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The difference between opinion journalism, having an opinion and propaganda

by: Eric B.

Tue Jul 15, 2014 at 14:14:38 PM EDT

Last week or something, Bridge Magazine published a column from Greg McNeilly responding to the Freep's year-long investigation into whether charter schools are working and how they spend tax dollars. McNeilly, by the way, works for Dick DeVos' school voucher organization, so it's safe to assume that he's got strong biases simply coming to the table. Lots of people complained, most prominently Jack Lessenberry, and today Bridge responded to those critics essentially by saying that opinions are like assholes.

Bridge has two missions. Our primary mission is data-driven, in-depth policy and current events reporting – covering the how and the why of the news in an era of media retrenchment, where traditional journalists don’t always have time to dig deeper. The second mission is very different: to provide a diverse, blunt and vibrant soapbox for smart thinkers in our state.

Data-driven journalism used to go by a very similar term: Journalism. Not sure when this all changed.

The larger question revolves around what Bridge is seeking in opinion writing. We view these columns as an online speakers’ corner, where folks across the political spectrum can sound off on issues of the day, whether they’re policy experts, political leaders or ordinary residents who happen to care deeply about Michigan.

Here's the problem with this: Columns and unsigned editorials are still a form of journalism. That is, even if they are strong and passionate, they still need to be rooted in facts. That is, opinion journalism is still supposed to be what we today call data journalism. It's not just some guy with something he'd like to blow out of his nose.

This is where McNeilly's "column" was such a disappointment. His rebuttal to the Freep's investigation was to simply say, "You're wrong." So, it wasn't journalism. It was partisan shouting. And, since he works on behalf of the same basic thing as charter schools -- replacing traditional schools with something else (and far worse) -- then it doesn't even rise to having an opinion. We call it propaganda.

And, finally, we get to an affirmative action program conservatives can finally get behind.

We demand clear writing, delivered with passion. The best columns provoke a response. They address policy issues but in a way that is engaging. If i’m being honest, not every commentary will meet this bar. Some may be less than inspiring, others overly wonky or lacking in fresh perspective. I also believe we must do more to attract conservative voices in our guest writings.

That last sentence is a terrible, unfortunate approach to journalism. It guarantees that what you get is terrible journalism, kind of like what Bridge published in the McNeilly column. It also usually means that the person you get to write for you assumes that everything they write has to be from a particular partisan point of view rather than how they interpret facts.

Eric B. :: The difference between opinion journalism, having an opinion and propaganda
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The false equivalence
is most important. Every issue, no matter how straightforward, has to have two opposed yet equally valid sides.

I also believe we must do more to attract conservative voices in our guest writings.

Yes, this must be done, no matter how fact free or extreme those voices might be. Anything else is proof of liberal bias.

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