The Fall of Objectivity, The Rise of Opinion

As I watched the politicians battle over the debt limit, the stalemate reinforced the conclusion that it is extraordinarily difficult in our society to have an objective discussion about any issue.

We are all witnesses to what I would call the fall of objectivity and the rise of opinion. We might all have a different opinion about the reasons behind this change. Here is my opinion. And by the way, it is the right one. This is the democratization of opinion. That is, through personal blogs and social media, everyone can express an opinion about everything. And so we do. See above.

The concomitant change from objectivity to opinion forms the largest shift in journalism. The reason is that general-interest media are dead. It is a long story and not my focus today, so here is the short answer – no one can make money selling general information to the general public.

But news media that establish a particular franchise, focusing energies on one topic or a small number of topics, are becoming hugely successful and profitable.

Having a franchise permits the media to examine one topic that invariably is of interest to a specific but often considerable number of people – say, for example, economics or mergers or energy – in such detail that people will pay and well for insight and analysis on the topic.

The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal both, for example, have established discrete departments devoted to deals. “Deal Journal” adorns and “DealBook” spices Both leverage their historical strengths in M&A coverage with additional analysis of what is happening in the deal arena and what it means for all parties. The Times alone has 20 journalists contributing to DealBook, and The Journal similarly uses a dedicated staff augmented by contributions from across the newspaper and the Dow Jones wire.

But while analysis sells, it still does not guarantee loyalty. Opinion does. It may not be easy to respond to analysis, but anyone can respond to opinion. So as media specialize, opinions invade stories. For example, in recent editions, Deal Journal has proclaimed such obviously opinionated headlines as “Everybody Hates Sprint” and “Bank Stocks? Meh, Says Analyst.”

We respond to these opinions, because we can. And the media are riding this democratization of opinion. The truth is that whether you agree or disagree with an opinion expressed in a story is irrelevant. If you respond to the opinion, you become loyal to the franchise. This is the real revolution in journalism. It is also, by the way, how capitalists make money in a democracy.

What does all this mean to you? Here is my objective opinion.

Prepare specifically for each individual interview. An interview can represent a spectacular opportunity to reach analysts, investors, customers, employees and other audiences all at one time. But for some media and some reporters, that interview may represent a similarly strong opportunity to reinforce an opinion. So know who it is you are talking with – that is, what is the editorial bent of the media, and how objective or opinionated is this particular reporter? Don’t for a minute think that either the media or the journalist is entirely objective. They don’t believe you are either. Based on that intelligence, determine what you will discuss, and just as importantly what you will not discuss, in this particular interview. Do this every time because every media and every journalist are different. But this rule of mine is a constant.

Develop and deliver your point of view. The best possible outcome of any interview should be a win-win for both you and the journalist. He or she gets a chance to tell a good story, and you get a good chance to tell your story. But be sure not only that you have command of the most important facts to support your story, make sure too that you develop and deliver your specific point of view about the issue at hand as well. And counter any opinions clearly expressed in the questions you get, by responding with not just a key message but your own strong point of view.

Is there more? Sure. But these two recommendations alone can get you started toward your own leveraging of the democratization of opinion for fun and profit in your next interview.

That’s my less than humble opinion anyhow.

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