Problems with Objectivity

Something I’ve touched on in an earlier blog post is the notion of journalistic objectivity and how much emphasis is placed on adhering to it. With the readings this past week, I got to thinking even more about how objectivity plays such a central role in the lives of journalists, particularly those in the mainstream media.

As a student I’ve learned that objectivity is the be all and end all – when reporting on a story, we need to be careful to not let any of our own opinions be present in our writing, for fear that this could distort the ‘facts’ of the story. This applies to coverage of all topics, but I think it’s especially prevalent in political stories. An interesting point brought up in class is the way the political system in the United States is set up and how that could have an influence on this need for objectivity. Although we technically allow other parties on the ballot, it’s really a two-party system. As a result, there tends to be a strict adherence to keeping balanced between two points of view. As I’ve mentioned, I don’t believe a story is ever so simple that it can simply be broken down into two sides. If you’re doing your job of giving a voice to the voiceless, you should be trying to give as many people a voice as possible. Journalists are often content with just repeating the party line and acting more like mouthpieces for the government instead of holding those in power accountable. This is especially true in the mainstream media where corporations have more of an influence regarding content. Cenk Uyger of The Young Turks perfectly sums up the use of objectivity by the mainstream media in an article published last year by The Independent: “U.S. media has interpreted [objectivity to mean you should be neutral. That’s an enormous distinction. If CNN covered sports, every game would be a tie.” When looked at through this point of view, it becomes clear that objectivity can be damaging to journalism. Uyger refuses to adhere to this standard and instead does independent journalism that holds everyone accountable, regardless of status or importance, and his popularity shows that people value this kind of reporting.

In the “Transparency is the New Objectivity” article, the author points out that objectivity was what set newspapers apart from bloggers when blogging started to become popular. Newspapers claimed that their writers were journalists because they were providing information objectively, whereas bloggers had an agenda. Following this logic, bloggers can’t be trusted because they’re always trying to push said agenda. I found this to be ridiculous because bloggers are known for being more transparent than most journalists. Since bloggers are encouraged to link to other stories/where they get material from it’s easy for readers to follow up on the information being presented. Readers can follow the links to other pieces which they can read on their own and come to their own conclusions about. With newspapers, there really isn’t this emphasis on transparency. The New York Times doesn’t even require its reporters to list an email address that readers can contact them at with any questions/concerns. I feel like this closes off the relationship between journalists and their audience. In the blogging world, bloggers have a more open relationship with their audience. Bloggers encourage their readers to leave comments and constructive criticism that they can respond to and follow up on. In my opinion, combining transparency with this kind of engagement makes for a much more honest form of reporting and should be common practice amongst all platforms.

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