The phrase “Just the facts, please,” or some variation on it appears in countless film noir and mystery stories. It’s a call by the detective for the witness to present only circumstantial facts, not adding any personal bias or opinion to the testimony. While that works for fiction, it may not be so cut-and-dried in modern journalism. This occurs due to human nature and the sheer amount of information available. Does adding interpretation to the facts clarify or muddy investigative reporting?
This is the “just the facts” approach. It distills basic questions about an event into easily-digestible, comprehensible information and leaves interpretation to the viewer. It answers who, what, when, where, and how. This approach doesn’t really cover “why is this important?” or “What does it mean for daily life?” Delivering just the facts to viewers minimizes some forms of bias, because the audience doesn’t feel that the media is trying to sway opinion or portray one agenda over another. With today’s interconnected society, events that occur in one part of the world affect others. An offhand comment by a politician might anger a certain demographic, and companies that support that politician would lose business from that demographic as a result.
Contextual journalism, as the name implies, tries to provide context for the story, such as what led up to it, what could happen as a result, or similar events. Contextual journalism can, when dealing with technical fields, attempt to simplify concepts for the average viewer. However, things can get lost in translation, and in every narrative there is unconscious bias from the narrator. With the rise of the Internet as a global communication medium, it’s important to go beyond just delivering facts. Going back to the example of a politician’s statement, the ‘what was said’ can likely be found on an online video stream. It’s up to the news industry to sift through the facts, perform appropriate fact-checking, and present the information in a method that is relevant to the viewer.
Both approaches to journalism can mislead the public if taken to extremes. News segments that border on talk shows between pundits do little to inform the viewer of the relevant issues in the world, but similarly, presenting a disconnected flow of information can leave viewers overwhelmed and not knowing how to process the facts. For analysis on complex topics, it’s best to consult renowned experts on the topic, allow them to present their opinions and let the public make its own decisions from that point.