One of the topics we approach again and again is the matter of objectivity. Is it possible to be completely objective in journalism? There are some that argue, it is possible and others that argue, what’s the harm in showing an opinion so long as the actual facts of the case are delivered.
It seems as though it’s getting more and more difficult to hide one’s views, especially with social media. Everyone shares what they like, what they know and what their interested in and sometimes it can be hard to hide what might be a cause or an issue you are passionate about.
This week, I was on Twitter and fell upon a tweet from Retration Watch featuring this piece entitled “NYT journalist: I am not a neutral observer-can I still be a fair reporter?” Tracy Tullis had written a story for The New York Times about an elephant and had also signed an online petition (before she had written the article) supporting sending the elephant to a sanctuary. What’s interesting is in the manual presented to her by The New York Times did not necessarily discuss online petitions and appeals. And now, again, there are so many different causes that you could sign your name onto without thinking twice but is it a problem? Here is Retraction Watch’s article on what happened.
I suppose in a situation where a journalist would want to sign a petition, they could do so anonymously as to hide their identity and keep their ideals private but does that affect their decision making?
Surely, if someone is going out and writing their opinions rather than stating the facts, it can be an issue. But so long as someone is reporting the actual facts and figures and nothing more, is there anything wrong with signing online petitions for the causes you care about? Whether it be animal welfare or UNICEF?
This is where I believe The Golden Mean principle is fair, you can be evenhanded and simply attempt to hide your beliefs as best you can, but at the same time, so long as your writing is fair, neutral and factual; there should be no issue. If a journalist signed a petition last year to save lions and then covered Cecil the Lion, is there really a problem? So long as you are not spouting your own personal agenda, and sticking to the facts – what’s the harm? Again, it’s definitely harder today to hide what you care about.
Here’s another article from The Guardian on “Does journalism still require impartiality?” that I found interesting.