By Danielle Church
A few weeks ago, I had a conversation with a friend I was not expecting to have. He asked me, “What are your views on the media manipulating stories?” Not entirely sure of what he meant by that, I asked him to explain himself, to which he replied “Is there biased reporting or is it just the way people construe the story?”
Then a week later, a person I had just met said to me “You want to be a journalist? Ok, let me test you. What makes a good reporter: someone who is unbiased or someone who tells the truth?”
I told him good reporters would only answer one way to that question: they do both.
It’s not unusual for anyone who is studying journalism or even a professional to be in those types of situations. People will constantly look at you and question whether the journalism industry is really trustworthy. I can’t even count on one hand the amount of times someone has seen me with a video camera and microphone on the street and asked me what I was doing only to have them tell me “Good for you. We need more people like you out there,” when I wouldn’t tell them my opinion on an issue.
I once stood in front of Trump Tower in Chicago and had a guy come up to my T.V. news partner and me. He was asking us what we were doing and then wouldn’t stop asking us whom we were going to be voting for in the presidential election. He was one of the people who said the world needed more reporters such as my partner and I.
That man and most people act as if every journalist was corrupt in some way. But the truth is, there are very good reporters out there who are unbiased. Sure, my generation of student journalists will be the next ones to take over but there are still plenty of reporters doing great journalism right now.
It can be especially hard to do at times because journalists are, after all, human too. But it’s something we commit to as soon as we say, “I’m going to be a reporter.” We must put aside our stances on certain issues and focus on objectivity.
That’s right, objectivity is not dead.
Reporters are not advocates; they are simply putting all the information out there for people to make their own decisions.
In an era where fact-checking, “fake news” and “alternative facts” are going to change the way the journalism industry approaches things, being objective will be key so reporters can maintain their credibility and give the public accurate information.
Lewis Wallace is an example of a reporter who was fired from his job at American Public Media’s “Marketplace” because he wrote a blog about how objectivity is dead on his personal website.
Wallace, a transgender reporter, felt very strongly about speaking up for certain minority groups, especially with a Trump administration in office. There wouldn’t be anything wrong with that – if he wasn’t a journalist. Wallace failed to stick to one of the utmost titles a reporter must have – remain neutral.
The best way someone ever explained to me why reporters need to stay neutral was by my professor and Chicago Sun-Times, NBC5 and Chicago Tonight reporter Carol Marin. She once told my Advanced Reporting class about how an AIDS group wanted her support, but she declined because she felt as though people who were against the group would not feel as though they could speak to her about their own concerns. At first, it might sound a little crazy that you can’t support groups such as the American Heart Society, American Cancer Society, etc.
When you become a part of those groups though, you are taking a side and that can be detrimental to your stories because readers may interpret it the wrong way. They may think you are covering the American Cancer Society because you support them.
The best way that my professors put it is when you decide to be a journalist, you agree to some of your rights being taken away. You cannot vocalize your opinion on issues whether it is on social media, in person or even the newsroom. That doesn’t mean you can’t have an opinion, but keep it to yourself. It’s like walking on egg shells when you state your opinion aloud because as soon as people know the way you feel about an issue, they are automatically going to assume you are reporting a certain way because of your previous post, conversation, etc.
As a journalist, you must be the person on the sidelines watching everything unfold and reporting it fair and truthfully. That is one of the cardinal rules of journalism after all.
Now, it’s not to say that it’s the easiest thing in the world to do. This year has really opened my eyes on why I need to keep my opinions to myself, which can especially be hard to do around friends and family. After conversations in my Advanced Reporting class though, I completely understand why objectivity is not dead and it’s a necessity in the journalism industry.
At the end of the day, no reporter is trying to “manipulate” his or her audience as my friend might have thought. Sometimes it’s just harder for some people to separate their bias from their reporting – which I don’t condone, but think about the last time someone asked you to give up a stance on every issue you’ve taken a side on. But the truth is journalists must remain neutral. It’s also up to readers or viewers though to always be skeptical, stay informed and make their own decisions at the end of the day.