The word “objective” gets tossed around a lot, and it’s a word that responsible journalists take very seriously. The job of any news outlet is to present accurate reports and uncover the truth behind the half-truths. The best tool? Objectivity.
Often times, the media gets well-deserved criticism when news and opinion seems to slant one way or the other. Conservatives rail against the “liberal agenda” of the New York Times. Liberals rage against the “conservative agenda” of Fox News. Both sides claim, often rightly, that there’s clear bias with the other side, but nobody stops to look at their own sources. As a result, neither side can even agree on the facts underlying their opposing truths. The result? Congress.
In journalism, the word “objectivity” is used differently than “bias.” According to Bill Kovach and Tom Rosenstiel’s book, “The Elements of Journalism,” these terms are often confused. They wrote that the term “objective” began to appear around the 1920s out of a growing recognition that journalists were full of bias, often unconsciously. “Objectivity called for journalists to develop a consistent method of testing information,” they wrote, “a transparent approach to evidence—precisely so that personal and cultural biases would not undermine the accuracy of their work.”
It’s a lost art. Objectivity refers to investigations; bias to everything else. What stories were reported? What sides considered? Were facts fully vetted? Reporters lose objectivity when voices are stifled. That’s one of the biggest problems with social media. Without objectivity, conversations can focus on just one side, or credibility can be granted to one side more than the other. Facts can be over-scrutinized or not scrutinized at all depending upon which side presented them. That’s why we think it’s no accident that the first amendment lumps religion, press, speech, protests, and grievances together under the same umbrella of protection. All opinions must be protected if truth is the goal.
That’s precisely why we make no apologies for printing letters, no matter what opinion people have about the author …or about us. One reader charged—not in a letter but in a direct email—that we were hypocrites for “throwing up our hands” about responsibility for a recent controversial letter. We disagree. We will vehemently protect anybody’s right to free speech, even if it hurts our own reputation. The fastest way to close minds is to pick and choose points of view.
A poll of the Observer newsroom revealed that our staff unanimously supports bus transportation, but we also support everyone’s right to think differently and express opposing views. We maintain our position that the letter in question didn’t cross legal lines, so we had a duty to be print it. Not printing it would have compromised our objectivity.
We would also argue that no single opinion was more important to this discussion. Without that letter, we doubt that we would have received a single letter to the editor about bus transportation. Without his controversial stance, there would have been no public discussion. Without supporting his freedom of speech, we argue that there would have been no speech at all. We won’t apologize for offering a venue.
We probably all agree some opinions in the contentious letter weren’t based in fact. Luckily, responses were armed with facts—none better than the Commission on DisAbilities who countered every argument that they’ve gotten about bus service—not just the ones in one letter—or this week’s letter from a Branford Hall official that painted an accurate face on local bus users. Most letters stuck to facts and pushed the conversation forward. Truth is the goal not the starting point, and we thank readers on all sides for their contributions.
To comment on this story or to contact Southington Observer editor John Goralski, email him at JGoralski@SouthingtonObserver.com.