Transparency Over Objectivity

As David Weinberger pointed out in his article about transparency and objectivity, objectivity does not exist to the extent that it is taught in journalism classes. Journalists may like to believe they are telling objective stories to their audiences, but it can’t be done. Every journalist enters a story with personal experiences, pre-conceived notions, biases and different understandings of a topic. As much as both sides of a story are presented and there are an equal amount of sources, the journalist still chooses what quotes to include, what details are relevant and what sources to even interview. All of these factors diminish objectivity, but it doesn’t mean journalists can’t do their job effectively or well. Journalism just needs to be approached from a different perspective.

Transparency is how journalists can still do their jobs effectively and combat the standards established by the unattainable notions of objectivity. Disclosing biases and informing audiences of where journalists are coming from creates a better understanding among readers and journalists. In situations where journalists are transparent, readers know exactly what kind of story they are reading and why a specific angle was taken or why a journalist told a story the way he or she did.

If journalists don’t try to be objective it does not mean they are not telling a story accurately or fairly. They are telling it from their perspective and based on the information they researched. If they feel like one side is acting wrong or unfairly and they have the research to back it up, there is no reason the readers should not trust that story. There aren’t overarching policies or standards that can be applied to journalism because there are so many different situations and cases that can’t be predicted or change over time. Publications have different content and agendas, and this is going to influence both the transparency of the publication and the reporters. The key is being transparent, instead of trying to reach an objective standard that does not exist.

As Weinberge said:

The problem with objectivity is that it tries to show what the world looks like from no particular point of view, which is like wondering what something looks like in the dark.


The Power of One

Matthew Lee’s story about his publication, Inner City Press, struck a cord with me because it showed how much power one company could have over who sees content on the Internet. Even though Google just blocked Inner City Press from the news feature on its website, it was still prohibiting an option for readers to find that content. All of Inner City Press’s content was still on the Internet, but Google made it significantly more difficult for people to come by it. Lee was willing to speak up against Google, something the mainstream media was not doing, and he was punished for it. He was asking the questions that should have been asked, which mainstream reporters were to afraid to ask.

This is only one of the many disadvantages independent journalists face. They don’t have the protection of a big corporation, and they don’t have the resources to fight back against any injustice brought against them. It is important that other journalists showed support for Lee, even reporters in the mainstream field.

Regardless of capitalism and big corporation’s power, independent journalists and publications need to continue doing the work they have set out to do. It is inevitable that they are going to face obstacles and challenges, like those experienced by Inner City Press, but what is important is what they continue to do after those challenges are faced. There are enough independent journalists out there that can show support and band together to continue the important journalism that is being produced. Time and time again, it has been proven it is not an easy industry to be a part of, but it isn’t discouraging enough where these journalists don’t go back for more.


Who is a journalist?

I don’t think it is truly possible to define who a journalist is. There is always going to be some situation that is an except or breaks the set standards, so why bothering defining what makes or doesn’t make a journalist; especially if it means excluding bloggers or nonsalaried reporters. The articles this week that talked about bloggers potentially being excluded from executive sessions in Oregon and a senator’s attempt to define real journalists were mind boggling are perfect examples of why people, especially government officials should not be trying to define what makes a journalist.

If a blogger is trying to cover government proceedings there is no reason he or she should not be considered a journalist. Even if a blogger isn’t trying to cover government proceedings, he or she should still be considered a journalist. There are varying degrees of what a journalist is and what he or she covers, and it doesn’t always fit into a perfect box of what a government would like to outline. Bloggers could be doing second had report, first hand reporting or media analysis; and all of these things classify them as journalists. If a blogger considers himself or herself a journalist and he or she can make a case, then there is no reason not to classify he or she as a journalist.

The second article about the shield law brought up the exclusion of nonsalaried journalists as not “real journalists.” Just because someone is no employed by a publication, does not mean he or she is not doing reporting where there may be the need to using confidential sources. Not all reporting is done for monetary benefit. Also, by excluding nonsalaried journalists from the definition, it would also be excluding freelance reporters. Many journalists spend some of their career doing freelance work, still producing quality journalism, but are paid by the article instead of a salary. So someone who freelances for The Nation, shouldn’t be given the same writes as a staff writer? Even though they are covering the same beat and writing similar stories with similar sources. It doesn’t make any sense.

Government officials should stay out of territory they do not understand. It would benefit themselves and the journalists they are trying to quiet.


Lessons to be Learned from George Seldes

In Press Critic George Seldes Leaves a Legacy of Courage, Jeff Cohen and Norman Solomon outlined what separated Georges Seldes from traditional mainstream reporters. Seldes frequently questioned stories the government was telling and went directly to the source, instead of relying on what other people were spewing. It would have been much easier for him to follow the path of the majority of reporters; he would have been guaranteed a job, he would have had built in readership, and the FBI wouldn’t have had a 5,000-page investigation on him. He did journalism the way he thought it should be done, despite the struggles and consequences.

Journalists today should look at the Seldes did and learn from it. It’s just as easy today to follow the mainstream media career path and not question authority and regurgitate information. However, today it is easier to do the work Seldes did because of our access to information on the Internet. He had to go out and uncover the stories he was telling that the mainstream media was ignoring. There are an endless amount of records and information that independent journalists can access and tell stories that are hidden or aren’t being told. Seldes saw the importance in telling the stories that were controversial and off the beaten path, and journalists today should take also see the same importance.

While Seldes approached his work from a national and international perspective, journalists should also consider replicating his work at a local and state level. Local and state governments are just as likely to be hiding stories as the national government, and local reporters are most likely still not telling the stories they should. There are different ways and to different degrees that Seldes’s style of journalism can be used. The point is to tell the important story, regardless of who doesn’t want it told.

Seldes’s work showed it wasn’t always easy work, but that should not stop journalists from following the standards he set. With more people doing the kind of journalism he did, the more likely corruption and wrongdoings will be exposed. Even if readership is low, his publication only reached a circulation of 176,000 copies, the right people may read the story to make it spread. The focus shouldn’t be on popularity or fame or money, these things were clearly not Seldes’s focus; the focus should be upholding journalistic ethics and integrity.