Today’s Journalism: Experience & Honesty Not Required

Good journalism, somebody once said, is a nation talking to itself.

That’s “talking to itself,” not yelling, screaming, shrieking, talking over one another, and generally engaging in verbal bullying.

Yet that is just about all we see on prime-time television, especially cable television.

Prime-time cable TV outlets such as Fox, CNN, MSNBC, CNBC, etc., continue to produce a proliferation of hosts and pundits with no foundation in journalistic ethics and tradition.

Today’s so-called “news shows” more often than not degenerate into shout fests where guests and hosts engage, not in any kind of intelligent discussion of issues, but in contests to see who can talk the loudest or bully those who disagree with them into submission.

That kind of behavior comes with a steep price. What does the viewing public learn from such exhibitions of boorish behavior?

The answer, I would argue, is not much. Because when people are yelling at one another, calling one another names or generally behaving like petulant children, reasoned discourse disappears, and the viewer gets lost in the shrill disruption of the moment.

Writing your opinion is NOT reporting. Yet those who monitor the recent explosion of misnamed “news shows” say viewers don’t really discern between shows with obvious political agendas and those that attempt to present events with a minimum of subjectivity and a maximum of fairness and balance.

Sadly, journalism today has descended into propaganda and indoctrination rather than honest, unbiased reporting. Too many journalists see themselves as messengers for a partisan position rather than as reporters dedicated to truthful and impartial reporting.

When I began my career in the newspaper business–first at the Kansas City Times, then for 27 years at the Chicago Tribune, reporters were taught that while all of us have biases, as professionals, we must work to subordinate those biases and keep our opinions out of the stories we report.

It was drilled into our heads, and good editors and producers ensured it never left.

That is not the case today. Too many journalists (or those who like to call themselves journalists) feel compelled to insert their opinions into everything they write or produce.

In fact, many of these “journalists” are not journalists but simply former political operatives and talking heads who wrap themselves in the mantle of journalism when real journalists are risking their lives in places like Ukraine, Afghanistan, and Syria to bring reliable news.

These shows, with their ersatz-journalist hosts and churlish, dogmatic guests, debase what professional journalists are still left in the nation’s newsrooms and undermine their integrity and credibility.

The opinion-fueled shows that dominate cable news channels during prime time are far removed from the old-school straight news programs such as the traditional nightly network newscasts that many of us grew up with.

At an awards dinner a few years ago for the late Mike Wallace of CBS 60-Minutes fame, I talked with Walter Cronkite about the state of television news in general and prime-time cable news in particular. During his reign on CBS, Cronkite, who died in 2009, was often referred to as the most trusted journalist in America–an appellation he didn’t take lightly.

Walter Cronkite

During our conversation, he decried the lack of ethics and professionalism that is so pervasive today.

“Too many of these people simply don’t care about or have any desire to ferret out the truth,” Cronkite told me. “Too many have intense political or social agendas, and rather than present information as objectively as possible, they want to jam their opinions down our throats.”

And, he added, most of the public cannot distinguish between these faux journalists and real reporters.

The Society of Professional Journalists–an organization I have belonged to since my days as a student at the University of Kansas–has a code of ethics that most of cable TV’s shouting heads have no concept of.

I, as well as most of the journalists I have worked with in the U.S. and around the world, have always tried to follow that code which consists of several elements.

The ones that stand out most in these days of ersatz journalism (and which are, unfortunately, too often ignored) are:

  • Give voice to the voiceless; official and unofficial sources of information can be equally valid.
  • Distinguish between advocacy and news reporting. Analysis and commentary should be labeled and not misrepresent facts or context.
  • Test the accuracy of information from all sources and exercise care to avoid inadvertent errors. Deliberate distortion is never permissible.
  • Journalists should be free of obligation to any political or social interest other than the public’s right to know.
  • Support the open exchange of views, even views they find repugnant.
  • Journalists are accountable to their readers, listeners, viewers, and each other.

I purposely have NOT mentioned any names of the most egregious offenders here because that would require several more pages of copy. But I urge you to watch these so-called “news shows” with a critical eye and ear from now on.

Pay attention to who they have on as guests or as experts—and how often they appear.

