The rise of Facebook ‘journalism’

Bill McMillan

Liberal media bias.

The words send a chill through this journalist of 32 years who now teaches a new generation of journalists.

Is it true? Can we say conservative media bias, too?

The truth is out there, and a true journalist seeks it, no matter where it leads. We call that watchdog journalism. We are trained to put bad people away. Do we sometimes get carried away and blow it? Yes, if newsroom staffers don’t challenge each other.

Staying honest and true to themselves is the hardest part of the job. I found a healthy mix of liberal and conservative reporters during my years at The Detroit News. We kept each other in check.

It is better known as Chapter 6 of the reporter rookie handbook: Ethics. We try to keep our opinions to ourselves and give both sides of the story. Leave the commentary for the editorial page.

What has changed in journalism is the lack of separation of news and commentary. Thank the internet and cable TV news.

Both enlightening tools, they blur the lines of what is truth and embellishment. Or downright dishonesty. Are TV pundits journalists or commentators?

One news organization’s fact-checking is another’s interpretation. Commentary pieces are placed in what used to be prime news positions on the web or the tube.


Clicks, ratings. Students come into my basic news writing classes confused about what is fact and what is opinion. And why shouldn’t they be? It is a world of spin, after all. It is what this generation has grown up with. Online “news” sites in-disguise shovel anything but hard news.

And in the end we the voter finds it more difficult to cast our ballots based on reason and information instead of emotion, fear and hype. Just look at the daily deluge of mailers from candidates. Or spend two mind-numbing weeks watching the national conventions. Better yet, look at all the misinformation from your best friends on Facebook. Rumor after rumor passed off as fact, and soon it becomes truth.

The more information we get, it seems the less we know. So as you throw up your hands craving for truth this election year I leave you with the one phase all good journalism teachers teach:

If your mother says she loves you, check it out.

Bill McMillan is a retired assistant managing editor at The Detroit News who teaches journalism at Wayne State University and the University of Michigan.