Stephen J. A. Ward introduces the concept of pragmatic objectivity which “is plural and holistic. It evaluates beliefs with a variety of standards. It is inclusive, open to the evaluation of many kinds of writing. It denies dualisms, viewing journalism as both factual and interpretive, an engaged chronicling.”
I find this concept fascinating for many reasons.
First, it admits the fact that things are not binary. This is echoed in the reading of Lewis Wallace who also talking about the how journalistic work should not be binary, i.e. it should not stand neutrally between two points. But rather it should show a holistic picture, it should show a spectrum of voices. Even in cases where there are two main rivals or opposing ideologies, the picture is much more complex than that.
Second, it abolishes the belief that journalism is factual writing. If it were so, then all journalistic work would be a bullet list of facts blurted out to people. Instead, pragmatic journalism indicates the different points of view to a story. By presenting stories as facts, we are really deceiving our audiences into believing certain narratives as scripture.
A lot of journalists are working with this approach, but some are calling for an even more radical view of objectivity. Rob Wijnberg calls it transparent subjectivity. His organization, The Correspondent, suggests that its reporters are straightforward about what drives them to cover certain beats. They are open about their methodology and their angles on stories. This transparency, he claims, “reduces the distance” between the audience and the reporters.
Wijnberg writes that their audience “also get a better sense of who we are: the flawed but sincere, fallible yet meticulous, relatable as well as disagreeable human beings known as journalists.”
This is a great way if you already have an audience. If you know your audience is open minded enough to accept the fallibility and disagreeability of your reporters while still maintaining their own points of view. But if you are speaking in an already polarized society after decades of polarized media coverage, you need to be a little bit more careful. I am more of the opinion that journalism should be holistic and inclusive rather than binary.
The interaction between objectivity and identity cannot be more relevant. This leads to the reading of Lewis Wallace’s writing on the matter. They talk about being a transgender journalist and how newsrooms avoided assigning transgender stories to them.
This reminds me of how American media, and western media in general, would rather send in an American or western journalist to cover Palestine, rather than have a Palestinian cover their home. Palestinian journalists are mostly used as fixers or translators or interpreters to help the outsider journalist. We rarely see a byline of a Palestinian journalist in international media organizations that are based in the US or Europe.
And many journalists like Mariam Barghouti and Lina Alsaafin are fighting against that and drawing attention to how different journalists’ voices are perceived in English newspapers.
It is amazing how you can see parallels in drowning people’s work based on their identities. But it is hopeful that this is changing, that transgender and Palestinian journalists are speaking up.