Everyone has bias. Journalistic objectivity is easy to confuse with offering personal views in a neutral tone of voice, or giving equal time/space to each side of an issue. Flat earth and round earth, five minutes each.
According to the American Press Institute, the late-19th-century ideal of “realism” held that truth would emerge when reporters presented the facts. But honest intentions can’t erase personal bias. During the Russian Revolution, journalist Walter Lippmann said reporters saw what they wanted to see. True objectivity lies not in the person but the method.
Kovach and Rosenstiel advocate three core principles for verification: transparency (name your source, tell how you reached your conclusions), humility (keep an open mind, don’t assume), and originality (do your own work, check your sources).
Former Washington Post correspondent Paul Taylor said he used to write the lead before he began work on a story, then compare it to the lead after he finished. If they were too similar, he hadn’t looked far enough beyond his preconceptions. He had more work to do.
10/2/2017 08:26:50 am
In the late 19th century, my small town of Evansville had no fewer than three papers at one time, each with its own opinion. Maybe what we consider to be a very new problem — that of people not looking very far for their news — has its roots in a much earlier time, when the other two papers in Evansville and all the other small towns folded and we were left with only one local voice.
Lisa, that's an interesting possibility. I've wondered the opposite: whether we have so many options now (fewer newspapers, but loads of cable channels, radio stations, and websites) that we can select only the news sources that match our biases.
10/2/2017 10:12:03 am
Well, statistically we have a lot of options on where to get our news, as in your first paragraph. But, statistically, most people only get their news these days from links on Facebook.
A history seminar professor at Oberlin told us about the 19th century German historians' ideal of letting the facts speak for themselves. He argued that facts can never speak for themselves. Facts don't speak. Someone must always choose which facts to present and how to arrange them.
10/2/2017 11:12:05 am
So true, in both non-fiction and fiction. :)
10/4/2017 12:38:43 pm
I shared the same hometown as Sara. Two newspapers. Some locals stated that one paper was more Republican and that the other was more Democrat. Yes, later the two papers became simply one paper, still owned by a family that is very much Republican today.
Walter, thanks for the reminders about the Morgantown papers and the family who owned them. Greers of Greer Limestone, right? I didn't know (or didn't remember) that one ran for office. The needs of the common person may be another area where perception carries more weight than fact.
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I'm a historian who writes novels and literary nonfiction. My home base is Madison, Wisconsin.