Just the Facts

Posted Dec. 06, 2009, at 7:41 p.m.

Two developments in the news business bid well for what the late James Russell Wiggins, editor of The Ellsworth American, often said: “The reader is entitled to one clean shot at the facts.” CNN has gotten rid of Lou Dobbs and fact-based Bloomberg News is expanding from merely financial data to general reporting on television, radio and the Internet.

Mr. Dobbs faced a choice that CNN had handed him amid sagging ratings: Switch to factual reporting or leave. He is leaving, although he can continue his opinionated ranting on his radio show. His diatribes against illegal immigrants and the baseless and discredited rumors about President Barack Obama’s birthplace apparently were among the last straws.

Replacing Mr. Dobbs will be John King, a former Associated Press writer with a straightforward style. He analyzed results in last year’s presidential election and now anchors CNN’s Sunday political show. Beginning early next year, he will anchor a new 7 p.m. political news hour opposite Fox News Channel’s Shepard Smith and Chris Matthews on MSNBC. Mr. King promises “more meat” than his competitors will provide.

The CNN action is a brave effort to restore fact-based reporting in a medium that has increasingly featured loud-mouthed opinion and argument. Print journalism, on the other hand, has had a long tradition of rigidly separating news from opinion. A recent example is this newspaper’s factual treatment of gun use and gun control in Maine, certainly a contentious issue.

In the world of news dissemination, Americans increasing rely on television, comedy shows, radio talk shows and the Internet to stay informed about national and international affairs. What they get is too often argument and giggles rather than facts. And many limit themselves to the opinion sources with which they agree.

Enter Bloomberg News, which until now has been known mainly to its 280,000 customers who get financial data analysis and brief news flashes on the terminals that cost about $20,000 a year. Unlike most news organizations these days, Bloomberg remains highly profitable and has been hiring many of the reporters and editors laid off by The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and other hard-pressed news outfits.

Bloomberg executives quoted recently in the Times said they plan to be the world’s most influential news organization. They already have an editorial staff of 2,200, compared with 1,250 journalists at the Times and 1,900 at Dow Jones, publisher of the Journal. Bloomberg recently opened bureaus in Ecuador and Abu Dhabi. It plans to distribute general news on its own Web site and sell news to radio, TV and Internet news organizations. It has bought the 80-year-old magazine Business Week and probably will impose its own spare writing style, no columnist stars, no adverbs or adjectives and no “buts” or “howevers.”

If this sounds dull, keep in mind that it may be a relief from loud argument and fevered prose. At least it will be one more chance for a “clean shot at the facts.”

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