Finally, Someone Admits Objectivity is Impossible!

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From Robert  J. Haiman’s Best Practices for Newspaper Journalists:

“Discussions about reporters keeping personal biases out of their news stories sometimes get hung up on the use of the word ‘objective.’  Critics contend that reporters should be objective.  Journalists say that is an unrealistic standard.  More to the point is this distinction made in a publication of the Committee of Concerned Journalists: ‘When the concept of objectivity in the media originally evolved, it did not imply that journalists were free of bias.  It called, rather, for a consistent method of testing information—a transparent approach to evidence—precisely so that personal and cultural biases would not undermine the accuracy of their work.  It is the method that is objective, not the journalist’” (54). 

I apologize for the long quote; however, I feel that all of it is important.  I personally have gotten hung up over the word choice of “objectivity” multiple times.  I hear “unbiased” and “objective” and get very frustrated.  Why?  Because these are impossible goals to attain.  It may be nice in an ideal world to claim that journalists can 100% make their articles impartial.  But, this is frankly impossible.  If you analyze the wording of almost anything you can find some sort of bias or leading words contained therein.  For example, if I were to  write in an article, “It all started when John, haunted by his past, decided to provide an opportunity for others to move on as he had,” I would be leading my readers to feel compassion for and relate to John.  By saying “haunted by his past,” the reader automatically feels pity and connects his past to theirs.  While this may be an effective way to keep the reader reading, it will also color their understanding of the rest of article and events.  In light of the impossibility of achieving “objectivity,” I was angered that it was claimed so strongly this was possible.    

However, I think the Committee of Concerned Journalists addresses this issue well.  They explain quite clearly and reasonably that objectivity is impossible.  They aren’t arguing that journalists are “free of bias;” instead, they clarify that the objectivity lies in “a consistent method of testing information.”  In other words, it’s the same principle as Dr. Jerz’s saying, “If your mother says she loves you, check it out.”  It is impossible for articles to be entirely objective.  Articles are written from words and words are by definition emotionally charged and powerful.  Nor can a journalist entirely distance themselves from their opinions on a subject matter.  However, if they methodically check their facts and gather many quotes from a variety of people, it is no longer so much your words that charge the article, but theirs. 

Return home. 

4 Comments

Great post, Greta.

The "check it out" quote is an old journalism saw, that I absorbed along with "if it bleeds, it leads" and the anecdote about what to do if you're tempted to write "very".

Angela Palumbo said:

Greta,I love this entry because it captures my opinion completely. Objectivity is completely not achievable. Even in our best efforts to not express our opinions, we still slip it in. The best we can do it get quotes from both sides and check them out.

Kaitlin Monier said:

I agree with the points you make in this blog entry. I decided to continue and write a reflection based on it:
http://blogs.setonhill.edu/KaitlinMonier/2009/11/reflection_on_objectivity.html

Jeanine O'Neal said:

I like this blog entry alot. I know you get really upset when people try to say there is an objective way of saying/writing something becuase there really isn't.

I wrote a blog in response to your blog. Here's the link if you want to check it out:

http://blogs.setonhill.edu/JeanineONeal/2009/11/objectivity_is_impossible_a_re.html

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