Hannah Scribbles

It’s Tricky

In News & Media on October 8, 2012 at 7:48 am

Journalism is a tricky field. Some journalists crusade for a cause. Others say you shouldn’t have one and, further, you ought not be deeply invested in any cause or organization because it skews objective reporting. In the past four years I have listened to professors demand objectivity then walked to my next class and been told there is no such thing. I’ve been criticized as conservative, liberal and as passive. Most recently, I met a man at a barbecue who told me I would be “the worst kind of reporter” because I had an agenda.

My first thought was What?!  Then I recovered and said, “Huh.”

Now I ask, where would America be without those worst kinds of reporters, the muckrakers?  Ida Tarbell, who grew up in Oil Country and spent years researching and exposing Standard Oil, certainly had an agenda.  Lincoln Stephens, the reporter who spent years writing about municipal corruption, had an agenda, too.  And Upton Sinclair, famous for his novel The Jungle, which led to the creation of the FDA, had an agenda – just not the one he is remembered for.  The common thread is that all three helped create social changes we take for granted today.  How is that a bad thing?

It takes skill to capture the breadth of a controversial subject accurately, but it isn’t impossible.  I don’t believe journalists can use the term “objectivity” as an excuse to watch history from the sidelines.  I am not advocating for biased journalism or bad reporting.  I am not saying that the news is a place to editorialize, but I think our professional code of ethics is as much a duty as it is a restraint.  If you see something that seems wrong or doesn’t add up, don’t ignore it for the sake of “objectivity.”  Maybe it’s time to talk to your editor.  Conscience comes first:  you need one to be a reporter.


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