An opinion on objectivity

1
175

As a general rule I value objectivity, especially in my work as a journalist. In journalism school I had my opinions beaten out of me. “Report just the facts,” they said. “Your opinion doesn’t matter,” I was told.

When I first started with the North Grenville Times, I was a well-programmed robot. Ask questions. Get the facts. Stay neutral. I met with David Shanahan, the fearless editor of the North Grenville Times (in case you didn’t know), at a trade show where they had a booth at the North Grenville Municipal Centre. We sat at a table in the arena area where it was quiet, and we chatted about the paper and our views on journalism.

David made it very clear about his views on objectivity that day. “It’s an impossible standard,” I remember him telling me. As soon as you decide to report on something, you are making the decision of whether it is important or not. He encouraged me right from the get-go to “find my voice” and break the mold that the Carleton Journalism School had drilled into me.

I am not going to lie. Even after almost five years working for the paper, putting my opinion into a piece still makes me uncomfortable. When I decide to commit the ultimate crime in reporting and use “I” in an article, it sends shivers down my spine. At the same time, it is also oddly liberating.

I think that in journalism (and life in general), there is a delicate balance between objectivity and opinion. I do believe that when reporting on an issue it is important to take a balanced approach and include multiple voices and opinions. There is too much one-sided reporting going on in the media, whether it be by large news outlets or citizen journalists online. That’s where my training has been very helpful, teaching me to create balanced pieces, taking into consideration all the players involved.

As I have grown as a journalist, I have realized that there is a time and place for my opinion. I try and let it shine through when writing an editorial or reviewing a local performance, but keep it at bay when it comes to more contentious issues. Do I have an opinion about the potential community rink at Southgate Church? Absolutely. Will you find it in my reporting on the issue? Nope. I try as hard as I can to lay out the facts and let them tell the story. I want to let my readers draw their own conclusions about the topic, rather than forcing an agenda down their throats.

I know that world-renowned Washington Post journalist Bob Woodward doesn’t even vote. That’s one of the ways that he tries to remain impartial in every aspect of his life. It is obvious that he lives and breathes journalism, or at least he did for many years. I really respect how dedicated he is to his craft, and I think trying to be a little more objective in life could serve a lot of people well. The quest for objectivity has trained me to be tolerant and open to all sides, and really listen to other people’s viewpoints. Getting stuck in one’s own rhetoric is a dangerous place to be, and it often breeds hate and disaccord between opposing groups in society. At the same time, I don’t think I will ever be as hardcore about this quest as Bob. I don’t see myself giving up my democratic right to vote in the name of journalism. I will still assert my opinions with my friends and family, and occasionally into my writing as I see fit.

There you have it – my opinion on objectivity in journalism. It’s a bit of an oxymoron if you think about it. My “opinion” on “objectivity”. I don’t think I will ever completely stray from what I was taught in journalism school, but I am happy to be able to write for a paper that values my voice and allows me to assert my opinions when I see fit. It’s freeing to know that I am not held back by the constraints of objectivity, but I can do my best to let the quest make me a better writer, journalist and human being.

1 COMMENT

  1. Thank you Hilary for your insights. They are foundational to good journalism.

    And thank you NOrth Grenville Times for giving voice to this opinion. However it does feel that NGTimes is a bit like a fair-weather-friend toward such ethics… taking time to celebrate objectivity shortly after they stop beating their political drums of opinion against a local Council they did not support.

    Please advance Ms Thomson in your editorial team leadership… as their struggle is the high road you must take… come sun or come rain. Your community, it’s leaders, politicians and members, need a newspaper that is a shining beacon of objectivity.

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here