To be objective or not to be objective?
How journalism can save the planet.
Journalistic objectivity is the core principle that has held precedence within the profession since the 20th century. The principle coincides with the value of journalistic professionalism and was established in order for the public to receive unbiased factual information, in order for the public to form their own opinions on news stories and public matters.
The value of objectivity continuously faces scrutiny over whether journalists can relay purely factual information without inserting a level of human bias. Is objective journalism a myth rather than a reality? Can it really be achieved? If journalists were to accept and display their opinions to the general public would that in turn deem them as more credible sources? Should journalist’s social media reflect their personal views?
These are some of the many questions that surround this issue.
Asylum Seekers hitting the shores of Australia
The recent matters concerning the fate of asylum seekers within Australia has sparked Australian journalists to insert their individual opinions on the matter on their personal social media accounts. The question of whether or not journalists should remain objective on their social media has sprouted from this issue. Journalists hold a powerful position over the community by reporting stories of public interest and being the deciders of what news is worthy to report. Therefore, they have the ability to change the planet by embracing their personal opinions and enforcing social change through their selective medium. However at what cost to the profession itself?
The article entitled ‘The hashtag conundrum: how should journalists negotiate public and private on social media’ written by Folker Hanusch appeared on The Conversation. The article highlighted how journalists who had professionally written articles on asylum seekers for media publications, are expressing their personal opinions on their social media accounts. The journalists are calling for social change and using the #letthemstay, in response to extreme protests against the High Court’s decision that ruled offshore processing of asylum seekers as legal.
The journalists expressing their personal views on their social media accounts had the media publication they worked for in their bio line. Julie Posetti is the Head of Digital Editorial Capability for Fair Fax Media -as displayed on her twitter bio line- has tweeted a number of posts on asylum seekers in which she asserts her opinion and follows it by #letthemstay.
Social Media — Public or Private?
While social media accounts provide privacy settings, the sites are primarily a public platform. Hanusch discusses the need for a balance on social media between the personal and professional persona.
“To be successful on platforms such as Twitter, it is not enough simply to post links to one’s own stories anymore. You need to present a personal as much as a professional persona. This is an issue that many journalists — as well as their employers — are struggling with.”
Journalists now are posting disclaimers in their bio line on social media forums such as Twitter in which they write that the views they express on their social media accounts are entirely their own in order to not implement their employers. However, their ability to endorse causes on social media platforms allows them to create a positive impact and urge change when their media organisations can prevent them from achieving this due to their objectivity clauses.
View from nowhere
Press Think shared an interview with Jay Rosen a media critic, writer and professor of journalism at New York University. Rosen discussed the concept on journalism objectivity being equivalent to a ‘view from nowhere’, a concept first outlined by the philosopher Thomas Nagel. Rosen discusses that human beings have the ability to step back from their opinion in order to gain a broader understanding however their view becomes limited when they take this approach. Rosen believes journalists have the ability to be objective however expressing their beliefs could add to the story rather than diminish it.
“If in doing the serious work of journalism–digging, reporting, verification, mastering a beat–you develop a view, expressing that view does not diminish your authority. It may even add to it.” — Jay Rosen
Hanusch expresses a similar belief in the need for journalists to insert opinions in their articles and to own up to their beliefs that are entering in their articles. Hanusch discusses how by doing this journalists may connect better to their audiences if they publicly declare and accept their bias.
In a modern society where it is publicly known that certain newspapers hold specific values and agendas it may in turn give journalists more credibility in announcing their bias allowing their audience to either agree or disagree with their views. By publicly accepting their bias audiences would not be as sceptical of journalists and media corporations hidden agendas.
Where do you draw the line in not being objective?
The New York Times featured a discussion between online blogger Glenn Greenwald and previous executive editor of The New York Times and opinion writer Bill Keller.
Greenwald was adamant that journalists cannot write objectively and should not pretend otherwise as their opinions will affect and mislead the readers understanding of a story.
“The relevant distinction is between journalists who honestly disclose their subjective assumptions and political values and those who dishonestly pretend they have none or conceal them from their readers.” — Glenn Greenwald
Keller on the other hand discussed how if journalists were not objective in their writing and confirmed this bias they could be tempted to with-hold evidence in their stories.
“The thing is, once you have publicly declared your “subjective assumptions and political values”, it’s human nature to want to defend them, and it becomes tempting to omit or minimize facts, or frame the argument, in ways that support your declared viewpoint. And some readers, knowing that you write from the left or right, will view your reporting with justified suspicion.” — Bill Keller
Whilst Keller and Greenwald’s views differ from each side of the debate on this issue, they both offer insight into how journalism can affect people. Keller presents a compelling point that by declaring their views journalists may withhold facts and this would need to be a key point censored if journalists declared their opinions. However, Keller also discusses how readers will be suspicious of your writing if you are declared left or right winged. Is this not already happening?
According to Hanusch,
“ It is well known, for example, that The Australian leans to the right politically, while The Guardian takes a left-leaning approach.”
Media publications tend to lead their stories in either a left or right wing way and the readership appear to already be knowledgeable of this bias. The power of choice in media publications allows the public to find different angles to stories and allows them to further draw their own conclusion on the matter at hand.
Greenwald’s approach enforces Hanusch’s view of journalists being human and therefore inserting their opinions in their writing whether they intended to or not. According to Greenwald, as long as a journalist is accepting there inability to be subjective they are not going to negatively impact their readers than those who refuse to accept their prejudices.
Despite the cheesy 90’s look of this video, Cynthia McFadden, CO Anchor of ABC News ‘Nightline’ makes some really fantastic points.
Journalists are given so many facts the best the can do is know that they have an opinion but try and present the facts in the fairest way possible. McFadden’s view supports Keller who discusses needing to include all the facts and presenting a fair representation of news.
Can journalism REALLY save the planet?
It would be foolish to assume that journalism can ultimately save the planet, but does it have the power to influence change for the planet? Yes.
Everybody possesses opinions, it’s human nature to draw to your own conclusion on an issue. Values, beliefs, motivation, social influences and economical stature are a few of the aspects which form each person and influence the way they perceive everything surrounding them. Therefore how can one say that journalists could be subjective in all regards despite that they possess these humane qualities.
Should journalists report the facts as Keller has argued? Yes, always. Is it naive to believe they are fully objective? Probably.
Social media is not private, it is a very public platform, yet journalists get wrongfully criticised for voicing their opinions on a forum that is invented for personal expression. Journalists should be able to express their personal opinions on these platforms and in their own stories as long as it does not omit facts and they admit to inserting their own opinions. Journalists having a large following can impact their readers to believe in change whether it be social change or environmental.
Where does objectivity fit into journalists saving the planet? Hanusch sums it up perfectly through the following.
“Journalists who express their opinion and declare their biases may be seen as more honest, and are contributing to increased transparency of journalistic work — a de-mystification of the craft even. This would in turn allow audiences to better appreciate and understand the news they consume.”
Journalists ability to connect with their audiences by expressing that it is an unattainable ideal to be objective in everything they write, may just be the very step needed in using their power to influence positive change.