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Objectivity Is Possible and Vital

Updated on July 22, 2019
William F. Torpey profile image

Graduated NYU 1963. Worked in NYC in public relations 2 years then as reporter/news editor 32 years at The Hour newspapers. Retired in 2000.

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.

Objectivity 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.

Proper 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.

Is It Important for Newsmen to Remain Objective in Reporting the News?

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Newsman Chet Huntley Talks About Journalistic Objectivity


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    • William F. Torpey profile imageAUTHOR

      William F Torpey 

      10 years ago from South Valley Stream, N.Y.

      I know that the views expressed by Dutch Hermit are held by many, including by some journalism professors. In my opinion, however, that view is incorrect. He speaks of "choices" made by journalists in selecting "facts." An ethical journalist makes those choices on the basis of presenting the objective truth. A journalist cannot choose his "facts" on a subjective basis and remain ethical and objective. Objectivity is required in straight news stories in newspapers; however, in columns and in editorials or in magazine articles relative subjectivity is allowed. What is important in reporting news is that there is no subjectivity if the reader is led to believe the report is objective. Subjectivity, in other words, is perfectly OK as long as the reader knows that the report contains subjective matter. Contrary to what Dutch Hermit and others allege, objectivity is not difficult to achieve. In our own personal lives, if we are telling our friends a story about something we did, don't you think we know whether or not we are telling it like it is -- or doing a little exaggerating?

    • Huntgoddess profile image


      10 years ago from Midwest U.S.A.

      O. M. G. ~~~~~ That's JANIS JOPLIN sitting there.

    • Huntgoddess profile image


      10 years ago from Midwest U.S.A.

      Yes, I agree.

      Where in the cosmos might one read in order to find such fairness and accuracy?

      I also think Dutch Hermit brings up some good points.

    • William F. Torpey profile imageAUTHOR

      William F Torpey 

      10 years ago from South Valley Stream, N.Y.

      Objectivity, Huntgoddess, encompasses both fairness and accuracy. If it's not accurate it's worthless. If it's not fair, it's not objective. Writing or broadcasting objectively is not rocket science. Any reporter who believes in objectivity has no difficulty in writing the facts. When anyone departs from the facts to interject opinion everyone knows it -- the reporter and the reader. Too many readers, however, fail to understand the full meaning of fairness in the context of a news story. It is fair, for instance, to report on the arrest of a gunman on murder charges and to quote the police or eye witnesses. It is not necessary in such instances to report at length the defense that the accused might offer. That takes place at the trial. Likewise, if thousands show up for a demonstration for or against some social issue, the "news" is in the protest, not in giving detailed explanations of both sides of the issue.

    • Huntgoddess profile image


      10 years ago from Midwest U.S.A.

      Forget objectivity.

      What about fairness or accuracy?

    • William F. Torpey profile imageAUTHOR

      William F Torpey 

      10 years ago from South Valley Stream, N.Y.

      Thank you, Micky Dee. I think we need objectivity in our news now more than ever.

    • Micky Dee profile image

      Micky Dee 

      10 years ago

      Great post as always!

    • Dutch Hermit profile image

      Dutch Hermit 

      11 years ago from Utrecht

      I am doing an education as journalist. Not just a study for communication but aimed completely on journalism. I went along my teachers and asked them if they believe that what you said might be possible. They all call it nonsense. I don't know so much, but in the US it is even worse than in the Netherlands. If you are, as a journalist, not aware of this fact there indeed is no possibility to come even near to objectivity. You don't seem to be concerned about objectivity at all. Each journalist, whether it was with good or bad meanings, gives colour to his writing in the first place by choosing the facts to write about. Choices are made in the sources they choose, in the authority they give to sources, in the choices they make in picking the news. Of course there is always a problem with media training. This makes that those with media training are able to get the quotes they want on television, while those without media training can't. Why are the American soldiers and the leaders of Afghanistan, for example, interviewed all the time, but the Taliban are never? It is very simple. Because they are believed to be the bad guys and don't need to be voiced. But does this also fit in the social responsibility of the press? It is accepted by the majority of the people of the US and the majority of the press. A press that believes to be objective. I'm sorry for you, but I do not believe you are right in any way on this subject.

    • William F. Torpey profile imageAUTHOR

      William F Torpey 

      11 years ago from South Valley Stream, N.Y.

      Everyone has his own opinions and beliefs, Dutch Hermit, but I believe that any honest newsman has no trouble distinguishing between objectivity and subjectivity. In any respectable newspaper or TV news program, editors will quickly strike out any effort by any novice writer who attempts to color his work through subjectivity. Unfortunately, television today has virtually abandoned objective news in favor of chatty opinionated dribble.

    • Dutch Hermit profile image

      Dutch Hermit 

      11 years ago from Utrecht

      It cannot be alowed that someone (believing himself to be objective) sneaks his own opinion in a news article. That is certain. News and commentaries must be clearly divided. But it is not easy. 'Just the facts' as you stated does not exist, as journalists makes choices between a shipload of information, a choice that is influenced by personal opinion or beliefs (ethics) and policy from the newspaper. The 100% objectivity as you speak of is rather a dream than a possibility. A journalist must be aware of his own convictions, and also be open about his own convictions, and if he is not, he cannot be objective.

    • profile image


      13 years ago

      Bill........I don't have to tell you my opinion of the "main" stream media that we have today. When news is tweaked either way , right or left , it's wrong. Take the Iraq war. What you read in the media is all negggggggitive as to what's going on , but when you talk to returning GI's you get 180 degree different picture. I'm afraid too many writers of today's media are products of the "hippy, dippy" gereration of the late 60's and 70's.

    • Ralph Deeds profile image

      Ralph Deeds 

      13 years ago from Birmingham, Michigan

      We could use a little more objectivity in the media. I'm tired of bloviating heads spouting their opinions. The Lehrer News Hour stays pretty ovjective. However, informed opinions have their place on the op-ed pages and in HubPages!


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