17 September 2008

A question of objectivity

When my journalism and media studies professors lecture on the idea of objectivity, neutrality, or bias in journalism, it always leaves me deep in thought. Most people go about reading their news assuming it is neutral, unless there is an overt slant. If such a slant does exist, they usually become turned off. "This is so BIASED!" like it's a dirty word.

Is bias a bad thing? Usually the conclusion we draw in my classes is that everyone is biased, everyone has their own sets of beliefs, everyone cannot help but feel the things they feel, and so -- even in journalism -- it is impossible for anyone to be entirely 100% neutral.

For many consumers of news, neutrality is considered the golden standard, but I'm not sure that is always best. Should one really be neutral about issues of genocide, racism, murder or torture? Or a harder question: should one be neutral about fighting in unjust wars or passing discriminatory propositions if doing so would contradict personal convictions?

Most importantly: is neutrality really the way to lead readers to the truth?


david silver said...

great questions.

i really enjoyed this recent piece by ruth marcus in the washington post. she asks many similar questions, it seem to me, and ends with some interesting conclusions.

laura_p said...

Thanks for the feedback and interesting article. Good food for thought.

....J.Michael Robertson said...

*Please* take Journalism Ethics before you leave us. This is a tangle we will chew over in that class first week to last. My answer is that we always have a bias, but you could argue it shows most clearly in what we write about, not how we write about it. Feel fury about Darfur but try to be fair and try to be balanced when you write the overview story. Are rape and murder terrible? I won't give an inch on that. But what is the deep background -- the religious and ethnic tensions, the examples of proxy aggression, the economic forces -- that worked together to create a space into which evil flowed. The answer is not simply that the evil did it. Evil is opportunistic, not inevitable. Of course, sometimes you coax all the rationalizations and explanations out of someone and see them for the rags they are. Maybe, then you explain why they are. Or maybe you find the "expert" source who does it for you. You may say there's no difference. I think there is.