Thursday, January 18, 2007

Is Objectivity over-rated?

Scott Herhold of San Francisco’s Mercury News, wrote a column on Sunday about the attack of Yale a cappella group “The Baker’s Dozen” on a San Francisco street following their performance at a New Year’s Eve Party. The title of the column? “The truth? It depends on who’s telling.” Herhold maintains that different media outlets choose to paint the story with different brushes.

Herhold says the “Gay Press” called it anti-gay violence, (the perpetrators shouted anti-gay slurs at the victims). Fox News’ Sean Hannity called it an attack on patriotism, (the group had just finished singing “The Star Spangled Banner”). The Political junkies called it a cover-up since none of the attackers have been charged but many were identified as San Francisco prep-school students whose parents are high-profile and well-connected.

Now objectivity is an old debate in journalism that never seems to go away. And Herhold continues this long tradition with the question…if they’re all different who’s right? Herhold says “everyone and no one” because there’s “no such thing as an objective rendition of the facts.”

While I do think objectivity is important, I also believe that hearing a diversity of voices and opinions is great for journalism and the public we serve. It is the result of a free press and something that the United States is privileged to have. These different viewpoints contribute to a healthy discourse and the hope is that public will hear these separate voices and come to a conclusion for themselves.

But this stance brings up two issues for me:

For the public:
A highly probable and problematic possibility is that people’s news consumption generally doesn’t change all that much. People tend to be fairly loyal to the same media outlet over the years. They’re not being exposed to other voices in the “marketplace of ideas.”

For journalists:
To refer back to Herhold, as journalists, “at our best, we can be fair and accurate, representing all sides of a controversy. But our stories, subtly or not so subtly, reflect our background, bias and taste.” So we can be fair and accurate but not objective? What do you think?


For Herhold's column:


At Saturday, January 20, 2007, Anonymous CY said...

Like Herhold says, this attack on Yale's Baker's Dozen is no laughing matter. But why was I so tempted to do so as I read his piece? His own reaction to the attack was the funniest thing of all.

I don't think objectivity is at all overrated. I think journalists have an important job to do when they evaluate situations like this. Yes, people interpret things in various ways, but at the same time, who are we to report things in a particular manner if we are not SURE of the facts. Had the Yale a cappella group been, in fact, comprised of gay men, then yes, I would say it was an act against gays since their attackers did yell anti-gay slurs.

Making statements like any of the ones these journalists made or implied was out of line... especially since there was absolutely no attribution. Did they simply come up with their own opinions and make it the truth without doing any research? That's what it seems like. If they can justify how the interpret the story, then fine, a primary source said this. But not the attack was this.

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