News in 20th Century America; 25; Editorializing
The following program was produced and recorded by the University of Michigan broadcasting service under a grant from the Educational Television and Radio Center and distributed by the National Association of educational broadcasters news in 20th century America. A series of radio documents on the gathering writing and dissemination of news compiled from interviews with the men and women who make news their business. And it has the question of editorializing as stations they simply are not interested. Most of these stations were founded by businessman for the purposes of making all the profit possible which is quite natural. They don't want to offend anybody because everybody's a potential customer. They're perfectly free to go to have it go ahead and editorialize. Why don't they. I don't do it because I don't want to do it. Afraid of trouble. The voice is that of Eric Sevareid veteran newscaster for the Columbia Broadcasting System One of the people you will hear today discussing editorializing this week's edition of news in 20th century America.
Now here is your host Ed Burroughs. On our last program we talked with a number of leading news man about the problem of objective reporting. Kenneth MacDonald executive editor of The Des Moines Register Tribune spoke for many of his colleagues when he said that reporting the news also means interpreting the news and that at the heart of the problem of objectivity was the desire the skill and the integrity on the part of journalists to interpret without editorializing. Today we pose the question what is editorializing. Does it have a legitimate role to play in the mass media. How does it operate. We spoke first with a man who has long been an acute observer in the field of mass communications Charles author of the book radio television and society and chairman of the Department of Communications and education at New York University. We are supposed to seep in to distinguish between editorializing and slanting the news.
Well slanting the news is the manipulation of fact editorializing. It is going to be on the news and expressing opinions about what the facts mean. Now a news reporter concerned that it was by selection by emphasis by order. Giving priority of order to things that he wants to bring to attention to people by length giving much time to subjects that he wants to stress little time to subjects he wants to skirt or say nothing about. These are manipulative devices by which I knew was kind of stuck and not use. But commentator as a person who as it were rides about the storm of events and imposes his opinion names on the list about them and I am for the commentator but I'm for a rounded stable of commentators and I don't think we've got that. If editorializing means going beyond the new and expressing opinions about what the facts mean Dr. Slepian has just suggested. How could a journalist draw the line between a personal opinion that is an editorial opinion and news
analysis. CBS newscaster Howard K. Smith had this to say. I think the main thing to be said the main prefatory remark to be made is that there is no clear cut line between these two. I think this might come as a surprise to some of my own editors. I think they have a faith in the distinction between editorializing and analyzing. I don't think there is a clear cut line. I think you can state definitions for both of them but the definitions don't hold up in all cases. In many cases they don't hold up. Editorializing is the statement of an opinion. Analysis is an attempt to find out why and what is behind this. Without giving opinions. But those two definitions are not mutually exclusive. For example you might say in regard to the State Department's Middle East policy our policy has. No real application to the realities of the Middle East. Now that statement
sounds like an opinion. As a matter of fact I think that I could back that question statement up with documents and facts and pretty well prove it was an analytical statement. It's extremely hard to draw the line. I think the drug line can only be drawn in fairly crude cases. My own opinion is just inflammatory and emotional. Contrast it with a sober statement of some facts that explain the meaning of and even then would it be accurate to say that any statement of personal opinion in the newspapers or on the air should be classified as editorializing. We spoke with JOHN HAIG head of station WTOP in Washington D.C. the broadcast division of the Washington Post and Times-Herald If you're just sit down one day and try to spell out all the subjects which are editorialized about in newspapers you soon realize how few really controversial. There are editorials on springtime and the blossoms are in the air and the trees are green and this just can't be controversial yet it's called an
editorial. A distinguished statesman dies and many newspapers have what are called editorials about this a statesman. And you will read about his accomplishments and all the things that resulted from his efforts. And this really is an obituary and yet that's called an editorial. Now obviously neither of those can be called controversial. And yet when we talk about editorials I think we subconsciously try to include in that term all the subjects which are written about so I think the first thing a station must do is is true in its own mind to find precisely what is an editorial. And it seems to me that an editorial is a statement. Of opinion or a call to action. Which is based. On a recommended course of action chosen by the management of a station. So that I think when you talk about how editorial should be handled on the air you're really talking about that last small part of what are normally called editorials or newspapers.
But isn't it possible to disguise an editorial opinion so that the reader or listener gets the impression that he is being given a piece of information accurate and objective. We wondered how journalists would react to this problem of editorializing in the news columns. Publisher Mark Etheridge of the Louisville Courier-Journal replied I think the newspaper the press generally. Falls into the heavy snow using its news columns to express its editorial prejudices or predilections it is doing what the totalitarian priced zone nor are they doing it voluntarily here. They have to do it in Yugoslavia Poland Russia and so forth. I think they're falling into a ideological battle rather than exercising the full freedom of the press as guaranteed in the Constitution.
