Tuesday, September 22, 2015

What is Objectivity?

Kayla Blanton

What is objectivity, and can it limit editorial independence?

A respectable and professional journalist knows the basic ethic codes for journalism. He or she is also aware of the ethics codes that may be provided by the publication by which they are employed. With that being said, it is important that these ethic codes align with the personal ethic codes of a journalist, and that none of them take away from the credibility or validity of a report.

There are many many forms of journalism. Columnists, opinion writers, critics, bloggers, and more; they all go about telling stories in different ways. However, journalism in it's most natural and original form is a report. According to the class readings, especially the Howard Rosenburg piece from The Los Angeles Times, defines a report as something that is "meant to exclude opinion," or in other words, withholds objectivity.

The tricky topic that is objectivity within reporting was addressed in all class readings for today, each bringing their own side of the story to the table at an attempt to define an objective report. Objective reporters do not accept gifts, are not sponsored by any means, are not friends with their sources, do not possess any other conflict of interest on the story being reported, and so on.

Not only is it important for all codes of ethics to align, but all definitions of objectivity within a newsroom to do so as well. Greg Sandoval's journalistic career with CNET owned by CBS is a good example of the importance of this alignment. Sandoval felt as though the journalism he was producing for CNET was being compromised after CNET officially removed a piece from publication that directly affected CBS in a negative way. As a major broadcasting network, this action was not considered objective by Sandoval and many others. When a journalist's employer publication or network manipulates the news and therefore, a journalist's report, can that report then be considered objective? According to Sandoval, this action taken by CBS and CNET stole from his editorial independence. In an ideal situation for a journalist, objectivity and editorial independence are always within reach at the same time. However, some believe that to be impossible.

I challenge you to Google "Objectivity in Journalism." Within the search results, lie many different opinions about the idea of objectivity. Some of these opinions are justified with research, others are not. However, the American Press Institute makes a valid point by addressing the origins of the concept of objectivity within journalism. The days of sensationalism and yellow journalism gave journalists the reputation of being "full of bias," and thus, objectivity was made important. According to the article published by the American Press Institute titled "The lost meaning of 'objectivity'," objectivity was made important as "a consistent method of testing information - a transparent approach to evidence." In other words, a journalist's methods were to be objective, not necessarily the journalist themselves.

The Colombian Journalism Review curates multiple definitions of objectivity in an article titled "Re-thinking Objectivity," written by Brent Cunningham. According to the article, "Some, like The Washington Post's editor, Leonard Downie, define it so strictly that they refuse to vote lest they be forced to take sides." The article also points out that the definition of objectivity was grey enough for the Society of Professional Journalists to omit the term completely from its ethics code in 1996. Ultimately, Cunninham argues that the blurred definition of objectivity does nothing but keep journalists from acting as "aggressive analyzers and explainers."

To reiterate the topic on which this post was introduced, in order to combat blurred definitions of the fundamentals of journalism, and especially objectivity, it is important to maintain consistency with ethical codes and standards to live by as a professional. Journalist or not, inconsistency is the first trait in a professional that will lead to invalidity.

Ethics are more than just codes, they are professional decisions.
Picture via Wiki Media Creative Commons

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