Is Partisan News Still News?: "Amanda Wakes Up" Explores the Line Between Journalism and Commentary

Alisyn Camerota does a lot with Amanda Wakes Up. With hints of Camerota’s personal anecdotes as plot builders, she dissects partisan and ratings-based news networks to expose some of her own struggles with it. Amanda is faced with a battle much like the one we saw in 2016 - a celebrity presidential candidate running against an overly qualified woman. 

While we never actually find out who won in this fictitious race, Amanda is forced to weigh the consequences of her coverage of Victor Fluke and Virginia Wynn nearly every morning when she hosts Wake Up, USA! Camerota poses the ethical dilemmas that a young journalist faces in our current news dichotomy while letting Amanda explore the answers. “I didn’t really want to give the answers,” said Camerota in an interview with Her Campus. “I wanted to pose all the ethical dilemmas that come up every day when you do work in news.”

When Amanda first sees the Fluke-heavy lineup of her show, she wonders, “Does balance in the show mean having the same number of segments for both candidates or showing both sides of every segment?” This sits with the protagonist the rest of the novel. There are no by-the-book answers to this question. Instead, its on journalists in every aspect of the field to decide for themselves how they want to confront the issue.

Emmy-award winning journalist and Executive Director of SPA’s Women & Politics Institute, Betsy Fischer Martin, talks about her experience confronting partisan news and what it means for today’s up-and-coming journalists. “Being nonpartisan doesn’t mean not presenting a different opinion,” said Fischer Martin. “It’s inherent in the job of a host or an interviewer to question the guest and pose the other side without personally adopting it.”

This is a part of what Fischer Martin calls “capital ‘J’ journalism,” including unbiased, reporting-based news. Opinion journalism is where you would find the increasingly partisan reporting. This type of journalism is still based on reported facts, but there is a distinct partisan edge to it. 

Opinion journalism works for pretty much all of the cable news networks. It’s “desirable in their business model or personal brand” for cable news sources to have a partisan edge, said Fischer Martin. “People want to watch opinion,” said Fischer Martin. “[Cable news networks] can identify themselves with one side and have a captive audience with people who have those beliefs.”

Cable news networks aren’t necessarily shaping individuals’ opinions, but they do allow people to get their news from a source that agrees with them. “Your own views are getting regurgitated back to you all day long and it’s a seal of approval on your views,” said Fischer Martin. 

Opinion journalism aren’t all bad - as long as you’re able to recognize the opinion within them when you consume it. Fischer Martin highlighted the importance of understanding the byline of a story. You shouldn’t, for example, watch Rachel Maddow assuming that you’re getting objective reporting. While she is technically reporting on the facts, there’s a partisan edge in the way it is reported to be mindful of. 

And if you’re looking for a job in the field, know where that news network lies between capital ‘J’ journalism and opinion journalism. “I think you can only go through that door [between the two types of journalism] once,” said Fischer Martin. Switching between opinion journalism and capital ‘J’ journalism could harm credibility.

Camerota herself said that she has felt uncomfortable with the role of opinions in the newsroom at one of her previous jobs. At Fox News, “they weren’t being honest with the audience that they aren’t watching news,” said Camerota. This is reflected in Amanda when she is sold a new, fair television network job that turns out to lean very heavily to one side. 

Deciding between opinion journalism and what Fischer Martin calls capital ‘J’ journalism can be a turning point in any young journalist’s career. The lesson, it seems, is to know what you’re getting into before you sign the contract. After all, your name is on the content. 

 

(Image credit: cover, 1, 2)