Dennis Lyons

The late Indira Gandhi, India’s first and still only female prime minister, is reported to have said something in a 1982 interview that I think means more today than it did then.

“You cannot shake hands with a clenched fist,” she said.

There’s an awful lot of fist-clenching going on these days in politics and the news media.

There’s not much hand-shaking. Clenched fists make it tough to reach across an aisle.

The middle of the road has become the loneliest place in America.

The word “moderate,” once a positive, is now considered a damning description for members of either major political party. That’s a shame.

There are similar circumstances in my business.

“Fair and balanced” has become a slogan. Media outlets — sometimes even this one — are labeled as biased in one direction or the other, depending on the point of view of the critics.

Let’s face it. Some media outlets are biased.

That didn’t start with Fox vs. MSNBC. It’s been part of the media culture almost from the time Johannes Gutenberg introduced the printing press.

I came across a column the other day written by Amanda Bennett for The Washington Post a few years back.

Bennett correctly wrote that “in the 18th and 19th centuries, it was common to have political parties supporting various newspapers.

“Even as late as the mid-20th century,” she wrote, “editorial pages of some papers took their cues directly from the leaders of various political parties.”

Objectivity, she added, came later, more as a means to not anger advertisers than from any belief in the concept.

She quoted Debra van Tuyll, a professor of communications at Augusta University, as saying: “It was actually the advertisers. People didn’t want to tick them off. If we have partisan [Democratic] views then we won’t have Republican advertisers” and vice versa. With greater neutrality, papers thought: “We can become a newspaper for everyone selling hundreds of thousands of copies, and everyone can advertise.”

That’s a bit cynical for my taste, but it rings true.

Maybe I was (am?) naive, but the journalism world I entered in the 1970s, as I recall it, embraced the concept of objectivity.

I was taught to report and write fairly, with multiple sides of each story represented as much as possible.

I was counseled not to register with a political party. I still don’t.

Bennett also wrote, “the public often seems to believe that the press is supposed to be objective and that something is wrong when it is not.”

I was glad to read that. Cynicism aside, I want to believe that’s still true.

Being a predominantly local newspaper, The Daily Item’s news choices mostly focus on issues that impact the residents of the Susquehanna Valley.

On the Opinion page, we try to balance the viewpoint columns we run each day. We publish letters from all perspectives and generally focus our own views on very local issues.

We use the Associated Press to provide a daily summary of the national and world news. The AP can, at times, be too analytical in its coverage. We have called them on that and sometimes find ourselves needing to edit out descriptive adjectives and adverbs that have no place in a straightforward news story.

I can’t say we catch everything. We do make the effort.

And our fists, I can attest, remain unclenched.

Email comments to dlyons@dailyitem.com.

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