This is a short essay I had to write for my capstone, and I think the idea of objectivity is important for journalists (and readers) to meditate on. It used to be a method, but unfortunately many journalists are taught that objectivity is an aim or goal.
I think objectivity should be pursued by journalists as a method, similar to a scientific method.
Today, many journalists believe the term “objectivity” means a work is free of bias (Kovach & Rosenstiel, 2007, p.81). What was once referred to as the methodology of how a journalist reported his or her story is now muddled and intertwined with the idea of balance. “Objectivity is not about perfect neutrality or the elimination of interpretation. Objectivity refers to a person’s willingness to use objective methods to test interpretations for bias or inaccuracies” (Ward, 2011). Providing a false sense of balance provides a risk of distorting legitimacy of sides and generalizes or simplifies the reporting of an issue by reducing the story to the representation of two sides.
Journalists are taught many values at the University of Missouri’s journalism school and at other institutions across the country. One of those journalistic values is objectivity. Objectivity is a journalistic principle that encompasses values of fairness, accuracy, nonpartisanship and the ability to report journalistic work without letting personal feelings, opinions or prejudices influence his or her work.
Although some people regard objectivity as as much of a concrete value as accuracy in fact-checking or being ethical in obtaining documents through a Sunshine request, others have regarded it is as a much more abstract value and there are people who think of it as more of a myth than a value, citing that no one can truly be purely objective. I am hesitant to dismiss objectivity as a myth for multiple reasons. One reason is that objectivity is a much more complicated concept than people seem to accept it as, and the other reason is that since in the journalistic framework, objectivity’s span overlaps other values of journalism, it could mean diminishing the significance of those values.
Objectivity may not be a mythical value for a journalist, but it is impossible to fully achieve objectivity. Does this mean that a piece of great journalistic truth should be abandoned or go unpublished, if the journalist could not reach full objectivity? Rather than strive for objectivity, it might be valuable for journalists to look at what they do in their work when trying to be objective and examine what are often other values that overlap with objectivity, like accuracy and ethics.
In a blog post, “Objectivity: It’s Time to Say Goodbye” on the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard’s website, former journalist and academic Josh McManus wrote that journalists “should be guided by a bias for the common good and the community served, a pro-public slant.” McManus also proposed in his blog post that journalists ditch objectivity for empiricism, “the scientific method of inquiry based on careful observation from multiple perspectives and logic that Walter Lippmann proposed for journalism nearly a century ago.”
I think that objectivity is taught and sought after for a good purpose, but it seems that working toward the greatest truth by way of accurate and ethical reporting is more important to focus on, especially since these values are often sought along the way of achieving objectivity. However, even with good intentions, it can be objectivity that hinders with the main goal of journalism: to find the truth.
For journalism students today, I think that objectivity should be taught more as a theory or concept, rather than a goal. Understanding objectivity and knowing how to apply some elements of objectivity can be extremely for journalism students. However, I do not think it is necessary to hold and teach objectivity in such a high regard as it has been taught in the past, especially since trying to reach whole objectivity in a journalistic framework can distort the truth being pursued.