Den of the Cyphered Wolf

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Getting Meta: Objectivity

Alright so every now and again my Mother will ask me why for the most part I try not to write what I think about the issues at the city council meetings. Rather than write about fiction this time I'll give Mom an incredibly long answer about objectivity.

What is Journalism
Alright so the jury is out on whether I'm a journalist or not. I go to meetings and record them. Is that journalism? Make your call. Regardless journalism is important, and objectivity is a cornerstone to the modern notion of journalism. So I guess I should say what to me is journalism.

When I was trying to get through JRN 300 the roughest class I took at MSU, I boiled down what I was trying to do into two categories, finding interesting and important stuff out, and telling it to people so they would listen in a way that was, honest accurate and efficient. I still believe that at its core journalism is finding stuff out and telling people. Everything else is about the best way to do that.

When people think of journalism they mostly think of the public affairs stuff, but that not all of it. I am a magic nut. I use Evan Erwin's Magic the Gathering Show previews to gauge how much cash I should save for a set. It might not be as important as the debt crisis, but I rely on him to find out info I use. He's a gaming journalist.



Like I said to me it's just finding stuff out and telling folks.

Why is Journalism Important? (Well this part is going to be quick)
There was a time where you could find out all the info you needed to navigate your world from your friends and fam'. Those times are over. They've been over for a while. The world grew. The vast majority of the info I use to just get through the day originates from somebody I don't personally know. How do I know that the Lions are actually doing alright this season? (Yeah really avenge the '08 season. Avenge it I say!) The Free Press. How did I find out Rick Perry was in the presidential race? CNN. How did I find out aliens had landed and decided to make us their slaves? The Earther times. (One of these things is not like the other. Just so there are no misunderstandings that was a joke. Laugh. I said LAUGH!)



What is Objectivity?
In a nutshell objectivity is the idea that reporters should not have bias.

Why do we need Objectivity?
Most of the ideas we have regarding the modern day press's responsibility to the public arose out of the Hutchin's Commission, which is largely responsible for the concept of the fourth estate. in order for democracy to work the electorate needs to be informed. Journalists perform this role.

Now days, everybody and their uncle has a public relations team. Sure you can find out what's going on from a number of places but you always have to keep in mind that most of those places have an interest in affecting what you think. Journalists are suppose to be independent entities that don't. Journalists aren't supposed to care if you vote one way or the other. They're just suppose to care that you have enough info to cast an informed ballot.


Why is it Hard
Sounds simple doesn't it. Until you realize by the time you're in you're in your mid 20's, you're no longer a tabula rasa. You already have your own set experiences and opinions. It's human nature. Once you feel you have enough information to make an informed opinion, chances are you are going to.

Furthermore how far do you want to take it. My general line is that I try to be aware of my biases and write around them, admit them to both myself and my readership, try to at least be fair to anybody I don't particularly agree with and try to touch upon the best of their arguments.

Then there are those who believe that being objective means you shouldn't show any bias in anything ever. It's not uncommon for editors to strongly discourage their reporters from voting. That's a school of thought I find somewhat extreme, though understandable. Journalism is all about trust and bias ruins trust.

Also bias doesn't just affect what you report but how you report and what you don't. This can subtle affect what the news cycle looks like.

This is especially true when journalists don't know what their biases are.

Criticisms of Objectivity
Before I get a bunch shoes thrown at me, most of these don't have to do with the basic concept of objectivity, but how it's practiced.

First off, objectivity can sometimes be a used as a tool to project authority, which sucks because in my mind the entire point of objectivity is that the journalist is no wiser than any other citizen. People confuse being objective with being reasonable, close but no cigar. They're related no doubt but they are not the same thing, and the semantics of objectivity can be used to manipulate the public in the wrong hands.

Secondly, as previously mentioned we are an opinionated species. If we delude ourselves into believing we aren't and that we are completely impartial, not only are we swayed by our biases, but we are swayed by them without realizing it. If you're aware of your bias you can autocorrect, but if you are too stubborn to admit you have them you can't.

Thirdly when you are too overly (Note the word too there. it's important. Just in case you don't get my meaning, I'll also say overly, though it's redundant) concerned with being objective it gets harder to know when to stand up and say the emperor is naked. It gets harder to know when the public is deliberately being misled and when, yes, you should put your foot down, and call someone out.

Fourthly, and this is just me being petty and whiney, the writing tools of an objective tone are just plain boring. If you let it, J-school will beat the prose right out of you. Hell, that's half of their job.



The Interwebs
Many of the notions involving objectivity came about at a time when peoples sources of news were far more limited. Our grandparents had the big three networks, a local newspaper and a handful of radio channels that were probably owned and operated by the other two. That's not the case today. If I hear something interesting I'll probably read 4 or 5 different stories from different sources about it.

My point is this. Objectivity arose partially because the news industry wanted to take responsibility knowing that what they said was more or less what people had to go on. The environment has changed. For the most part the Free Press is no longer the only source of news people will look at in their day. That does not mean the they should abdicate any sort of journalistic responsibility, but it does mean that the power a single news source had to change the world, and potential for abuse of that power is somewhat diminished.

There are those that would argue because of that diminished potential for wrongdoing, the concept of objectivity is not as important as it once was.

All that said this objectivity thing is still personally important to me because I have to believe people aren't morons.
I am a flag waver. Sure I rip on America a lot, but that's only because I think we seldom live up to our ideals. When I was a kid in my history classes a chapter after reading about the Bill of Rights I was reading about the Sedition Act.

Despite all that I believe in the American ideal, self governance, due process, free market, freedom of speech and all that good stuff. What allows me to believe all that is an even deeper core belief that people aren't morons, or to put it in more of a Lockeian way.




If people are well informed they can be trusted to make reasonable decisions.




If I stop believing that I'll end up having a nervous breakdown and emerge from it not as Greg Miles the guy who believes that as long as people don't hurt anyone, they should be allowed to do and believe whatever the hell they want, but Lord Krieg an evil sadistic fascist dictator who believes that anyone who doesn't see things his way should be repeatedly shot until they see reason or stop breathing, whichever happens first.

I don't know if you're getting this but I don't like Lord Krieg. I think he's kind of a dick.



Evil me scares me.
Joking aside, on my bad days I think the world consists only of cruel, shortsighted selfish idiots who would shot each other in the face if they thought there were three bucks in it.




And that anything to restrict our baser instincts to keep us from that anarchy is a necessary evil.



Lord of the Flies
didn't have to try that hard to win me over.



I don't want to be that guy, the cold stone misanthropic cynic, who feels he must forcibly impose his will upon others, so I choose to believe that people, if given enough information to make a reasonable choice, will. I have to believe that if given free will we will not devolve into a bunch of apes bashing each other in the head. I have to believe that freedom is worth fighting and dying for.



If someone is being a jackass I have to trust that people will see jackass in their words and actions without me pointing and screaming at the top of my lungs "Jackass!" I have to believe that we are intelligent enough to see truth, justice and reason without it being forced upon us by some totalitarian entity. I have to believe that democracy can and does work.



Ultimately I want to be a man who believes that intellect and romanticism can triumph over brute force and cynicism.



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