Op-Ed: Can journalism truly be objective?


Photo credit: Thea Leimone

The Wall Street Journal cover page of Amy Coney Barrett’s SCOTUS confirmation hearing. The Wall Street Journal is owned by Robert Murdoch, who also owns The New York Post and The Times of London and was the previous CEO of Fox News.

By Thea Leimone, Features Editor

There are a few of important pillars for successful journalism: honesty within practices, seeking an accurate story and telling it truthfully, acting independently, working for the interest of the public and maintaining objectivity in news and feature reporting. A successful journalist should uphold these standards throughout all of their reporting, but what happens when some newsrooms don’t meet these standards? 

By definition, to remain objective is to be successful in “expressing or dealing with facts or conditions as perceived without distortion by personal feelings, prejudices, or interpretations.” The goal of ethical journalism is to remain objective in story ideas and reporting to present the public with unbiased, truthful, facts and information. 

There is such a thing as opinion journalism, but news reporters don’t write opinion pieces, and opinion writers don’t report on the news. The problem is when opinion pieces aren’t labeled clearly or when actual news reporting is tainted with subjectivity. The simple answer to this problem is that any rising journalist needs to have learned and trained in proper objective reporting prior to having a career in the journalism field. 

But what happens when it’s not solely the rookie journalists who aren’t remaining objective? What happens when the big news corporations reporting is biased and blended with opinion? How are we, as the consumers, allowing our news be manipulated like this? 

According to the Pew Research Center, more U.S. residents obtain their news from social media and online over printed news. Much of the media we consume is created by a few major news outlets, all also online including CNN, The New Yorker, LA Times and Fox News. These media sources are big names and it’s more than likely we’ve all read from at least one of them. They have become household names, consistently producing news and content that meet or attempt to meet those pillars of successful journalism, earning the respect and readership of the public.

These news outlets became some of the biggest sources of media consumption in the United States. Therefore, the public puts faith in them to produce news that matters, news that is accurate and most importantly, news that is objective. For a while, they met the standards (for the most part), and so they claimed themselves to be objective. These news outlets became the standard, they didn’t have to seek to be objective anymore, they were objective.

The overall reporting of the news outlets began to slip, shifting left and right, facts blending with opinion. Just looking on their politics page, it’s clear the left bias that exists of MSNBC, and the right bias of Fox News, both of which are labeled as having reliability issues/extremism and being highly mixed with opinion. Of course, the public may believe that these are respectable news sources, and when their go-to news source publishes content that fits their personal beliefs and shows them what they want to be seen, they’re not going to realize what’s happening and why it’s a problem. 

But why is this such a big problem?

Well, a journalist’s job is to provide objective, unbiased news and content that portrays the story in all fairness so that the readers can decide for themselves what or who they believe so they can form their own opinions. Now we have our biggest news sources hand-feeding the public their own opinions so much so, that we don’t know what is “fake news” and what is real. Most importantly, since the news is now so politically motivated and is only shown to fit one side, no one wants or cares to hear the other side because their “objective” sources are telling them their news.

Since these news outlets are so big and powerful and such a large portion of the public relies on them for news, we need to figure out how to fix this problem of objectivity, or really, subjectivity.

We, as consumers of news, must realize there is no such thing as “objective journalism” for an individual reporter or a new outlet as a whole. We cannot claim these news outlets possess and uphold the standard of objectivity, which they don’t, and saying otherwise is dangerous. Every individual journalist has their biases, it’s just a matter of how hard they work to keep it out of their reporting. While no journalist or news outlet can be completely objective, they must always strive to be.

These news outlets must stop claiming they are upholding the standard of objective journalism. They must aim to be a trustworthy, truthful source for the public. They must leave behind any agendas or biases when it comes to reporting. They must strive to tell all parts of a story, the positive and the negative. Lastly, the public must hold these major news outlets and journalists accountable and realize when they are consuming biased or single-sided news. In order for our nation to become unified, all journalists and news outlets must strive for facts and truth so the public are able come to their own opinions and conclusions on the happenings of the world.