Watch how those with opposing views are interviewed—or not interviewed. Are they allowed to get their points or arguments across without being shouted down?

What kinds of discussions are held on issues? Are they truth-seeking or attempts to reinforce the opinion of the host?

Does each member of a panel have an opportunity to talk without being insulted by the host or by some other panel member?

How you answer these questions will go a long way in helping you to determine if you are watching a frenzied opinion fest or a real news show designed to get at the truth.

As Thomas Jefferson once said: “An informed citizenry is the only true repository of the public will.”

So, I will end where I began.

Good journalism is not only a nation talking to itself; it is a nation that learns from intelligent, rational discourse and has at its core the responsibility to help advance and encourage an informed citizenry—not one that has been propagandized and brainwashed.


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About Ronald E. Yates

Ronald E. Yates is an award-winning author of historical fiction and action/adventure novels, including the popular and highly-acclaimed Finding Billy Battles trilogy. Read More About Ron Here

7 thoughts on “Today’s Journalism: Experience & Honesty Not Required”

  1. Excellent article, on a very timely and worthy topic!

    And it’s not just the cable “news” networks — which often carry opinion talk shows rather than actual news — that are the problem, but also the cacophony of social media posts and replies that seem to have brought us down to the least common denominator of social discourse, and which get amplified by replies and re-posting.

    Another issue is the use of photos and video, their context and accuracy (whether edited or fake) and what is left on the cutting room floor/not shown, which can matter a great deal. Some of those talk shows run the same video clips over and over and over while they hammer away on a topic. Meanwhile, photos and videos (especially from the Internet) may be fake, given the increased capability and lower cost of computer/editing equipment.

    Perhaps more media education courses are needed for middle- and high-school students, and even adults, to help teach how to evaluate information, assess credibility of sources, bias, etc. These are difficult things. Even those with education in these areas can be fooled or misled. But at least it could give some basics.

    Another good thing is to seek out diverse opinions, not just those which agree with one’s views. But it needs to be intelligent discussion, not just shouting, as you note. Unfortunately, social media algorithms and the proliferation of media choices have made it easier to wallow in what we already believe to be true, and seem to give the talking heads (and also the vicious trolls) more clout. The decline of newspapers and well-funded independent newsrooms is also a problem. The void gets filled with opinion shows and social media postings.

    (From a 1999 U of I journalism grad — when you headed the department!)

    • All good points, Chris. Social media is a new element in the equation. It wasn’t such a force nor such a major source for misinformation in the past.

      It is a small world. I am trying to recall you, but I can’t. Were you in a class I taught? In any case, what are you doing now? Are you working in the news business?

      Thanks for the comments.

      • Hi Ron,

        I didn’t have you for any classes. I was a grad student so I was only there for a year and a half and I think you arrived mid-way through that time span.

        But I spoke with you a bit when I was back on campus to give a talk about “The Bombing of Sterling Hall” documentary (, which I produced for my graduate project.

        I worked as an assignment editor at a Madison TV station after I graduated, but now I run my own Web development business and serve as “Mr. Mom” at home. Still try to keep up on the news business, though.

        Thank you for your reply, and hope all is going well for you!

        • Hi Chris,

          Well, it’s been a while since 1999. Congratulations on operating your own business and for your stint in TV. After clicking on the link you provided about the U of Wisconsin’s Sterling Hall bombing, I seem to recall your doc. Interestingly, in 1970 I was a new reporter at the Chicago Tribune and actually went to Madison after that bombing. The 60s and 70s were a crazy time and campus violence was everywhere. After I graduated from the University of Kansas in 1969, some radical group burned down the student union on campus.

          Hang in there, Mr. Mom. Rearing kids ain’t for sissies.


          Ron Yates

          • Thank you. People who were in/around Madison in 1970 still remember the bombing. Just had a conversation with a guy about it a couple weeks ago.

            As for parenting, you’re right. It could be called “The Toughest Job You’ll Ever Love”, but I guess the Peace Corps already has that slogan. 🙂

            Best to you!

  2. Great column, Ron, one that should be widely read and understood as it applies to this divided country. It’s amazing how so many people will spurn the objective reporting you write about and follow people with no integrity and principles, regardless of the lack of reality.
    Close to what I wrote earlier, Ron. Not quite


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