Objectivity in Journalism

So, what is your objective? Do you follow a story in the headlines, only to find you are outraged at what you are seeing and hearing when investigating the details?

There comes a point in any good journalists career where they become contextually aware of their role in the process of providing information to the public. It is that moment when the journalists themselves understand their own effects on their audience. This is a process that is always present and never ends. For a few, reading this post and watching the video above featuring David Pakman will be the first time these ideas are perceived (which is fantastic!), while others will already have an idea of their objective for participating as part of the media.

It is healthy and necessary to constantly engage and understand your audience, as they are the people you are serving by providing accurate information on the topic of your objective. When you think about the media environment you create for your audience, think about how your role in creating news can inadvertently promote ideas without proper context for your audience to understand them in a way that is accurate, honest and truthful.

A typical corporate newsroom usually tries to market themselves as “neutral” while sometimes giving voice to life threatening ideas in a neutral standpoint. While this might sound harmless, it essentially delivers a deadly message in a popular tone, which is well understood in the practices of marketers as “creative direction” also sometimes referred to as “artistic direction” – a practice of putting a tone behind an organization’s mission as a form of cultural commodification that typically, in corporate use, does not allow for self expression of the individuals who represent the brand.

In news organizations, the misuse of these practices can misinform audiences and has historically been used by powerful to diminish the role of independent media, such is the case when journalist Judith Miller, formerly of the New York Times, was used in coordination with George W. Bush’s executive administration to essentially sell the American people on a war with Iraq.

While it might be completely unfair to blame the Iraq War on Judith or The New York Times, it does provide a historical context for how to understand how the audiences of journalists can be manipulated, both by tactics of marketing and from leaked rumors from powerful sources. As a general rule of thumb, when people come to you with information on a news story, you should first independently verify the facts from non-media sources. While it is imperative to report on other people’s previously reported information, it should be carefully pondered when considering what reporting can be trusted. This is a decision that is completely up to you, but also one where your reputation for accurate reporting is built. A bad source can not only hurt your reputation or the media organization that publishes your work, but it can be used to persuade democratic states to go to war–which must be avoided at all costs (or profits).

It’s not an easy thing to do, because as humans we are all bound to make mistakes over the course of our careers as journalists, but there may be significant measures you can easily take to mitigate the risks of journalists starting wars (again), starting with making sure audiences understand these core principals:

  • War is Always Bad
  • Journalism Depends on Free Expression
  • The Environment is Sacred
  • People Are Peaceful

This is by no means a list of all the possible principals you can embody, but it is a great starting point to make sure you don’t go down in history as another Judith Miller. David Pakman, unlike Judith, has built his journalistic career as an independent, nationally syndicated radio host from Boston who is advancing the conversation through his podcast and other digital platforms where he has millions of followers. While his views are his own, they accurately represent the issues with contemporary media issues and give us a critical lens on which we can start to understand the bigger picture.

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