Fila Sophia

applied philosophy, deep democracy, sustainability / by A.R.Teleb

Should New Media Distinguish Idea from Opinion Journalism?

[Also appeared March 10, 2014 on Truthout here.]

Old media separated non-entertainment journalism into a simple dichotomy: news and opinion. Today we—academics, journalists, and laypeople—include internet searches at some point in the research process. Should we now distinguish idea from opinion work?

The first two senses of “idea” according to are: 1) any conception existing in the mind as a result of mental understanding, awareness, or activity; 2) a thought, conception, or notion. An opinion, on the other hand, is a belief, judgment, or point of view. According to traditional media, anything not reporting events was labeled “opinion” to emphasize that “news” was objective, based on hard facts that all would agree comprise “the truth of the matter.”

We are no longer so naive. The 21st century reader (post-modernist or not) knows that what’s news to one outlet is gossip, or even publicity stunt, to another. If news is now understood as inherently subjective—or at least inter-subjective—what’s the difference between idea and opinion?

Firstly, ideas can “do” things; they’re useful. Opinions do only as much as the person or group professing them. Ideas can help make sense of the world around us. They put apparent chaos into order. Opinions only tell us how a particular person (or group) evaluates recent events. But ideas also create; they’re generative. They can go beyond the present to future possibilities. Opinions cannot.

Secondly, ideas and opinions differ in form. The form of an idea is usually a concept. An opinion is a valuation. Of course any ordering, like that from an idea, contains implicit judgments; but an idea is already something—a “social fact”—that other people can use. The order arising from an idea is a “thing” even if it originated in a mind. An opinion is just a “thumbs up” or “thumbs down” on what already existed or was created by someone else.

Furthermore, an idea is open to interpretation–analysis, synthesis, reuse–by someone other than its inventor. It can be combined and developed into new ideas or serve as the basis of a new opinion. An opinion always remains the work of its confessor. It can be repeated or mimicked but not reused or reinvented.

Lastly, an idea and an opinion have different shelf lives. The first lasts as long as people find it useful—sometimes centuries or millennia. The second lasts so long as its advocate is deemed trustworthy. An idea can combine with other ideas to create a tool to be used again and again. An opinion can only tell us where a person stands with respect to other people.

In our new media—where articles are archived forever on an instantly accessible world-wide web—we should look for and begin calling some work “idea journalism.” At any rate, that’s my opinion.

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This entry was posted on 2014-03-11 by in Applied Philosophy and tagged , , .
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