Monthly Archives: December 2010

The Objectivity of My Desire

What’s my problem? Well… it’s not that I disagree with journalistic ethics or the valiant attempts made by newspapers to remain objective. It’s not as though I really believe we’d be better off with all news reflecting everyone’s opinions. I definitely disagree with purely opinionated “reporting” the way it’s done on blogs, where facts are glaringly absent.I don’t prefer subjectivity; it’s just the state of things. When a journalist writes, “Former Intel Chief Makes Stark Predictions,” the fact of the matter is that the “stark” nature of his predictions is up for interpretation. According to Dictionary.com, “stark” means “harsh, grim, or desolate, as a view.” Regardless of the slant on said predictions, there is someone out there who believes them to be cheerful – or most certainly less than stark, at the very least. When we describe someone as successful or wealthy, by whose standards are we measuring these persons? By the standards of the average citizen? A middle-class Joe? What’s average? What’s typical? What about the word “scholar”? Is the definition of that word not open to interpretation as well? And yet these terms can all be found in everyday newspaper articles around the country.

What is the situation really? The truth, which journalists avoid with vigor, is that no story can ever be truly objective.

In fact, Robert Fisk, a foreign correspondent for the Independent (a London paper), sees objective reporting as a “specious idea” that, as practiced by American reporters, produces dull and predictable writing weighed down by obfuscating comments from official government sources. He complains of governmental abuse of statistics, claiming, “They can tell you the number of newly re-opened schools, newly appointed doctors and the previous day’s oil production in seconds. The daily slaughter of Iraq’s innocents, needless to say, is not among their figures.” The government’s point of view – or, propaganda – is a useful thing to know in some cases; at times, figures and statements yielded by officials and politicians may even be accurate. However, when journalists limit their reporting to the “two sides of a story,” these “sides” are too often the two most highly politically represented sides. The voices of minorities are drowned out by those with more influence and those in loftier positions.

But the major issue I have with “objective” reporting, aside from the fact that it is NEVER truly objective, is the perpetuated myth that journalists can be objective. No human can be objective. Even when you’re a computer, things are perceived in a specific manner. As a homosapien with emotions and senses, the very nature of our humanity predisposes us to a human perspective – and perspective is always SUBJECTIVE. That is to say nothing of cultural and environmental bias. Think about it. In my opinion, the most worrisome aspect of this issue is the tendency of news organizations to claim objectivity, thereby convincing their audiences that their perspectives are the most trustworthy due to their lack of bias. But selling subjective news as objective news is a dangerous game; it inspires loyalty to news providers based on the false promise of accuracy without leanings… but, let’s face it: just the idea that something is “newsworthy” is an opinion in and of itself.

Paul McLeary suggests an alternative in his article, “The Objectivity Problem,” for the Columbia Journalism Review. He writes, “A good way to start would be to develop a kind of two-tier system… where the big news organizations deliver the goods in the form of hard news and investigative pieces whose production requires the kind of investment in time and money that most Web sites and blogs can’t match, while the blogosphere takes the lead in opinion writing and analysis.”

All I’m asking is that journalists are not forced to work under a pretense of bias-less superiority; that they are recognized as opinionated, passionate and fallible human beings with political affiliations as well as hearts and souls. I think it’s utter bullsh** when a fantastic journalist is removed because he was caught subscribing to an ideology and supporting a cause he believes in. He should be able to admit to his passions and factually present his thoughts to the public. A thoughtful opinion IS based on fact, believe it or not – and those should be allowed to come to light. It is certainly admirable for a journalist to aspire to objectivity, but to claim its mastery is like claiming divinity.

An even further-maddening fact is that the objectivity which is now so revered in journalistic circles was adopted merely to sell more papers to a wider audience. Nothing altruistic about it. Just the dollar bills making up the rules (again.)

Newspapers were founded by the thinking, rebellious men of that age with the understanding that

objective journalism is a synonym for government mouthpiece!

Along that vein, China most certainly has objective journalists. What do you want to be? As for me… well, I guess I’d be better at books.