Yeah that it would appear that an editorial should be identified or labeled in some way. NBC newsman David Brinkley spoke on that subject. Well if it is strictly an editorial. On a controversial or political partisan issue in which the person on air takes sides then I would think it should be an editorial. That should be labeled an editorial. But if it is an expression of an individual's views on. An abstruse or complex subject or problem. I don't see any reason why he shouldn't say this is what this is the problem and it seems to me or I think this is something that might be done about it. I suppose in a technical sense that is an editorial editorial writing has existed for many years in newspapers but editorializing on
radio and television is a relatively new phenomenon. How do the broadcasters themselves feel about the use of opinion on the airwaves and vice president in charge of news for CBS addressed himself to this question from resupplying editorializing we believe that broadcasters. I say very generally should editorialize they should make you so they became your qualities the characteristics of the broadcast media for carrying points of view but we think that there are certain restrictions which should be self-imposed in the first place we do not believe that editorializing should be done without the most thorough research done by the most competent and trained researchers I'm using research now in terms of good solid reporting but I mean reporting which extends beyond interviewing on a face to face basis that's library reporting it's carry on legal reporting it's all around research job. We think that editorializing should not be done unless the person is competent to analyze the
results of reporting so that the decisions which are taken that positions which are to be taken by management. I take it in such fashion that there is some assurance that there are reasonable decisions based on honest analysis of the facts. We believe that the expression of opinion should be the expression of the opinion of the management and not of any single broadcaster within the organisation since its a management point of view since its the station or the network which might stand behind a point of view. We also believe due to the peculiarities of the licensing system under which broadcasters operate that adequate provision must be made for time to answer on the part of opposition point of view. One opposition point of view there are several shades of opposition points of view several shades. We think that of all of these cautions are mad that the broadcaster should go ahead and editorialize he should take a stand on issues of importance in his community has to make some statement that the expression of opinion should be the expression of the management's point of view
was not shared by all of his colleagues. Veteran newscaster HP called aboard spoke for the opposing camp. I think it would be a mistake if management relied entirely on the present tension of its own point of view. I think they should select competent editors to do it. Now and I would quite agree that the editors need not all see eye to eye. I think that on different evenings they could use different editorial personalities to excellent effect and perhaps give a little different emphasis to certain aspects of the news and in any case a station must reconcile itself to work ational way providing time for some individual who feels that he has been wronged in the material in an editorial that he has a chance to state his point of view in opposition. That must be part of the editorial policy and that only adds interest. It suggests that the station is fair minded and perhaps in accomplishing its purpose
it works more effectively than it would if it didn't have that kind of an occasional answer. Another condition specified by Mr. Mickelson of CBS was that adequate provision must be made for time to answer on the part of the opposition point of view. This so-called Equal time concept is one which is concerned broadcasters for some time for a statement of the background on this controversial topic. We turn again to Charles Mann. Well I testified at the hearings on the Mayflower decision. Years back before the FCC. As one who was against conceding to broadcasters the right to editorialize. Basically on the score that I didn't believe that a person who was privileged to receive a license should have opportunity through that privilege. Of having an advent dangerous position to reach the public with his particular point of view. His ownership of a station seemed to be quite immaterial and the exercise of power on such a scale
I didn't think seemed to me consonant with the proper duties of a licensee. I'm. Not quite sure that I would hold so arbitrarily with that view today that I would hold with the FCC and its revised Mayflower hearings decision that if there is editorial opinion expressed by a station group must be found for a contrary view to be expressed here in this city station WMC regularly has editorials by the owner of the stations donate and struck us. And I don't know that he strictly within the letter of the law in his policy of conceding time to anybody who claims to answer him. I think the actually the FCC meant that we had an editorial B was expressed there must be some other point of view expressed also. This destroys the station he gives his editorial office. And then if anybody cares to take up the cudgels
he will concede time well with a man of that. Integrity I have no fear for the use of the editorial but I would still think that the FCC provision is a sound one that we must never let a licensee get away with the opportunity to reach the public with his own point of view. Without full opportunity for other views being expressed as well. Otherwise this is an abuse of power. But I would certainly be against. Equal time on the air for the opposition point of view is at present insisted upon by the FCC but the situation in the newspapers is quite different. Author and critic Gilbert Saudi's is the director of the newly formed Annenberg School of Communications at the University of Pennsylvania. But the Saudis added fuel to the fire on the subject of equal time as he discussed the Mayflower decision and its effects on the mass media. It's interesting to note that everybody as far as I know with two exceptions want to reverse the broadcast was reversed so on the American Civil Liberties Union and best of
my recollection did not want to be versed and a great many. Maybe you just don't want it reversed. Ever unions not have broadcasters who are identified as being sponsored by them. But now days a station can go on the air and say Write to your congressman to do this do that. Station does that it's got to give equal time to reply can you imagine a Chicago Tribune The New York Times Herald Tribune or any paper you mean you want to name. Opening its editorial columns for it with exact equality. Every time they publish an editorial in favor of something publishing a toile against it. I don't think that can be done and I don't know what the situation what can be done in a situation broadcasting that is not good. The fact that they have to give time replied intimidates broadcasters from saying what they want to say. We spoke also with newspaper men on this subject among them Robert Barton editor of the Lima
citizen in Lima Ohio. We asked him should radio and television have the same rights as newspapers in the presentation of editorial opinion or is it entirely proper to give equal time to an opposing viewpoint. No I think that's entirely silly. I think radio and television have has as much right to operate their businesses as they see fit as a newspaper. Newspapers. Started off by making a lot of mistakes. It's taken them years to grow up. And I think perhaps radio on television would. Would make a lot of mistakes they could conceivably make fatal mistakes. You know some of the raps were taken off the restrictions were removed. But. Were a free country we believe in in free speech. If they are. If the powers that be behind radio and television are willing to take that gamble.
