The future of journalistic objectivity

Chicago Tribune logoTimothy McNulty at the Chicago Tribune wrote a great article yesterday on journalistic objectivity.

Objectivity is an oft-debated topic amongst journalists. To what extent is it possible? Where are the lines drawn? Has it diminished in the age of cable TV’s talking heads and the numerous opining bloggers? Or, as McNulty says, does objectivity get reduced to neutrality? “On the one hand this” and “on the other hand this,” without any attempt to truly seek the truth?

One thing that interests me is the potential of objectivity on a macro level – especially given the democratizing potential and decentralized nature of the Web.

Open platform promotes objectivity…?

Here’s a question: does a neutral, inviting community news platform invite more objectivity? Can one facet of journalism’s objectivity be to simply create an open and inclusive platform upon which competing voices can express their perspective?

I would argue yes. Certainly the editor/journalist will always have the role of sifting through the “fact, propaganda, rumor, suspicion, clues, hopes and fears” that inundate news gatherers, to quote McNulty quoting Walter Lippmann. But as journalists grow more adept at deciphering the “cacophony” of the internet, as McNulty puts it, I think they’ll get better at teasing the truth out.

And creating open spaces where ordinary folks are invited to share their stories and opinions, rather than focusing on delivering a physical product, could help community news organizations (read: newspapers) go a long way towards promoting objectivity.

The good news…

An anecdote I told to a group of editors, publishers and reporters at the 122nd Annual Inland Press Association’s conference.

For all the tumult at Medill regarding the future of journalism, one thing never ceases to impress me about my colleagues at Medill. All of these young, hungry journalists who are dedicated to the craft display an unwavering commitment to truth and objectivity.

“We are in the truth business,” is a mantra I hear often in my business reporting class.

One thought on “The future of journalistic objectivity

  1. My idea is that there’s an inverse relationship between the number of news outlets and the perceived importance of old-style journalistic “objectivity.” As more voices get added, each media outlet has to have more of a personality in order to distinguish itself in the marketplace. This means more directly engaging with different arguments and making judgments about them and less going on-the-one-hand-on-the-other-hand.

    Sometimes things like balance and detachment and objectivity are virtues that do indeed help journalists get to the truth. But pretty often they are just a way of making sure everybody gets along, which is not the same thing. Sometimes the best way to be in the truth business is to consider the opposing arguments in good faith and then actually decide which one is better, and say so.

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