Last week in my Independent Media class, we discussed how objectivity can be a barrier to journalism, especially in the mainstream media. The mainstream media claims objectivity, yet reports either in favor of the government, or—when critical or reporting on a political or human rights issue—tries to “balance” their viewpoint by talking to a representative from both the democrat and republican parties; these sources, however, never deviating too-far from the middle.
My professor, Jeff Cohen, brought up this idea of “centrism” that exists within the mainstream media, and how that in itself if appealing to a political ideology since your bias is centrism. But the mainstream media doesn’t admit this bias; they have to claim to be objective, even when it’s clear they are not—possibly why Fox News’ slogan is “Fair and Balanced” despite the fact that they and all of their readers and viewers know that they are a very conservative news outlet.
I understand why the news media tries to create objectivity in reporting: after all, the intent of journalism is to inform the public on the facts about the goings-on in the current world. Interjecting opinion editorializes those facts and creates a narrative of the story that may skew the public’s perception in favor of a certain agenda. However, playing devil’s advocate to that argument, any time one recounts a story, what they choose to omit and add to the story already is manipulating the actual events of a story, even if their words are as un-biased as possible, since it is theoretically impossible to include every single fact of what occurred with the same amount of balance—and the question of that being a story which a reader would actually be interested in and fully absorb complicates the argument further.
So why claim objectivity at all? I think that, as is becoming more and more prevalent with the increase in online independent media outlets, if the media outlet or reporter was to state their bias right up-front, the reader could understand the angle at which the story was reported and how that might effect the reporting. Transparency, as blogger David Weinberger writes in his blog post “Transparency is the new objectivity,” seems to be a more honest means of reporting versus claiming objectivity when it is clear that everything is written with a type of bias. One way that transparency is enhanced by the internet is in the form of links, since never before has a reader had such an immediate way of fact-checking the reporter’s statements. I think that through independent media and online media outlets, this trend towards transparency and admitting bias will both account for more honest journalism, and hold journalists and media outlets more accountable.