There is an unspoken separation between opinion and fact in serious journalism. It has been called the “wall,” or “firewall.” This imaginary wall separates the business end of journalism from the opinion and activism aspects of journalism.
To understand the wall, one must understand that the line between editorial and news has become increasing blurred in recent years. After the rise professional journalism, journalists took on the persona of being the soothsayers of truth. Once the public relies on a profession for nearly all of its information, it becomes essential that profession maintains its ethical dignity and does not abuse the power.
The business of journalism is tricky because it is a protected institution under national law. Where once reporters were known as the “watchdogs of the government,” politically biased journalism is on the rise as business models shift. “Now entire cable news channels report the world through obvious political prisms. Now websites that serve as primary news sources for many Americans make no secret of their ideological leanings.” (Gladstone pg.110) With such a saturated market and with no steady subscription income, newspapers make money from having high ratings which is turned into ad revenue, sensationalism and partisanship keeps ratings high while play fast and loose with ethics.
“The reporter's usual role is simply to find and write the facts. The trouble is, that task rarely turns out to be simple. -Karen Dillon, reporter.” (Missouri Group, pg.12) When facts cannot be found, educated guesses are made. Educated guesses are dangerous because they are not far from speculation, and not far at all from opinion. What happens when there are no sources that are willing to speak out on a story? A reporter must make a guess, but by making a habit of having to have the story to compete in the market, american journalism has let that line of speculation fall too far off center, further breaching the wall between the news/facts and the editorial/opinion.
While print media is struggling new sources of media are sprouting up. The web and podcasts have given new venues to journalists pushed out of shrinking newsrooms. Although these people are no longer reporting for a newspaper, they still carry the job of journalism, but these new medias are not yet regulated. “‘For serious journalists to be reading ads is a little problematic, I think, because the old firewall between editorial and journalism is completely broken down,’ said Curtis Fox, an independent radio producer.” (Gradoni) Podcasts in particular, the journalists who carry the banner of truth are reading off advertisements as themselves. This makes the advertisements seem to be a part of the truth that the journalists bring to the table and makes it hard for the audience to separate the advertisement and the truth.
Outside of large media conglomerates the wall exists and has other issues to contend with. Small communities are represented by small newspapers and deal with graying of the line between editorial and news. “Some community editors consider advertising to be editorial copy and will accept only ads that are appropriate for their readers, preferring advertisements from businesses within the community.” (Reader pg.12) Beyond the business model of small newspapers they also contend with breaking hard news that will affect people they have grown close to while covering the area. There is no clear answer how to keep the wall in place, ever racing technology and poor opinions of journalists affect how journalism, it will take a hard look inward to face the issues ahead for the media.
Sometimes the wall isn't meant to be torn down.