Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Why Journalists Can't- And Shouldn't- Be Objective

By Alex Lumley

It seems to me that it's difficult not to think of the word "objectivity" whenever you hear the word "journalism." The concept that journalists must be objective tellers of truth, purging all personal bias from every piece of journalism they ever touch, has been beaten into my mind since before I even considered going to school for journalism.

It's a concept all of my professors save for one (which I'll tell you about in a moment) have sternly reinforced over the years. If I'm to be an ethical journalist with integrity and credibility, I must check my bias at the door. There's no place in news reporting for bias. And of course, it's an idea not without truth and merit. Who wants the personal prejudices of some reporter getting in the way of their fact-gathering? It's like playing Telephone in elementary school with the kid who thought it was hilarious to change the phrase into something profane. It ruins the game for everyone, and all it took was a twist on words.

One of my journalism professors said something to our class the other day that really, really intrigued me. He claimed, as other professors have, that it's impossible to be objective. But what set him apart from the rest was his next sentence. Usually, it goes "It's impossible to be objective- but as journalists, we have the obligation to be as objective as possible."

His was this. "It's impossible to be objective- and as journalists, we don't have an obligation to be objective."

Wait. What?

The professor went on to explain that objectivity is humanly impossible- only computers and robots can act without any emotion, without bias.

Journalists aren't robots. And we shouldn't try to be. We're people, whose thoughts and opinions are shaped by our life experiences. We're going to have biases and prejudices, and we shouldn't reject them or hide them.

What we do have a responsibility to do as journalists is to acknowledge our biases. To uncover them and shine a light on them bright enough for all of our audience to see.

But it's not enough to simply acknowledge our bias- we then owe it to both our subjects and our audience to take it a step further and show the other side. The side that we hate. The side that our bias rejects, and wants us to ignore.

That's what being a journalist with integrity is all about. It has nothing to do with objectivity, and everything to do with being honest about our biases to ourselves and to our audiences, and then ensuring that our coverage still shows as many sides of the story as possible- even the sides we don't like. My sagacious professor called it being "fair and balanced-" ironically, rather unlike the news network that uses that phrase as it's motto.

Of course, it would be incredibly hypocritical of me not to practice what I preach. I identify as a liberal, and have voted largely (if not entirely) democrat in every election I've participated in since I turned 18 three years go. As such, I tend to disagree with many of the talking points viewers are exposed to through watching a conservative-bent network like Fox News.

To be clear, I'm not saying that Fox News is in the wrong for leaning primarily right-wing in their coverage. I'm criticizing them for claiming to be "fair and balanced" when they often won't acknowledge their own bias, and don't always give viewpoints that oppose their own as much time as a network that's fair and balanced in their coverage would.

And that being said, the same can be said about left-leaning networks like MSNBC. Certainly, the issue of bias going unaddressed is an issue that most major networks have, and something the entire industry would benefit from trying to fix.

No comments:

Post a Comment