Call it What it is: The Folly of “Objective” Journalism

During my time as a student of journalism at Ithaca College, a single lesson seemed to recur; in every one of my traditional classes, inordinate amounts of stress were placed on the necessity of objectivity in reporting. 

For example, let’s say I was producing a story on housing discrimination and gentrification in the city. My story would revolve heavily around those individuals and residents that are affected by excessively high rental costs and skyrocketing property taxes, in order to get to the heart of the real-world impact of these structural inequalities. In essence, I would have the ability to produce a powerful report driven by the stories of the voiceless, one that could possibly address the very heart of the issues at hand and help produce palpable, tangible change in the community.

However, my story would ultimately fail in one, unforgivable way – the capital sin of traditional journalism, perceived lack of objectivity. Without balancing my story with information gathered from landlords, heads of community development and CEOs of construction companies, my story could not be seen as anything more than an easily dismissable piece of activism, with very little to no journalistic merit.

Why is my reporting, and the honest reporting of so many other hard-working journalists, deemed inherently inadequate? Is our journalism any less accurate or truthful, despite taking on a visible bias?

And how are we, as producers and managers of our very own independent media companies of one, to establish and maintain connections with those elite sources to begin with?

The truth is, “objectivity,” or the closest thing to it, can only be achieved by a coziness with those elite sources. According to the mainstream media, constant citing of elites, supposed professionals and experts are the only practices that keep journalism truthful, fair and accurate – when in reality, that very coziness compromises everything they strive for as news makers. My Independent Media professor Jeff Cohen put it best in his own Huffington Post column, in which he analyzed mainstream media’s approaches to Snowden and the journalism revolving around his leaks: “No one questioned whether Broder [Washington Post columnist] was a genuine journalist. That’s because, unlike Greenwald, the reporting and opinions of a David Broder were militantly pro-establishment, pro-bipartisan consensus.”

The folly of objectivity can be seen in multiple arenas of journalism, among the most pressing and unforgivable of topics being that of human-assisted climate change. In an effort to be “fair and accurate,” information from both the scientific community and the climate change deniers must be given equal weight as equally legitimate perspectives on the issue, simply because there is literature and a following for the latter view. It’s like a running joke in mainstream news, but it’s producing tangibly harmful effects as more and more people, including our very own president-elect, are being swayed to disregard concrete science.

Objectivity is not synonymous with truth and accuracy. We as the journalistic community need to stop kidding ourselves with such elitist notions and put the profession back into responsible hands.


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