Objectivity in Professional Journalism

The doctrine of objectivity has long been a canon of professional journalism. It was established in order to demystify opinions and political bias, and give the public clear, fact-based reports so that they could form their own opinions on things. However, the very principle of objectivity has found itself at the center of a split that threatens the existence of professional journalism. Some argue that objectivity the source underlying the mainstream media’s failure to connect with the public, while others claim that it is the ideal which all professional journalism should strive to if it wishes to save itself.

The former ideology “labels the doctrine of objectivity an outdated relic that keeps the mainstream press disconnected and irrelevant in our increasingly partisan culture”. It is unclear whether they mourn the death of objectivity, but it is clear that they believe the paradigm shift towards opinion-based journalism is a necessary one. On one side of this spectrum there are those who find the notion of abandoning objectivity to be a sad one, but nonetheless necessary. On the other side, however, the rise of opinion-based journalism is celebrated for its authenticity, and is seen as a leap forward.

The latter ideology insists that “political polarization is degrading our popular culture, and the objective professional journalism is the one beacon of hope”. This is to say that it stays firmly planted in the roots of which many journalism cultures grew from: lighting the public’s way to the “truth” in a dark cloud of prejudices and biases.

The possibility of journalists giving in to our modern, partisan culture and expressing their opinions in order to become more relevant seems very plausible. However, reports suggest that the bulk of regular news-viewers prefer news without a particular point of view, in spite of our increasingly partisan culture as a whole. These people do not look to the press to be influenced, but rather to be informed. This is the dilemma; opinion-based journalism would most likely help to bring in new audiences, however the switch away from fact-based journalism would likely reduce the already diminishing audience that journalism enjoys.

Contrastingly, the majority of the public already believes that news organizations have a bias. And with good reason; true objectivity is simply impossible―every event that is reported must still be interpreted subjectively. Journalism’s response has been the tightening and regulating of formal measures that give the appearance of neutrality: the use of quotations, facts, balance, etc. These habits lead to detached and awkward reports however, that seem to have been robbed of their personality.

Although objectivity has become a failure, journalists still do not want to give it up. Good journalism should not hide or impose biases, but rather challenge them, examine opposing views, and remain skeptical. Contrary to common belief, it is possible to abandon objectivity without resorting to biases. Given the circumstances, journalists may be better inclined to tell a story instead of creating an argument that attempts to persuade.

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