Saturday, January 13, 2007

The Objective of Journalism

Journalism is supposed to be objective, right? Reporters are supposed to be the messengers of the news to the general public. In theory, there shouldn't be any kind of filter, just representation of facts and events. But in reality, objectivity among news gatherers and reporters is impossible.

In an article posted on on Friday, the author asks if the AP saw the same Bush speech as the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, and The Washington Post. The speech they are referring to is not the presidential address to the nation on Wednesday, but the speech Bush gave to soldiers at Fort Benning in Georgia earlier that day. The President was there to defend his new Iraq policy of sending more than 20,000 more troops to the Mid East.

The AP article's headline was "Bush Cheered at Fort Benning." It went on to state that the President was surrounded by "cheering soldiers" and that Fort Benning offered Bush "a patriotic backdrop and friendly audience" to sell his new strategy.

The other newspapers though, told a different story. The Washington Post's headline was: "At Fort Benning, a Quiet Response to a Presidential Visit." The NYT's headline was: "Bush Speaks and Base Is Subdued." The LA Times had a similar headline.

All three papers reported that the crowd was subdued. The soldiers were attentive and polite, but they were not cheering as the AP reported. The President was not as well received at the base as he usually is. The Post said, the soldiers "saluted smartly and applauded politely" -- "hardly the boisterous, rock-star reception Bush typically gets at military bases." The papers also reported that the press was not given access to the soldiers for comment after the speech... a fact that was left out of the AP article.

So what does this mean? The AP reporter is a conservative Bush supporter? Probably not, but some bias had to have come into play here. I don't claim to know why there were conflicting stories from the AP and the other three major papers, but I think this incident exemplifies my theory that objectivity is impossible.

Four reporters went to the same event. Four reporters saw the same thing. Four reporters were denied access to the soldiers and we come up with a contradiction in reporting. That is how journalism is. I think we need to stop selling journalism as an objective industry. It's just not true. Every time we, as reporters, go into a story we bring with us our own personal bias and objectives.

Just as the Potter's Box suggests, when you ask why people make their ethical decisions, you must take into account their values and principles. It's the same for reporters. Take in the news you hear on TV, or read in the papers with the knowledge of the source. What is that reporter's objective? What are their values? What are their biases?

Objectivity is a nice theory, but it does not exist in journalism.



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At Saturday, January 13, 2007, Anonymous JK said...

I think you're 100 percent correct; objectivity does not exist in of now. Once Medill's 2007 graduation class goes out into the world, that will all change!!

I think it's possible to be objective, but you have to fight for it. You have to be committed to finding the truth. You have to be committed to telling the stories that will inform as well as inspire.

Yes. I am an idealist, and I'm proud of it!

But I also believe there to be reporters who think they are doing the right thing by bringing their opinon to the public in the form of journalism. They don't realize they are doing a disservice to the public they are trying to inform.

At Sunday, January 14, 2007, Anonymous TB said...

Misinforming the public and pushing your own agenda through journalistic endeavors is never okay. But there is a reason some people watch FOX News over CNN. I think personal biases are almost impossible to set aside at will. And if, for argument's sake I have conservative tendencies, that does not necessarily mean my reporting is any less accurate than someone who leans to the left. There is no excuse for shoddy reporting, but like JE said, how we see the world will almost invariably be reflected in how we report the news.

Always the devil's advocate, my question for you is: At the end of the day, isn't it the viewer's prerogative to choose whose biases he or she will devote his or her time to?



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