REPORTAGE [rep-awr-TAHZH]: a written report of an act, based upon actual witnessing or research

It is possible to pronounce reportage as [ri-PAWR-tij], but I love the way the more French pronunciation sounds, so I prefer [rep-awr-TAHZH], with the accent on last syllable.   It is a 19th century word, obviously from the French language.   Its meaning is simple:  it means to report something, usually in writing.

I mention this word now because it is increasingly important to be able to differentiate the way in which news is presented in the print media and on television and radio.  I fear that the distinction between reportage and opinion get blurred at times, perhaps more frequently of late.   The election campaigns we have just concluded (thanks be to God!) had moments of “campaign news” that were, from time to time, opinion pieces that were masked as news reports.

This is particularly true on talk television, where the names of Fox News (a term that is seen as an oxymoron by some) became synonymous with “The Republican Party publicity office” and MSNBC served the same purpose for the Democratic Party.   If one went to these channels for information on the latest news in the campaigns, it was necessary to filter the biases in order to get to the truth.  Sometimes it wasn’t possible.

The “reporters” for these stations have been granted press credentials, and they sit in the same seats as those from CBS, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and The Washington Post.   Of late there has been a call for the cancelling of credentials for these two channels, as well as for a group of other media resources which have been cited for regular flaunting of political bias.

There is no media group which is 100% free of political bias.  Whenever a newspaper “endorses” a candidate for office, they have stepped over the line.   And political “preferences” are visible in the best of the newspapers, The New York Times and the Washington Post being seen as “liberal” in their leanings, and The Wall Street Journal identified as more conservative.   But these are usually referred to as “leanings” and not outright “biases.”

The problem for the public is that it is often difficult at times to sort out the reportage from opinion.  For instance, some time ago I read an article about the Governor of the State of Rhode Island in the local newspaper (front page, upper fold) which was clearly tainted with a bias.   The reader cannot help but be influenced by such reporting, especially when it falls on the front page.

My understanding of journalism is that the front page and designated “news” pages are meant to be places where unbiased, independent articles are printed, and that opinion pieces are restricted to the page on which editorials and op-ed pieces are located.   Of course, it is sometimes difficult to read even the comic page without bias being present.

I hope that this concern among Americans for the blurring of the boundaries between reportage and opinion never ends up in the hands of legislators.  It is not a legislative issue.  The news industry is the vehicle through which this issue can be identified and resolved.  It is really up to them to police their own industry.  It can’t come soon enough.

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Photo Credit:  Chris Roush

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