Jesse J. Holland, Saturday host for the C-SPAN Washington Journal, wants young journalists to understand important distinctions within the field of journalism and to be educated consumers of media.
Holland explained to EIJ News that multiple categories of work exist under the umbrella of journalism: including reporters, commentators and columnists.
Holland said, for example, broadcast news channel shows are not reporters.
“They are commentators. Their jobs are not to find out what’s going on,” Holland said. Their job is to have their face on camera and either be antagonistic or to be chummy.”
Holland compared broadcast news shows to televised op-eds.
“Those are broadcast columns. The hosts bring you their opinion that they wrap around news,” Holland said. “If you’re watching Chris Cuomo, you understand that Chris Cuomo is not sitting there reading the news. That’s not what he’s there for. You have to be an informed consumer. If you think you’re watching Rachel Maddow to get the news, you’re not.”
Holland said the job of broadcast news channel hosts is to comment on objective news reports composed by reporters, who typically work behind the scenes.
“The idea of a report is to get the facts. Not everything on a news channel is a news report,” Holland said.
The broadcast news industry is a business that has to cater their content to consumers, Holland said.
“When I want news, I go to websites and newspapers. If I want great news, most news television shows on the major networks, that’s not their job,” He said. “They’re there to tell you what they think. They’re there to tell you what they think. The television news industry knows what people do and don’t want to watch 24 hours a day. They will provide consumers with what they want.”
Given the differences between reporting and commentary, Holland said it is important for audiences to be educated as they consume information and news media.
“It is incumbent upon the consumer to know what they’re consuming. If you just read Facebook, and take everything on Facebook as true, you will be a very misinformed person. It requires you to use some judgment,” Holland said.“You have to know… hey, this is a meme. It’s not supposed to be true, it’s supposed to be funny.”
Holland spoke from his own personal experience as a commentator and former reporter. He began working at the AP in 1994. He transferred to the Albany bureau in 1999, and began working as a race and ethnicity reporter for the AP in D.C. in 2000. He left the AP in 2019 to become a Distinguished Visiting Scholar in Residence at the John W. Kluge Center at the Library of Congress. He began serving as a host on C-SPAN in May 2018.
Holland said, when he serves as a host for C-SPAN, he is acting as a commentator.
“I am still gathering information and analyzing it, and telling you my conclusion. Now, unlike my job at the AP, I don’t have to have my work vetted by anyone.”
Holland said that although comedian and host of Last Week Tonight John Oliver has said on multiple occasions he is not a journalist, Holland says he is one—specifically, he fits under the “commentator” category.
“You could consider what John Oliver is doing as a form of journalism. He’s a commentator. But, he’s not a reporter,” Holland said. “He’s 100% a comedian. He’s trying to be funny and provocative. Rachel Maddow isn’t trying to be funny.”
Holland recommended that young journalists who want to serve as commentators spend time as strict reporters.
“A reporter has a different set of responsibilities than being a commentator or a columnist. The best commentators have served as reporters,” Holland said. “They then know how to gather information. They then know how to parse the information that’s coming into them.”