Home Editorial Objecting to objective reporting

Objecting to objective reporting

by The Concordian January 23, 2018 3 comments

When people think of journalism, they might think of gathering information and disseminating objective, balanced news stories to the public. Or, at least, that’s what they used to think. It’s unrealistic to assume that something as fast-paced as the journalism industry would never experience change. History shows that it has—and that it will. We at The Concordian think it is time to embrace a new change: the fact that objectivity in journalism does not exist. It has never existed.

To be objective means to not be influenced by personal feelings or opinions when considering and representing facts. To do so is not humanly possible. We are all shaped and influenced by our identity—our culture, our community, our lived experiences. These things inevitably affect how we see the world.

What has long been referred to as objectivity in journalism is simply the perception of the world through the eyes of the people who dominated newsrooms: straight, cisgender, white men. Objective reporting did not mean feelings or opinions did not influence the way stories were analyzed and told. It simply meant that stories were solely analyzed and told using a historically dominant lens. This is not acceptable.

It is time for journalists to acknowledge the factors that influence their storytelling. And to realize that these influences are not necessarily bad things. Allowing writers from various marginalized communities—be they women, people of colour, members of the LGBTQ+ community—to draw on their knowledge and experiences opens up inclusive dialogues and brings different perspectives to the table. It would allow journalists to tell stories everyone can relate to—not just some people.

Of course, that isn’t to say that facts and truth don’t exist. Journalism—or at least good journalism—should always be truthful and accurate. However, we must realize that even good journalism will never be completely objective. The way we place our quotes in a story, the people we interview, the headlines we choose and the way we edit all come from a subjective place in ourselves. Our thoughts affect the way we choose to tell a story, regardless of our efforts to remain objective. The truth is, no story is objective—and neither are we.

We at The Concordian think it’s time to approach journalism and research in a different way. It is time that we call out the injustices in the media industry and outline the ways we can begin to improve. Journalism schools around the world should begin to implement courses that discard the notion of objectivity as a defining element of journalism. The current standards of “equitable” reporting that we are being taught in school are not sufficient. Completely excluding our subjective experiences is not only wrong, it is impossible.

Research and reporting are human activities, therefore, they are messy and complicated. Most of the time, you cannot generalize research. The world is not an exact science. While there is truth and fact, there is no such thing as objectivity or neutrality in the way we see the world. To be better journalists and better people, we must take individual experiences into account. We must look to marginalized communities. We should seek to challenge the power structures in our societies rather than support them. We must use our research and reporting as a medium for social change, rather than social control.

Graphic by Alexa Hawksworth 

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  • Alexander Weihmayer Hamel

    It’s official, The Concordian is a train wreck.

    You seem to admit to have completely given up on being journalists and rather spread sensationalism and hyper-partisan biases. Pure objectivity is impossible, but the whole point is to get as close as humanly possible to the objective facts and keeping yourself out of the equation. It’s clear you don’t give any importance to objectivity when you spin the whole thing around identity politics for the millionth time. There is nothing more disturbing than the notion that your physical identity is the dominant factor in who you are. Congrats on collectivizing and reducing ideas to gender, skin color and sexual orientation. I’m not sure how you can take pride in writing something like this.

  • LH

    While the sentiment is fair, I think this article is grossly lacking substance. Pure objectivity is not humanely possible? Well, yes, is this not already well understood? You say that it’s time you (Corcordian) outs the systemic injustices in the media industry and provide a platform for the voiceless, but there are no injustices named. No voices elevated. This is an empty article. Are you waiting for some one else to out these injustices? By motioning that your editorial staff will just now start to impart subjectivity into their reporting seems to imply that existing injustices–somehow only visible in a subjective sense– have not been covered by the Concordian to date. Why is this? This seems to me to be a platitude in the form of a social justice inspired diatribe. Social justice has a place in journalism, it always has, but this is a reductive and unskilled declaration.

  • Jim Royal

    This is not a new idea — I’ve been hearing it from more widely-read sources than the Concordian for some years. But ultimately, this idea that objectivity is nothing but a mirage is facile and shallow.

    Of course, it’s impossible to neutralize one’s own point of view. And it’s also true that the standard journalistic routine of “get an opposing quote” does a disservice to many types of stories. But all this means is that journalists need to try harder. Embracing subjectivity leads to partisanship.

    We know that perfect objectivity is impossible. So does that means that research scientists should give up on double-blinded placebo-controlled trials? Should historians stop looking for corroboration from disinterested parties to establish the reliability of historical claims?

    Acknowledging that we have a point of view means that you have to try extra hard to be fair when faced with reporting on people who do not share that point of view. It’s called being honest.