I pride myself on being a journalist. I hold fast and true to the Society of Professional Journalist Code of Ethics and use it to guide me through ethical situations. I also cringe and swear (loudly) when other journalists don’t, and I don’t have much tolerance for ‘personalities,’ ‘commentators’ and ‘hosts’ who pretend to be journalists and break all the ethical rules of journalism. I believe in the power of objectivity and letting the story speak for itself.
But guess what, I also believe in the power of the human voice telling the story. There is a difference between passionate objectivity and cold indifference.
Passionate objectivity is telling the story with a constant watch on fairness and facts, but allowing the story to unfold with an interest in understanding the story and explaining it to readers.
Indifference is stating the facts without care or concern for understanding of the subject or giving the facts of a debate without acknowledging that one set of facts may carry more weight.
Even in newspaper articles when space is at a premium and writers have to cut to the chase, they still allow for emotion and humanity in the form of quotes from those involved in the story.
When you read a stale article, often the dryness is a result of too little focus on humanity. It sounds touchy feely, but a focus on humanity is what turns a listing of facts into an article.
Speaking of facts, humanity and common sense are important in covering a debated topic. Indifference shows up when writers check out and simply recite facts for both sides. That’s balanced right?
Balanced objectivity is giving the facts, relaying opposing view, but putting both things in perspective. If a man insists on kicking puppies on Thursdays, your article should not only state why people are upset that the man kicks puppies, but offer insight into why he thinks kicking puppies is okay. Indifference would simply list the opposing views, add required transition words and print the story. Objectivity would delve into the relationship between those who kick puppies and move on to more violent crime. There are facts on both sides, but the weight of not kicking puppies as a moral societal norm stacks higher than one man’s disdain for fluffy animals.
Tell the story of the diversity and magnitude of the human experience boldly, even when it is unpopular to do so. – SPJ Code of Ethics
Puppy Kickers of America may not be pleased with your article, but a balanced article does not simply offer an opposing view point, it is puts the views in perspective. People can read and make up their own minds about whether or not they’d like to spend $7.99 for a Puppy Kickers of America Association membership, but they aren’t led by the article to believe that the actions of the group aren’t illegal and outside societal norms.
Objectivity is what allows readers to trust the journalist/writer and publication that publishes the piece. Don’t check reason and good sense at the door when you open up the laptop or pick up the pen.
Got thoughts on objectivity, indifference and writers? Tell us!