On "objectivity"

>> Friday, November 20, 2009

The Economist's "Democracy in America": Do you think the media should strive for objectivity in its reporting?

Dan Froomkin: No. Journalists should strive for accuracy, and fairness. Objectivity is impossible, and is too often confused with balance. And the problem with balance is that we are not living in a balanced time. For instance, is it patently obvious that at this point in our history, the leading luminaries on one side of the American political spectrum are considerably less tethered to reality than those on the other side. Madly trying to split the difference, as so many of my mainstream-media colleagues feel impelled to do, does a disservice to the concept of the truth.
As NYU Journalism professor Jay Rosen noted a few years ago,
The trouble arises (and this is the whole reason we have the bias debate) because American journalists some time ago took refuge in objectivity, and began to base their authority on a claim to have removed bias from the news. This claim was not just hot air. It corresponded to things journalism did.

Things like what?

Well, to give you the compressed version… First journalism removed the political party from influence in the newsroom. Then it removed, as much as possible, the publisher and his pro-business mentality. Then it removed the political opinions of its own people. Then it removed the community— local bias, if you will. Then it removed the public because it had polls instead, and they were more objective.

At each step in these strategic removals, the justification was objectivity: producing more unbiased news. And in this way the press wound up basing its authority—the professional journalist’s bid for public trust—on the claim to have mastered the removal of bias. When actually, they just kicked everyone else out.

Well, you can be better at it than anyone else—total bias removal—and still be pretty bad. Why? Because journalism is saturated with judgment. Good journalism is.

[...]

In any case, if we do want unbiased journalism we should not. We should want journalists who show good judgment.

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