And take a chance on on creating. Enough antagonism that it might. Hurt them or destroy them. I think they should have that privilege. I think that there are enough other news media in the country. You're a news magazines you're. Your magazines such as Saturday Evening Post and your daily new weekly newspapers. Radio and Television could be held in line by public opinion without governmental. Control. A call for more freedom for the airways to allow editorializing on radio and television to operate in much the same manner as in the newspaper world. We asked ABC reporter Mike Wallace whether he agreed that the core of the problem of editorializing was indeed insufficient freedom for broadcasters. I think.
Time and again it's been brought out that the freedom is there that it's simply a question of not using the freedom. Actually over the past year the networks. Have begun to exercise a little of the freedom that is there is to use when they want to for the first time on radio. They have used a good deal of their freedom but your hard point on your television is going to Jewel's to find any sensible commentary. I guess NBC now has a little bit more. And I think they were ahead of CBS on on this score and as far as I know there's virtually none at all. And in the way of controversial discussion on ABC or editorial discussion on ABC that is not true on any of the Radio Networks. Now whether this is just a question of time and availability of time for discussions of this kind on the air I I don't know but there is insufficient editorial discussion on a daily basis. There isn't a newspaper in the world practically doesn't have an editorial page every
single issue. Why should there not be an editorial page certainly once a day. On every major news program. That was Mike Wallace suggesting that editorializing was not only necessary on the air but that it should become a daily habit. In speaking with journalists about this subject of editorializing we found a number of differing opinions when we asked whether there was enough editorial comment on the air today. HP cotton board agreed that there now exists a certain amount of editorializing on the air. He then went on to say well yes but we don't have enough and we don't have enough editorializing that at MIT's that it is editorializing That's because most radio station owners are timid. They want to make money. That's their chief interest every now and then you find a local station that has a real sense for public service and where moneymaking is not the prime objective just as you find newspaper owners whose prime purpose is to serve the community in which they work and not to make money but generally by and large
moneymaking is the purpose. And whatever they think makes money they do what they think might prevent them from getting certain advertising. What might offend some of their readers and thereby cause a flow in circulation. They followed the matter when in doubt don't. And consequently there is very little real editorial comment either on the radio or on television. But the Colton boy has pointed to the desire to make money as the key reason why there was not more editorializing on the air. He told us that the question of equal time was being used as a convenient excuse to avoid meeting the responsibility of presenting editorial opinions. But we wondered are there any encouraging trends that he could describe for us. Yes we've just had a report and I say we've had I was I have a
small foundation Guttenberg Foundation which helps young chaps who are working in radio or in television helps them to get a start. Helps them to do the particular thing they want to do helps them to do an occasional piece of research. And I've just subsidized a chap named out smiter Snyder down in Miami Florida who with the help of the radio and television department of the University of Miami made. An extensive investigation as to the effect of a policy of radio editorials that one of the leading stations of Miami has decided to follow during the year and a half. They've had a young fellow who has voiced a daily editorial. And one of the purposes about Snyders investigation in which he used a great many students who were studying radio and television at Miami University. Competent young people who knew how to put questions and whose questions were carefully phrased.
