Journalistic Objectivity

Denver Post reporter Alex Burness, pointing to a Washington Post article by Margaret Sullivan, refers to “the myth of journalistic objectivity.” Burness continues, “A lot of journalists, but not enough, accept that ‘objective’ reporting is impossible. It’s on us in media to better explain this to the public. More useful standards, IMO: Is the reporting fair? Adheres to facts/data? Reported without favoritism or fear of making someone mad?”

Burness recommends a book by Lewis Raven Wallace, The View from Somewhere: Undoing the Myths of Journalistic Objectivity.

Another Colorado journalist, Corey Hutchins, also appreciates Wallace’s book, writing, “I had assigned the book for my current Introduction to Journalism course at Colorado College and invited Wallace to come lead a class discussion once students finished it.” Hutchins reviews that Vince Bzdek, editor of the Colorado Springs Gazette, pushed back a bit at an event with Wallace. As Hutchins tells it, “He said he worried about journalists taking sides and how those who watch MSNBC have their own truth and those who watch FOX seem to have another.”

Bzdek wrote about the exchange.

My take: I think Wallace is right about quite a lot, but I think he fundamentally misunderstands the meaning of “objectivity.” But that is a detailed conversation for another time.

More: Chase Woodruff, another Colorado journalist, writes, “One thing I’ve learned and been encouraged by while working full-time in media in the last few years, which I didn’t fully appreciate before, is that there really is a large and growing number of younger journalists who recognize this, at least to a certain extent.” He cites Wesley Lowery, who writes, “American view-from-nowhere, ‘objectivity’-obsessed, both-sides journalism is a failed experiment. We need to fundamentally reset the norms of our field. The old way must go. We need to rebuild our industry as one that operates from a place of moral clarity.” Update: See also Woodruff’s remarks about the “futile search for ‘objectivity.'”

My take: “Objectivity” certainly does not mean giving “both sides” equal space. Among other problems, there rarely are only two sides to any complicated debate, and some “sides” objectively are wrong (e.g., flat-earthers, Holocaust deniers).


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