The other price of ‘objectivity’
: I’ve ranted regularly on the need for transparency in news media, for revealing our perspective and process so our publics can judge what we say in context. Not to do so is to lie by omission, to sacrifice credibility even as we try to protect it.
Dan Okrent explores another price of ‘objectivity’ in his Sunday column: By trying so hard to act objective and relying on — that is, hiding behind — “experts,” reporters often don’t take the opportunity to simply tell us what they know.
And reporters think that getting an “expert” to comment adds the aura of objectivity.
In recent years, though, the concept of objectivity has taken a bit of a beating. Some journalists (and critics of journalists) argue that it is in fact unachievable; we all bring our experiences, sensibilities and innate prejudices to the door, and even the act of attempting to leave them on the stoop will alter our approach….
But haven’t we reached the point where denying the reader what a writer knows to be true is far more unfair than including it? I was delighted when, in “After 6 Months, Tyco Prosecutors Close Case Against Ex-Officials” (March 18), Alex Berenson described the prosecutor’s case as “bewildering,” “tedious” and having “rarely been presented in a straightforward way” – a vision of the trial that would have been utterly unavailable had Berenson not dared to offer conclusive characterizations based on his own observations. On a much larger scale, I was dismayed when a reporter for The Wall Street Journal in a letter to friends (later passed around the Internet) described the horrors of life in Baghdad, and was criticized in some quarters for thereby jeopardizing her impartiality. But what she described was based on indisputable first-hand experience. If there was a journalistic offense here, it was that readers of The Journal had been denied knowledge of what this reporter knew to be true. Whom did that serve?
Right. When you remind yourself that a journalist is human, not an institution, and that news is a conversation, not a sermon, then it’s a lot easier to and more sensible to just tell the story instead of hiding behind convenient experts and an aura, a conceit of ‘objectivity.’