Will Objective Journalism Return?

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WILL OLD-FASHIONED, OBJECTIVE JOURNALISM COME BACK? BY: GABE PRESSMAN

In this era when newspapers and television are overrun with people expressing opinions instead of news, forgive me for being nostalgic about the good old days when I grew up in print journalism.

We were told that every story had more than one side and our job was to get all sides into our story. That was defined by the editors and, later, in tv, by producers.

It was more than 'he said, she said' accounts of news. It involved a sincere effort to get the very flavor of a story into what you wrote or presented. Lamentably, the world has changed. We have evolved---or devolved---into a business where the facts are far less important than opinions.

A generation is growing up without any knowledge of what “objective journalism” means. Not that it was ever simple to define. How important is it to present the facts with a heavy dose of information to the reader or viewer on the sources of those facts? Is it important to encourage that person to learn to be skeptical of both the people involved in the story and the reporter presenting it? For objective journalism requires that the person receiving the information look it over carefully and analytically too.

Objectivity is difficult to achieve. Columnist David Brooks has written that that first stage of getting to objectivity is “the ability to look at all the facts, whether they make you feel good or not.” He added that “journalists have to suppress their egos so that they can see the whole truth, whether they like it or not.”

What a contrast that is to what we see in journalism today! Much of the presentation of alleged facts is often based on what the reporter’s own prejudices are, There is a din of blah-blah-blah cluttering the airwaves. And even respectable newspapers that have long set standards for objectivity have copped out on that time-honored role.

Whatever the reason---economics, competitive zeal or an ambition to achieve notoriety---the old ethical standards are, to a large extent, in danger of collapse. They are being watered down by the new imperative of journalism, putting opinionating ahead of the old search for the truth. That quest was never easy but at least trying to get there was a good part of the job.

Then there is the phenomenon I would describe as consorting with the other side---or incest. I have in mind an event like the White House correspondents, dinner, where reporters get together to schmooze with the very people they are supposed to be scrutinizing.

I cannot believe that old-fashioned journalism is going or gone. It’s needed more than ever. And we can hope that, in the democratic tradition of America, it will come back.

Gabe Pressman, Senior Correspondent NBC TV NY