Opinion columns aren't real journalism

It's easy to write when you control the information. It's difficult when people are counting on you to balance different ideas

Think of journalism like Instagram.

Journalists and reporters are the people who are carefully choosing five pictures for a small Instagram collage from 500 different photos, all deserving of an individual post, but due to length, only a few can be included. This post generally generates a meager 30 likes.

The opinion writer is the attractive person on your feed who posts a picture of themselves drinking a milkshake with a vague (usually angsty) caption, and has 500 likes in a few minutes.

And this is truly the difference.

Being an opinion writer for The State Press has been a really incredible experience. It has given me a structured way to form ideas and broadcast them in a way that can inform others.

However, as I prepare for my senior year, and in reflection of the 2016 election, I developed a nuanced view of my work: it’s not journalism. Not even close.

Victoria Grijalva, a public service and public policy junior, said she believes opinion columns and journalism are 

"It certainly has aspects of it, but that's not journalism in of itself," Grijavla said. "Just because you show facts and figures does not mean you're objective."

My job as an opinion columnist is a balancing act between manipulation and entertainment. I post a catchy headline, with a catchy idea, craft a sympathetic story to hook readers, pick and choose facts and boom. A story that people agree with.

Just look at my latest article on healthcare. The beginning story is powerful, but I never once make an argument with real numbers, nor do I indicate how often the story occurs, both points that would likely hurt my argument, but in opinion articles, I get to dictate the terms.

For journalists, it’s a much tougher task to report both sides of the story, taking 30 minutes of quotes, and placing two of them into an article, which again, is like picking five photos out of 500. It’s difficult.

This is often why politicians call respectable journalists "fake news." Because they don’t like the five photos the journalist selected. They don’t like the presentation, and so like a failing student goes to their parents, begging them to reprimand their teacher, politicians tell the American people not to watch the #fakenews. (Of course there are certain circumstances where it’s justified, but it’s really hard for me to believe that every news media outlet is fake news).

Now do I think my work is worth reading, and that my arguments are strong? I mean, I would like to think so, but do I consider myself a journalist? No. I am a columnist, an entertainer. 

It’s easy to watch all-star games, concerts and the Kardashians. It’s difficult to explore substance, behind the entertainment.

I’m not saying this as a condemnation of America, and I’m not saying that journalism can’t have some component of entertainment.

I’m saying that we all need to reflect more carefully on what we put into the world, and what we are taking out of the world.

And I suppose even more so, I want to say my work is not holding anyone accountable. I’m not asking anyone hard questions, I’m not ensuring that our government is truly working for us.

Journalists are, and yes, while we should hold them accountable if they are reporting inaccuracies, we should probably be listening to them more than people like Alex Jones.

I still believe in journalism and its ability to create positive change through hard questions, research, and yes, being a check on people in power. Things an opinion columnist can never do or be by default.

Reach the columnist at jarwood@asu.edu or follow @jimsthebeast on Twitter.

Editor’s note: The opinions presented in this column are the author’s and do not imply any endorsement from The State Press or its editors.

Want to join the conversation? Send an email to opiniondesk.statepress@gmail.com. Keep letters under 500 words and be sure to include your university affiliation. Anonymity will not be granted.

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