Is Objective Journalism Dead?

When I was working as a newspaper reporter in Minnesota, I once received a compliment from a state representative that made me incredibly proud. He said he enjoyed being interviewed by me because I never led on to whether I was a Republican or Democrat, and neither did my questions. “Now don’t tell me,” he said. “I don’t want to know.” I never did.

Don’t get me wrong, I do realize that people develop a belief system based on their family, environment, experiences, profession, and education that fundamentally manifests into biases that play out in their life choices, relationships, and maybe even creeps into their subconscious. But… and this is a big BUT… I have faith in journalists. Not all. There are some bad eggs out there. But I believe true journalists can put their biases aside to do their job. I did it. I did it and still do on a daily basis. And I love it because I love giving people the entire picture of events in our communities, in our government, and in our world. By being exposed to all view points, one is better equipped to form their own opinions and stand by them. They also have a truer understanding of their friends, neighbors, coworkers who are all entitled to their own opinions. What is wrong with presenting a subject in the most objective manner possible while still holding on to your own personal beliefs?

Well, according to the Atlanta Progressive News, there is something wrong with that. Going so far, in fact, that they fired one of their reporters, Jonathan Springston, because “he held on to the notion that there was an objective reality that could be reported objectively,” according to an e-mail from his editor, Matthew Cardinale.

The firing part isn’t what gets me. It is specifically spelled out in the editor’s statement and on the publication’s website that objectivity is not really their bag, instead opting for a “progressive” slant in their editorial policy. So, if you’re into objectivity, it’s probably not the place you should be working anyway.

What I can’t get over is the part of Cardinale’s statement that says: “We believe there is no such thing as objective news.”

Wrong. News, real news, is objective. What the Atlanta Progressive News is presenting is commentary masked with the word news in order to leverage the word’s credibility that was hard won by hardworking journalists who poured their lives and hearts into reporting – objectively. They didn’t do their jobs so that people like Cardinale could write about their news with commentary all safe and cozy from their office, most likely on a MacBook.

Cardinale’s statement (which he has taken a lot of heat for) also says: “Fortunately, our audience–working families–comprises a majority of people in the United States who are largely ignored by corporate media sources.”

My response:

A.) Most over-worked, under-paid journalists come from working families and are missioned with expanding news coverage to encompass all sections of the community, including those where advertising dollars are scarce.

B.) The digital divide is still a very real thing in the U.S. Yes, the statistics are shrinking, and that is a good thing. However, the “working families” Cardinale is referring to who are truly disenfranchised by the media are not reading his “news” anyway. Why? Because the Atlanta Progressive News is published online only. And according to a report released by the U.S. Department of Commerce National Telecommunications and Information Administration just last month, “over 30 percent of households and 35 percent of persons do not use the Internet at home, and 30 percent of all persons do not use the Internet anywhere.” And what demographic is this? Blacks and Hispanics in rural areas. It also has to do with income. In 2009, “the users of broadband at home ranged from the highest percentages by those persons who are most affluent (with annual family income of $150,000 or greater) to the lowest percentages by those with $15,000 annual family income or less.”

C.) Newspapers – specifically small-town community papers – are still doing a better job of reaching and informing the “working families” referred to above.

You know, I started this Pen Street blog when I was in grad school because I wanted a place to publish my stories. When I finished my master’s, I didn’t know quite what to do with this site. Publish my opinions? It’s been a struggle. Sure, I’m a far left liberal and I can argue my opinions with the best of them. And I thoroughly enjoy reading opinionated blogs. There is definitely a place for them in the realm of media and some commentators are truly gifted in the art of discussion, I could never compete. However, I was taught, trained, drilled, possibly even mentally beaten with the fact that journalists – serious hard news reporters – separate from that when they are doing their job.

Now you tell me, do we really need more talking heads who will kill any morsel of objectivity that’s left out there? Or do we need to focus on getting back to the basics, the facts, and providing all sides of the stories for as many people as possible? Is it too late to reverse the slow death of objective journalism?

**On a systemic issue, here is an excellent examination of newspapers’ relationship with democracy.

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