Objectivity Is Possible and Vital
Just the Facts . . .
Over the past few decades, it seems to me, the press has come under increasingly heavy criticism.
It has become fashionable for those on the right, and some middle-of-the-roaders, to lash out at the allegedly liberal bias of journalists today -- not only in newspapers and magazines, but also on radio and television.
On top of that, the hue and cry of the public over the lack of objectivity, particularly in the print media (television has rarely made an attempt to be objective), can be heard throughout the nation.
Today, more and more people, including many journalists, argue that objectivity is impossible.
Reporters, the reasoning goes, are warm-blooded beings with feelings, opinions and biases that cannot help but be reflected in their scribbles.
The view that objectivity is impossible begs the question: (Why?)
It's not your point of view that determines objectivity, rather it's your integrity, your heart, your conscience, your professionalism, your devotion to duty.
Anyone who has written for the news media has little trouble discerning what is objective and what is not. Only a person (reporter) with no conscience, no ethics, no sensibilities to others could fail to be objective without knowing it.
'Just the Facts'
A reporter's job is simply to report; not to express opinions or take sides. When a reporter departs from "just the facts," believe me, he (or she) knows it. When statements other than facts must be reported, good reporters are sure that proper attribution is used.
Whatever a reporter's own personal views may be on a subject, he can write objectively on any subject by simply not injecting any of his biases into it. Any time a reporter begins to think subjectively, he cannot help but be aware of it -- and, if he's honest, he will reverse his field.
Unfortunately, some newspaper readers have difficulty distinguishing among various sources, often blaming a reporter or taking the newspaper to task for something said by a source.
When something negative is said about a politician, let's say, the paper often gets angry telephone calls -- even though the author of the remarks has given attribution.
Sure, a newspaper is liable for anything it prints, but proper attribution shows there's no malice on the newspaper's part.
In editorials, analytical pieces, and sometimes feature stories, reporters and editors have more leeway to be somewhat less objective. But these pieces are either located on the editorial pages or the reader, in some other way -- labeling it "analysis" -- is given notice that they may be less objective.
Newspapers can provide more in-depth stories, greater background information and a greater understanding of the overall issues of any subject while still retaining objectivity.
It is this very objectivity (journalism) that gives a newspaper the believability it needs to continue to publish with the respect of its readership.
I wrote this column as a "My View" for The Hour newspaper of Norwalk, Conn., on Dec. 24, 1993. The trend away from objectivity, unfortunately, has accelerated since this piece was penned -- most particularly on television. While the Internet and other technological advances have greatly expanded the sources of information available, it has become far more difficult, generally, to find an objective view of virtually any topic.