TONY POTTS: Journalists Will Never Be Completely Objective, Right?

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Look at the two headlines in today’s New York Times and the Wall Street Journal. One says that “Tepid Job Growth Fuels Worry” while other says, “Job Creation Is Still Steady Despite Worry”.

So, what is it…fueling worry because the jobs growth is tepid or is job creation steady despite of some sort of worry? By the way, the first headline FUELS worry, second headline is a little more positive while there is some worry, although apparently not fueled. All this stirred up (do I dare say, fueled?) a memory of how I nearly had my head taken off by a college professor. It was my Journalism Ethics professor and he was pissed. You see, we were talking about the press….a journalist…being objective. I contended that a journalist could not purely objective. Never going to happen. No way. Man, we went round and round.

My point is this: In being objective, what do you use in an attempt to be objective? Everything you’ve been subjected to in your life up to that point.

For example: My wife and I were taking a nice, after-dinner stroll in mid-town Manhattan back in September of 2012. It was about 10:30p. There was a long line of guys selling knock-off purses, (Gucci, Prada and Louis Vuitton–oh my!) etc along the sidewalk. They had tarps on the ground, roughly 6′ x 6′, with the bags piled on top.

Suddenly, three police vans and two unmarked police cars pulled up and screeched to a halt. Out jumped about 10-policemen, running at full-speed to catch/tackle/horse-collar the guys selling the illegal goods. Somehow, a few of the guys noticed the cars before they arrived and started to fold in all four corners of their tarps and take off like a bat outta hell.

My wife was startled and stunned. I took out my iPhone and started shooting video. There were people running everywhere. Police tackling guys. Some guys getting away by abandoning their goods. Others freaking out and running into the side of a cement barrier protecting a fountain, falling down with the cops pouncing on them.

I saw it as a pretty-cool, well-planned raid that turned out to be fairly effective.

My wife saw it as a violent, wild west kinda free-for-all. It shook her up, not in a scared kinda way, but her adrenaline and nerves. She had never seen anything like that in person. I was still shooting video with a very steady hand.

If both of us were to file a quick newspaper story about the event, each story would be vastly different, yet of the same event. Why? Because I’ve seen raids, fights, busts before. I have been subjected to them before. My wife had not. Whatever a person’s ‘social’ DNA has picked up since birth informs your ability to be objective –from the subjective experiences in that person’s  life.

Reading my wife’s account, a reader would assume it was a violent wild-west, free-for-all in mid-town while my report would be of a fairly routine, effective bust of counterfeiters. Sure some heads were busted, but it wasn’t anything out of the ordinary —unless you’re my wife.

Bottom line- the subjective informs the objective, therefore one can never be completely objective. Ever.

This is how it is offered in journalism school: “It is often said that editorials are subjective –opinion based on events, facts, etc…and that reporting is objective –reporting the facts from many sources and is intended to be unbiased.”

Just take a second look at the headlines in the picture at the top of the page.

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2 thoughts on “TONY POTTS: Journalists Will Never Be Completely Objective, Right?

  1. I agree with JoJo that fox news is very opinion centric. However, I’m sure most journalists tend to report exactly what they see and what the story is. It does have to be from their perspective, which is based on many factors including where they were raised and so on.

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