By Kenneth Rosen
It has been a long couple of weeks, and not just for me: House Speaker John Boehner and President Obama couldn’t reach an agreement; Casey Anthony, after three years, saw freedom; Rupert Murdoch faced allegations of hacking; and I started a summer course at New York University.
The first thing my professor said, and mind you this is a literary journalism class, was that journalism is not objective. And with that, I jumped with joy; I wasn’t alone.
The notion of journalism ever being objective is a crazy one. When I first took a class on writing for news, it was stressed that one should never editorialize and keep to just the facts; that every journalist should adhere to the inverted pyramid style of who, what, where, when, why and how. This style, this idea of perfect journalism, is archaic.
Journalists from all nations would join the unemployed of the world as anyone could write just the facts that lie exclusively within the five W’s (and the one H). But we can see below that we are given more than just the facts, even in the lead of this New York Times article:
LONDON — Rupert Murdoch’s once-commanding influence in British politics seemed to dwindle to a new low on Tuesday, when all three major parties in Parliament joined in support of a sharp rebuke to his ambitions and a parliamentary committee said it would call him, along with two other top executives, to testify publicly next week about the growing scandal enveloping his media empire.
They seemed to dwindle, huh? According to who? Is that a statistical fact? What are your sources? A sharp rebuke, you say? As opposed to a blunt one? What would that look like?
We see here that Mr. Murdoch and two top executives face publicly testifying the hacking scandal. What I do not understand is why loaded words like “seemed” and “dwindle” and “sharp” need to be used. Really, when told to practice “true journalism” one should only write a lead, one that contains only the five W’s (and one H). This would be called a brief, not an article, and similar to the first sentence of this paragraph.
Say you feel the need to write more than a sentence, well, stay true to the journalistic code and only transcribe your interview, thereby giving your readers exactly what you asked, and exactly what was said in response. In this way, journalism is lacking in the so-called transparency we (I hope you’re included) are striving for.
But there is no way to achieve objectivity when there will perpetually be traces of the journalist in every article.
In an interview with Stephen Colbert, Dr. Michael Shermer brings up a good point. Shermer, the author of “The Believing Brain” mentions that the brain is going to selectively remember whatever coincides with its subjectively established belief system. Whether you read the New York Times (lefty) or watch Fox News (righty) you’ve already begun your spiral down the rabbit hole of subjective journalism—the only kind.
But, don’t worry. It isn’t your fault. It’s theirs (and our own).
Contact Kenneth Rosen.