Reporting like an Editor: Objectivity in Transparency

There is a noticeable lack of children wanting to be editors when they grow up. Logically, this may stem from the fact that editors remain fairly hidden in the professional world—the public sees authors who write books, they see actors who play in movie adaptations, and they see the product (book, newspaper, magazine, etc.). However, that is the precise nature of the editor’s job: to remain hidden and allow the author’s work to shine with more polish. A journalist’s job can be much the same as an editors: remain hidden from view and allow the story to shine to the public. I feel like journalism, if practiced well with this ideology, allows journalists to practice perfect objectivity and distance in the reporting.

I do take into consideration the counterarguments to this claim that were given in class such as the nature of humans is to have a particular upbringing which leads them to see stories in different lights, thus altering a “perfect objectivity” in the reporting. First, I’d like to bring up worldviews as an addendum to that argument. Although every person alive has an individual world view, that doesn’t mean that they can’t obtain perfect objectivity. This might turn into an argument of definitions as demonstrated by Len Downie’s comment on the PBS website referred to in the presentation which reads, “’Objective’ is not a good term, because nobody’s objective. We’re all human beings. If I said that the tie that you’re wearing right now was maroon, you might say it’s dark red, and we could both be correct.” Arguments of this sort are made irrelevant by slight variations of the definition of “objectivity,” so I will use objectivity in lay-man’s terms. Objectivity does not mean perfection in reporting; objectivity does mean that the story is an object in which the journalist shows no personal bias.

An interesting facet to this debate is the idea that journalists, although they may report things objectively (or close to objectively for those naysayers of my theory), don’t always choose the stories they report in an objective fashion. Take a primarily liberal news station, for instance. This station can easily report the stories they come across in an objective manner with each journalist demonstrating a kind of distance from the story he/she reports, but the stories that this liberal station chooses to report may be focused on concerns most important in the liberal community. These concerns aren’t necessarily, and are commonly not, the same as the major concerns in the conservative party. Even then, I feel like journalists themselves can practice perfect objectivity and distance in their reporting (as the specific question was asked during the presentation). In December of 2000, the authors of The Elements of Journalism wrote a piece of the Los Angeles Times about the transparency (editor-like qualities) journalists used in while covering the presidential race. They argue that the most exciting time for the public was when the journalists stepped back and reported the facts strictly as fact. This transparent journalism not only allowed journalists to cover the story without bias, but it also, according to the authors, enthralled the public more thoroughly than opinionated coverage.

At this point (since the possibility of unbiased journalism has been covered), the objectivity of the hypothetical liberal station may be questioned. The balance of stories (in the political, social, governmental etc. realms) is key to defining an entire publishing entity as objective in its reporting. But, in the real world, is that necessarily what we desire in a station? Is that not why we have many bodies of reporting, so we can have our stations tuned to stories we prefer to hear, or to have different stories covered? It seems like perfect objectivity in relation to a perfect balance of stories is undesirable for the public.

In a prime example of the difference between personal bias (on the jouranlist’s part) and fairness or objectivity in reporting, take The Chicago Tribune in 1948. Biased against Harry S. Truman for president, the Tribune printed a few hundred copies of the most embarrassing headline in journalism history: DEWEY DEFEATS TRUMAN. The embarrassing part is that Dewey did not in fact defeat Truman. Because the Tribune allowed its personal bias get in the way of objective reporting, they took a hit to their credibility.

Perfect objectivity is possible in journalism, and although it’s not the most common method of reporting, it is crucial to keep in mind when publishing things like a page one headline about the presidential election.

Carli Hanson

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