Updated: Dec 31, 2020
Traditionally, objectivity is associated with nonpartisanship and “fairness,” but I find this notion extremely problematic. Once you begin to pretend that you do not have an opinion on something, you are misleading the readers. Having a bias is different from manipulating people into agreeing with you; the important step is to notice your biases, being conscious about them and the limitations they cause.
Objectivity has never existed. The origin of impartial journalism was when editors observed that political partisanship was likely to limit readership (Kaplan, 2009). People are more likely to believe and agree with authors who identify with the same political party. Additionally, newspaper readership is strongly tied to the class status. People in power have the authority to decide what is “objective.”
The false notion of objectivity also exists to attract advertisers. The press strives to be objective because it is concerned to offend any potential customer. If a newspaper thinks of themselves as a brand, they are the type of brand that claims to stay neutral and apolitical.
I do advocate for one part of objectivity: truthfulness or accuracy. A journalist cannot pick and choose the date from the collection to create a skewed narrative, or purposefully leave out data to make the conclusion better align with their values. It is easy for people to look at a graph or statistics and trust “the facts.” To make it worse, many of them will believe that they have come to their own conclusions based on the potentially flawed sources. For example, one graph might show the employment difference between Latinx people and Asian people. But if you look into the specific population sample, it is not succificent to draw a conclusion. People chase objectivity because journalists hold so much power over the public opinion. What they actually want is to not be manipulated.
A journalist should give readers the chance to analyze the story and come to their own conclusions. Readers should take the writer’s POVs into consideration. There is a severe lack of empathy in the world and in America. We cannot convince someone that they should care about other people if they are willfully ignorant, but a journalist should strive to open their eyes with factual information. They should investigate and research diligently and not exclude pieces of material because it doesn’t support the theme.
One of the attributes of objectivity is disinterestedness. But do we actually want journalists who are detached from the issues that are going on in the world? Politics are not just politics, it affects millions of people’s lives. Neutrality signifies political apathy and a lack of understanding of personal privilege. How can we trust someone who is looking down from high up, unaffected by the suffering of others?
On the other hand, many journalists -- especially ones with marginalized identities -- have been dismissed or looked down upon because people think they can’t be objective when they are too invested in the issues they are reporting. For example, on issues relating to climate change, income inequality, or LGBTQ+ rights, it is impossible for me not to be emotional. My voice has frequently been ignored or trivialized because of my rage. I cannot look away from the injustices going on in this country because they directly affect me and people around me, and my rage is used as a weapon against me. I have been told that I am too radical, too angry, or I talk about this too much.
This article was written from a specific perspective. As an Asian trans masculine person in America, it is impossible to not write through the lens of my experience. Everything I write is affected by the racism, homophobia, and transphobia that I’ve encountered. It is counterproductive when people are more likely to listen to a cisgender person on a topic about transgender people because they are more “objective.” They are not more objective, it is simply easier for them to ignore the problem because it does not affect them. Men do not get to decide what is misogynistic; the oppressor does not get to decide what is oppression. When you try to be “objective” in a system that is inherently flawed and prejudiced, you’re inheriting the systemic biases that we all are raised with and subconsciously taking the side of the oppressor.
Another issue is how everything is politicalized. A lot of prejudices are framed as “opinions” (ie. if your “opinion” is violating someone’s identity or human rights, it is not an opinion). Many people see the Black Lives Matter movement is controversial, but why is it controversial that people’s lives matter in 2020? When Trump is taking away our healthcare rights, how can I treat the loss of my constitutional right as a political debate?
Striving for impartiality in journalistic writing is not only impossible, but actively hurtful to marginalized voices and experiences because the notion of impartiality is intertwined with oppressive power structures. I am determined to be transparent about my biases and write from the perspective of a fellow human, because I believe that the reader wouldn’t want to read something without humanity, either.
Nowadays, there are many ways to spread information other than traditional media. Social media, for example, offers an alternative platform for everyone with internet service to voice their thoughts. Additionally, because of the lower barrier to entry, marginalized voices who are less likely to be offered prominent positions in journalistic fields now have the opportunity to be amplified. One of my friends started tweeting about the protests since the local newspapers were unable to pay them to write articles. One of my colleagues wrote about how social media is taking the center stage for social justice, and you can read it here.
Kaplan, Richard, "The Origins of Objectivity in American Journalism" in Stuart Allan (ed.), The Routledge Companion to News and Journalism Studies (2009).