The week's most high-profile debate on the future of journalism came courtesy of former New York Times Executive Editor Bill Keller, who invited Glenn Greenwald to engage in a back-and-forth. Greenwald is the recently departed columnist from The Guardian who broke the Edward Snowden story on the National Security Agency's surveillance machine and potential for unprecedented invasions of privacy.
Keller, now a Times columnist, is old school in a good way. Journalists should "keep their opinions to themselves," unless they write for editorial pages. They should pursue the facts of a story and present them with balance and perspective.
Greenwald says that reporters "concealing" his word their opinions is disingenuous and leads to dishonest reporting. Being upfront about bias, writing from a strong point of view, produces the best journalism these days and that is where the craft should go in the future.
Keller and Greenwald make compelling arguments. The foundation of checks and balances in a traditional newsroom, with reporters checking themselves, and editors challenging reporters, has well served institutions like Keller's Times. On the other hand, marshaling facts in pursuit of balance can turn into mind-numbing he-said, she-said, they-said reporting that adds little to the knowledge pool. Greenwald goes further, asserting that, in seeking fairness, reporters can disguise their biases and allegiances to certain sources, specifically government ones.
I side with Keller in this debate. I've spent a career in a traditional newsroom, and most of a life admiring The New York Times. Keller's mantra is that impartiality is the tool that gets you to the truth, or closer to it. In these times of over-the-top, agenda-based reporting Fox News on one side, MSNBC on the other that is a foundation I can believe in.
But the value of Greenwald's advocacy he's a lawyer by training can't be denied. After all, he broke what likely will be the biggest investigative story of 2013.
There's room for many stripes of journalism in today's media marketplace, and that's a good thing. As Carricaburu points out in her blog post, it is up to the consumer to understand the difference between advocacy and impartiality, and give each the weight it deserves.
The important thing is this: People are debating the future of journalism, where it should go, the role it should play. And they are debating it passionately. It's a testament to the role of the reporter in society, as the watchdog, the check and balance. As the Fourth Estate.
Terry Orme is editor and publisher of The Salt Lake Tribune. Reach him at email@example.com.