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BLOG 6: Journalism & Objectivity

When I entered the University of Missouri as a journalism student, I was ready to embrace all the knowledge that the esteemed professors had to offer.  I am no longer a journalism student, but what I remember most clearly about my journalism classes is the repetition of the value of objectivity in the profession.  I think that until today, I held that as the ideal.  After a particularly enlightening cultural psychology class, reading  a few articles on the topic (including Cunningham’s “Rethinking Objectivity”) and a little reflection of my own, I’ve decided that objectivity should not be the highest value of the practice of journalism.

There is not a single definition of objectivity.  Even if a group of journalists agree on a single definition, they each will practice it differently, perhaps even from day to day.

Objectivity is often articulated as complete detachment or passive reporting of the facts.  We have seen, however, that this can actually lead to deception.  Sometimes what we think is objective reporting of the facts is actually reporting of what others are simply calling facts.  This was the case in reporting surrounding the Bush administration’s decisions to go to war.  Many journalists thought they could achieve objectivity by relying on official sources.  Official sources, however, formed their own version of the truth.

An article from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill poses many interesting questions about the relationship between public journalism and objectivity.  It is based on the simple truth that there is not one way of knowing.  Journalism, then should focus more on method first, rather than letting method be directed by the ambiguous end goal of maintaining an “objective” stance.

A recent story on CNN addresses the United States’ encouragement of Jean Bertrand Aristide to remain in South Africa until the upcoming presidential elections are through.  It’s tone and it’s quotations from certain sources indicate a stance that supports a hands-off approach from the United States.  Even if author of this story or CNN wished to remain “objective” or “neutral” on the issue, the description on twitter frames the story anyway:

The U.S. government is very involved in keeping Aristide out and trying to shepherd in a right-wing gov…

In order for citizens to be informed, relevant context and history surrounding particular issues need to be reported.  This requires a degree of subjective direction and selection by reporters.  Perhaps if the objectivity was not given such privilege, citizens might be exposed to more viewpoints and forced to engage in political discourse.  Otherwise, the fate of citizens is similar to that of journalists striving merely for objectivity-settling. (I’m guilty).






  1. March 17, 2011 at 8:31 am

    Very good. Objectivity as reporting other people’s facts and the reality that there is not one way of knowing are both great points.

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