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Objectivity Journalism Essay Question

Impartial or point-of-view

A fundamental question for journalists is whether their reporting will follow the “impartial” — or “objective” — model, seeking to be impartial toward any political or social beliefs, or the “point-of- view” model, where their journalism proceeds from certain core beliefs.

Why choose impartial journalism?

Since World War II, the more traditional journalistic approach has been objectivity or impartiality. Supporters of this tradition feel it is the most honest form of reporting, attempting to lay out all sides of the issue fairly so that readers can make their own decisions. Reporters and editors following an objective model generally conceal their personal political beliefs and their opinions on controversial issues.

Objective journalism does not require so-called “he said, she said” reporting that just cites the arguments or each side without seeking to draw any conclusions. Objective reporters can judge the weight of evidence on various sides of a dispute and tailor accordingly the amount of space they give various opinions. There is no need to provide “false equivalence” — treating every opinion equally.

News media following the objective model may express opinions in clearly labeled editorials, commentaries and cartoons, but those views should not affect the organization’s news reports.

Why choose point-of-view journalism?

Opponents of the objective model say no one can be totally objective, and that journalists do no favor for their audiences by trying to hide their opinions. The opinions come out anyhow, they say, either “between the lines” or in the very selection of stories to cover.

The most popular alternative to the objective journalism model is often known as point-of-view. It holds that journalists may have and express a point of view, and seek to inspire action or change. With that in mind, they must be transparent with the reader about what they believe and why, and disclose links they may have to organizations and individuals with similar points of view.

Some issues to consider

There is still a line, however, between point-of-view journalism on one hand and outright advocacy and propaganda on the other. Even a point-of-view journalist should honestly report facts and opinions at variance with her point of view. Often the biggest distinction between an impartial and point-of-view journalist is in the subjects each writes about. Impartial journalists adhere to an idea of “newsworthiness” that covers a wide range of topics; point-of-view journalists often choose stories that serve to validate their own interests or perspectives.

In some countries or cultures, point-of-view journalism may extend to a belief that a journalist’s job is to advance the interests of a nation, ethnic group, religion or social cause. Journalists can still report honestly, but they proceed from the position that the cause they favor should be encouraged and respected.

Your answer as to whether you want to be “impartial” or “point-of-view” will heavily influence your ethics code. Among other matters, it will help determine how you address issues such as:

  • how far news reporting can lean toward endorsing a certain point of view
  • whether news reporters can also write opinion pieces and editorials
  • whether staff members can express their personal views on social networks

One size will not fit all on these points. Even if a journalist has a particular point of view, he may still not want to overtly back a specific party or candidate, or to influence the outcome of every issue. The key thing is to clearly define what your policies will be and be public about them.

The ethical choices for deciding between impartial and point-of-view journalism are in the related post “What is the Nature of Your Journalism?”


This essay was written by Tom Kent.

The Online News Association’s Build Your Own Ethics Code project is designed to help news organizations, startups and individual bloggers and journalists create codes that reflect their own journalistic principles.

This project was kindly supported by the Ethics & Excellence in Journalism Foundation.

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Balance and fairness

This module addresses these ethical issues:

  • What do fairness and balance mean in the journalistic context?
  • How far must journalists go to present all sides of an issue?
  • In urgent situations, do all points of view have to be presented immediately?
    What is “false balance”?
  • Do “point-of-view” journalists also have an obligation to be balanced and fair?

The meaning of balance and fairness

Balance and fairness are classic buzzwords of journalism ethics: In objective journalism, stories must be balanced in the sense of attempting to present all sides of a story. Fairness means that a journalist should strive for accuracy and truth in reporting, and not slant a story so a reader draws the reporter’s desired conclusion.

Some critics argue that journalists never succeed in being completely balanced and fair — in telling all sides of a story. News coverage often represents the voices of those only on both extremes of the spectrum or voices of those who are the most powerful. Election coverage is a good example of this. In many countries, candidates from non-mainstream parties garner little news coverage. This, critics argue, leads to candidates never building recognition and, therefore, never getting elected.

Seeking comment

In an effort to ensure fairness, what efforts should be made to reach people for comment on a story that mentions them? If they can’t be reached, when should a journalist go with the story, understanding the competitive pressures in the marketplace? In the interest of transparency, how far should a journalist go in explaining the efforts made to contact the person?

Breaking news

Journalists are often criticized for lack of balance and fairness in breaking news situations. Some media publish uncorroborated Twitter feeds that, at best, tell a story only in pieces. An accusation against a prominent individual may be posted online before a response is solicited or before the accused may even have been informed of the comment.

Media critics and watchdogs of all political persuasions are quick to jump on such reports in their zeal to prove a lack of fairness and balance. Do they have a point? Are fairness and balance achieved only when all of the disparate pieces of a breaking news story are consolidated and organized into a coherent whole? What of the damage done in the interim? How much must a journalist try for fairness and balance while on deadline?

“False balance”

In the case of balance, one question a journalist must ask is whether she is simply providing “false balance” by presenting an opposing point of view if the facts are presumably well known, as is the case with evolution. That is, every time a journalist mentions evolution, must he give equal space to those who don’t believe in evolution? Polls show a large number of Americans don’t believe in evolution, and “creation science” is gaining hold in some school curricula. Should those facts be ignored, even if evolution is a fact?

Another major issue in the news is global warming. Although there is overwhelming consensus among scientists that global warming is occurring, a recent study by Yale University
notes that only 63 percent of Americans believe global warming is happening.

So, must a journalist writing about weather trends make a nod to the “debate” about global warming? What if the story is about a debate on government actions to combat global warming? Must a reporter who quotes a government official who says she doesn’t believe in global warming “balance” that comment by saying there is a scientific consensus that global warming is a true phenomenon? Does the journalist need to provide a source for that comment, even though it is widely accepted?

Balance and fairness in point-of-view journalism

If you and your news organization don’t subscribe to an impartial model of reporting but rather acknowledge that you lean toward a particular political or social point of view, can you throw balance out the window? Or do you still have an ethical obligation to represent multiple perspectives? Do you feel comfortable with the idea that the “other side’s” argument is available in other outlets — e.g. that a politically progressive publication isn’t obligated to offer a conservative argument on an issue because that argument is presented by conservative publications? This has been standard operating procedure for journals of opinion for decades. Many people, however, tend to gravitate toward media that reinforce their beliefs, and they are not exposed to alternate positions. Therefore, does presenting only “one side” serve the public interest? Does the “echo chamber” effect, in fact, obligate journalists to acknowledge the other side — or sides — of an argument?

One check on balance is reader reaction. Comments on content can help you identify slanted coverage. Certainly pressure groups can jam up your comment sections with “flaming” posts of little value. But reader reaction can also provide early warnings of actual balance problems.

The main author of this module is Alan D. Abbey, Shalom Harman Institute, Jerusalem, and National University, San Diego.

The Online News Association’s Build Your Own Ethics Code project is designed to help news organizations, startups and individual bloggers and journalists create codes that reflect their own journalistic principles.

This project was kindly supported by the Ethics & Excellence in Journalism Foundation.

© 2018 Online News Association | Contact Us | Privacy Policy

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