On objectivity

17Jan09

Reporters’ fight for objectivity (see also: balance, fairness) is arguably always a lost cause. I’ve always been one to strive for objectivity, but I will always admit that there is a lot wrong with suggesting that any journalistic endeavour is, in plain terms, objective. No one can write in a vacuum.

In this light, I present the following. I came across a story in The Charlatan today that sort of baffles me. I don’t like to pick on the student press (read some of my articles from early Fulcrum days for examples of bizarrely sloppy grammar, syntax, etc.), but this story jumped right out.

It has to do with the current Ottawa transit strike, among other labour disputes. The author opens with the following claim (emphasis mine):

With the OC Transpo strike going into its sixth week, the memory of the CUPE 2424 strike from last year, the threat of a teachers strike before that and the current possibility of having our TAs walk out, it is important to look objectively at the unions that orchestrate this.

Now, that he qualified the objectivity claim with language that suggests an oncoming lament about lengthy labour disputes is concerning. But there is hope. He continues (emphasis mine):

Unions are organizations that represent special interest groups, as such, all of the policies or ideas they promote are always self-serving – to benefit their members at the expense of others. Unions do not help others. They never have and they never will, no matter what they say or attempt to make you believe. They benefit their special interest groups only, otherwise they would be called social programs.

The piece goes on like that, filled with loaded language and unqualified statements unworthy of the objectivity tag.

What’s the take-home point? I think it is important to remember that, as contributors to some kind of public discourse, reporters ought to be honest about their writing. Perhaps this writer believes his opinion is indeed objective, as difficult a balancing act as that would be for even the best writers. But if that is the case, he is kidding himself.

If nothing else, stories like this are useful reminders to all of us in the business (all 45 billion of us) that objectivity is a dangerous term that might just be worth casting aside.

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