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Objectivity • Applying objectivity too broadly can lead to passive receptivity of the news rather than the press being aggressive analyzers and explainers of it. • The press has conflicting dictates: – Be neutral yet investigative – Be disengaged yet have impact – Be fair-minded but have an edge
• An attempt of objectivity has persisted in many journalistic organizations because nothing better has replaced it. • And the public is cynical of marketing slogans such as “fair and balanced.”
• The concept of objectivity can lead to false balance and lazy reporting. – “He said, she said” – “Both sides of the story” – False equivalencies
• False balance leads to failure of pushing the story, incrementally, toward a deeper understanding of what is true and false. • Too often rely on official sources, which leads to false balance and “he said, she said” reporting.
• The concept of objectivity often makes reporters hesitant to inject issues that aren’t in the news already. – “News is driven by the zeitgeist.” – Who sets the agenda?
Objectivity Abandoned • The Internet and cable news drive a non-stop news cycle, which elevates the appeal of “attitude” in the news, making the balanced, measured news report seem anachronistic. • Public relations has matured into a spin-monsters so that virtually every word a reporter hears from an official source has been shaped and polished in order to manipulate public perceptions. – “Manage the message.”
• Thus, “fairness” has often come to mean a scrupulous passivity – to cover a developing story as it is manufactured. • Too often a story represents the view of cooperative sources (Bob Woodward). • If problems or issues are being ignored by official sources, reporters too often don’t dig, don’t force officials to confront the problem or issue.
Bias • Bias is driven by ideology. – Politicians always see “unfairness.”
• Bias is driven by class. – Biggest bias in the news is based on the lack of socioeconomic diversity in the newsroom. • Fewer non-Ivy League, blue-collar reporters such as Breslin, Royko, Hammil.
• Bias driven by conflict-oriented, event-driven, horse-race coverage and by existing narratives.
• Bias driven by “altruistic democracy,” “responsible capitalism” and reformism. (Gans) • Reporters are reformists, against corruption, exploitation, cruelty, violence, discrimination and abuse of power. For honesty, fairness, courage and humility. – They like to look out for people who cannot look out for themselves.
New Direction • Journalists must acknowledge, humbly and publicly, that what they do is far less detached than the aura of objectivity implies. • Reporters must be encouraged to develop expertise and use it to sort through competing claims, identify and explain underlying assumptions of those claims, and make judgments about what the audience needs to know. • Master their beats (specialization).
• Reporters must be precision journalists, which is arguably activist, but approaches the unobtainable goal of objectivity better than traditional reporting strategies. • Precision journalism requires expert usage of big data. • Finally, reporters (including bloggers) should be human first, reporters second.