In Defense of Objectivity
It’s become customary in some circles to dismiss the principle of journalistic objectivity. It’s considered impossible, misguided, even cowardly; at best, it’s ancillary to transparency.
To an extent these criticisms are a valuable corrective against objectivity taken to grotesque extremes, but they miss a fundamental point. Objectivity is not supposed to be an outcome. It’s a process — one that, in journalism, is historically rooted in skepticism and humility.
Truth is often difficult to pin down. Multiple perspectives may be valid. Bias is pervasive; and people, including reporters, must work hard to grasp more than a fragment of the whole. Journalistic objectivity — i.e., thorough reporting, a recognition of one’s own biases, a reluctance to jump to conclusions, and a willingness to challenge those conclusions — is a methodological response to this challenge.
Objectivity doesn’t require the suspension of judgment. Far from it. If anything, informed judgment demands the process of objectivity. In its absence reign prejudice, instinct and orthodoxy. While transparency reveals these, it can’t fix them on its own.
Image: Columbia School of Journalism, ca. 1910, from the Library of Congress