spewing their opinions forth, inflicting their views on everyone around them. These days, they measure their influence by clicks, diggs and connections and can track their performance with pinpoint accuracy. Their followers and adversaries know them too well by now – and mostly their opinions on a range of specialised passions are seriously welded on. Immoveable type. They are known for the ferocity of their viewpoints.
Still, they chat and gossip and occasionally listen.
And when they nail that tidbit of news, they want to be the news breaker. But not in the usual way. They don’t really want to report the news. Trust me. They just want to blurt the news out as opinion. They just want to say: “Guess what I heard today – blah blah blah – isn’t that outrageous and here’s why”. The news to them is simply a platform for their next opinion. Actually, it’s more sinister than that. In a sleight of hand, the commentator seeks to validate their opinions, no matter how wild, using their new-found opportunity to deliver facts. The opinion writer doesn’t listen for news in the same manner as a professional reporter. They know what they saw. They heard the conversation with their own ears. It’s a goddamn fact so why do we need to check it, to verify it, to balance it by going to the source for an explanation?
A good reporter is trained to listen, not so their notes are accurate (although that’s vital!), but to seek out the gaps, the misrepresentations, the fibs, the misunderstandings, the spin. They ask questions, and the questions become more specific, seeking the detail that will support or shoot down the story. “Don’t let the facts get in the way of a good story,” describes the dilemma of a journalist who is under pressure to publish a story that is not supported by the facts. For the opinion writer, it’s a no-brainer. Opinion can fly in the face of facts.
The audience – whether a newspaper reader or an avid consumer of blogs – learns over time that facts do matter. Eventually, their marriage to a strident columnist will become a source of embarrassment when the facts speak too clearly. They then seek clarity and a sense of fundamental truth. And they learn to mistrust the closely-held opinions of columnists as a pseudo-source of factual information. Yes, columnists are entertaining, but are not to be trusted.
Now, a reporter who gets a fact wrong will correct it. The newspaper may publish a correction or even an apology. The opinion writer cannot and will not concede so easily. Steeped in their bias, uncompromising and unapologetic, the commentator cannot be a credible news breaker. Whatever they say will need to be checked by someone else. Sometimes, they expect you, the reader, to do that legwork.
You know where this is going. Now that bloggers have taken over the universe – and traditional journalism is threatened – who will break the news globally, nationally, locally and be believed? Not the government. Not the robots. Not the warring chaos of the blogging community. Nope. The unregulated, free market of opinion may well send trust to the grave.