Editorial: The War For Quality

June 2, 2019

Modern Opinion Journalism is a blight that can only be fixed after being burnt from orbit with nuclear hellfire.

Journalism is the discipline of conveying insight, or telling a story. Unless the journalist is heavily specialized, the story narrative usually has to rely on sources. Research is hard, so it is reasonable that journalists would try to minimize their labor as much as possible.

Something very easy and low effort to write is what is called an opinion piece. Opinion pieces by themselves are not the worst thing in the world. They can allow experts to express information pertaining to their field with little effort. What gets journalists into trouble is when the journalists themselves write the opinion piece.

A common issue concerning opinion pieces is labeling. Confidence in media is low, and in a random sample of 1,035 adults only 45% of them find trust in the media. Duke Reporters’ Lab conducted research into news labeling, found only 40 percent of large news organizations provide labels about article types. Rebecca Iannucci, manager and editor at Duke Reporters’ Lab shared why she thought the report was a bad sign,

“The findings are significant because journalists and educators are focusing on article labels as one way to address the decline in trust of the news media. Labels help readers distinguish between news and opinion so they better understand different forms of journalism and can assess allegations of bias. Readers often come to articles from links in social media and don’t know if an article is published in a news or opinion section unless it is labeled.”

The lack of labeling is a sign of laziness in the journalist industry, and runs deep into the stories journalists write.

One example of journalistic opinion failure is an anime industry blog. The blog is owned by J-List, an online retailer of Japanese goods for consumers outside Japan. While blogging is considered to be informal, there are standards a for-profit business is expected to meet. So, when a company’s industry blog vomits out trash, there is nothing to stand in the way of raking them over the coals.

J-List published a piece on The Saga of Tanya the Evil (Yōjo Senki (幼女戦記)) movie. The movie is based on a series that features a fictional world war filled with magic, and borrows history from the European theaters of both World Wars. You can find the archive link here.

The piece is a review on the movie, and sets off on the wrong foot by not being labeled opinion (which it is). Since the review is not written in a comical way, it is then classified as a professional review published by an industry blog. As such, the review deserves both barrels for its failures. Under simple scrutiny, the review faces severe problems. It is filled with assertions with little supporting evidence while getting objective facts about the movie and history wrong.  (I saw the movie too and I did NOT see any Tiger IIIs. In fact, Tiger IIIs were NOT a real tank. Unless, the writer meant the Panzerkampfwagen III) Assertions with no evidence are bad, because they degrade a journalist opinion into nothing more than a rant.   

For instance, in the J-List article it is mentioned that, “a lot of my fellow fans in the theater were cheering at the wrong parts.” This quote comes after the writer asserted why people liked a character, why they shouldn’t, and expressed how the movie changed this by adding contrast. If these assertions had any validity, why was the audience still clapping? The author called the audience wehraboos (A history or alternate history fan who is firmly entrenched in the belief that Nazi Germany’s Wehrmacht was the best military in history) as a brief explanation, but did not define what a wehraboo was, with no real evidence that the audience was this. Supporting evidence is easy to link, where was it?

Then we have an article from a full-fledged news media website, the Washington Examiner. The publication actually released something the was worse than the J-List article, a video game opinion piece called “’Hearts of Iron 4′ is broken by its new naval system”. You can find the archive link here.

This 369-word wonder is almost everything wrong with opinion journalism made manifest. The piece is correctly labeled an opinion piece, but that is where the praise ends. The Washington examiner article conveys very little. The author plays the video game Hearts of Iron 4, (HoI4) and used to do well. A game mechanic changed and now he no longer wins. He can’t figure out how to get good, and will not play the game the way it is anymore.

The only insight to be gained by reading this opinion is that the game is now harder for this individual. We have no idea if the game is harder, because we do not know if the author is an expert. This piece is almost useless, and more information can be gleaned by just looking up official company statements.

As someone who is an expert at this game, git gud scrub.

I don’t bother with achievements as I like to play with mods. Also yes that is an anime mod for the mod Kaiserreich.

The reason why these garbage opinion pieces are written is easy to understand. As a website owner, you need a steady stream of content for your readership, and often deadlines are hard to meet. However, these opinion pieces are lowering the overall quality of journalism. People are skeptical of news now more than ever, and publishing low quality work does little to help. Working on increasing the quality of pieces may actually help attract more readers while building a competitive advantage over their competitors.

Opinion Journalism is in an intolerable state that must be rectified. It is too easy to improve journalism with minimum effort to let trash be an average. We live in an information age, with anything anyone wants to know well within reach. It should be a requirement to label opinion pieces opinion pieces, link sources where applicable, and to elaborate an opinion with well-reasoned arguments. Until the quality improves most opinion pieces should be avoided, and treated like the cancerous wastes of time they are.

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