They went out and learned that this editorial. Done by a young editor on the staff of station WTMJ that that was the most popular single news feature voiced in Greater Miami. It has twice the following the 6:30 news broadcast which includes at the end before a five minute editorial by this fellow Ralph Rennick who has done it extremely well and that has built up a tremendous following for that particular newscast because people like it they believe in it and they it's very popular and it gets popular more popular all the time. But do they want to voice their own opinions. Do they want to editorialize once again. Howard K. Smith Well I can only speak for myself. I don't want to
editorialize. I sincerely do not want to state merely opinion. I want to analyze. I feel that my job and its highest meaning is teaching and I would like to analyze the news in a way that is interesting and listening to the public and yet has meaning for them and tells them things they did not quite realize before. And I don't seek to editorialize. I think the value of editorials for an institution is exaggerated. Now in our newspapers we maintain such a clear cut line as no other nation in the world does between fact and opinion that I like it. But radio and television are a little more personal it's hard to draw the line. But insofar as it's possible I would like not to write editorials and I would like to have an editor over me to go through my stuff. I want that to happen. But I would like for my editor to have a fairly clear idea of what he means between editorializing and analysis. And that is not always the case. Whether a journalist wants merely to analyze the news or consciously give his considered
opinions on world events it would seem that there are a number of news commentators who have in their hands the power to sway men's minds. How are these reporters chosen are they really capable journalists or are they placed in such positions because of personality traits they possess in order to attain popular acceptance. We turned to Charles and again wrote the policy is determining that choice are I of course personally I don't know. By and large. I would think that most of these men. Have a reasonable calm confidence in interpreting the news. Most of them have professional news background. God knows the true interpretation of events today is complicated for the wisest of us. But when you speak of sever I don't know it but I'm not oh you're speaking of men. I think of considerable quality and very wide background of experience. Well Howard K. Smith and for good measure. I can think of commentators the Babson I'd better not mention who I think abuse that power. And who take their role
as a commentator as an opportunity to foist upon the public prejudices which I put in strictly propaganda terms without regard to truth. And these I regret. But speaking generally it's the lack of commentators with different slants on the news that I would be critical of in prison broadcasting rather than the particular quality or competence of those who are on the air. I don't think we've got enough. It was represented from many of the comments heard on this program. It would seem that the responsibility for presenting differing viewpoints for airing editorial opinions rests squarely with management. Eric Sevareid of CBS summarizes this issue. You know that's the question of editorializing as stations. They simply are not interested. Most of these stations were founded by businessman for the purposes of making all the profit possible which is
quite natural. They don't want to offend anybody because everybody's a potential customer. Newspapers in this country began with a different tradition. They were not founded on the whole basis in the last century and IDM century. By businessmen who simply wanted to make a profit. They were founded by journalists who wanted to say something. They were often the owner as well as the editor. That's not true much more. It hasn't been true very much in this century. Those papers have been inherited by Suns and by boards of directors and stockholders become more and more the business interest in them dominates. Radio started out that way. That's quite a different tradition. They're perfectly free to go to have it go ahead and editorialize. So why don't they. They don't want to. I think they should. I don't think the business of worrying about monopoly of an air wave or this is a people's property assigned to them and therefore they must not repent I think that's nonsense. There are
far more radio stations as means of communication that have started in this country in the last 15 years in daily newspapers. It is papers go down a number of radio and television stations a vastly increased number of perfectly absurd to say that the one that has been diminishing because it's entirely a private thing with no governmental franchise at all is the only one that you have the right to editorialize and that the larger more numerous medium shouldn't. That's ridiculous. They don't do it because they don't want to do it. Afraid of trouble. Whether or not the broadcasting industry meets the challenge is put forth by Eric Sevareid. It appears fairly certain that editorializing on the airwaves is here to stay. Well it may be true that such problems as equal time and the desire to make money still stand in the way of an expanded and improved editorial service on radio and television. The door has been opened and as evidenced by most of the comments made today editorializing by and large is supported by responsible journalists in all the mass media. We are living in a
time which demands more new analysis more interpretive reporting more commentary. It remains for the practitioners the reporters and editors of newscasters to find the ways and means to present the news as well as their opinions about the meaning of the news. With professional skill and integrity and in the long run it remains for the reading and listening public to learn to distinguish between the reporting of news and a statement of personal opinion. If and when such conditions are met editorializing on the air may one day attain the stature of its widely accepted predecessor the newspaper editorial. You have been listening to editorializing one of a series of programmes on news in 20th century America in this series we explore all facets of the gathering writing and dissemination of news in this country today by means of recorded interviews with leading news men and women interviewers for the series are Glenn Phillips and Ed Burroughs consulted on today's program was Professor Kenneth steward of the University of Michigan Department of journalism news in 20th century America. It's produced by the
University of Michigan broadcasting service under a grant and aid from the Educational Television and Radio Center and is distributed by the National Association of educational broadcasters. They'll stage a speaking. This is the NEA B Radio Network.
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