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Objecting to objective reporting

by The Concordian January 23, 2018
Objecting to objective reporting

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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