If you’re just joining us, here’s a summary of Part 1 of this mini-series on journalistic objectivity at NGM:
- Chris Johns, in his most recent Editor’s Note, claimed that he is upholding National Geographic‘s 120-year tradition of publishing “an unbiased presentation of facts.”
- We respectfully argued that Chris is wrong, and provided specific examples of how NGM has always reflected the biases of the people who write, shoot, edit, and publish it. (Which is inevitable. It’s also a good thing: National Geographic‘s subjective picture of the world helped make it enormously successful and profitable – and a national treasure.)
- We expressed concern that Chris’s demonstrably false claims, which he shared with the Magazine’s four million readers, make our Society look naive about journalism, and embarrassingly ignorant of our Society’s history.
Today, we’re sharing some other voices — experienced, smart, well-credentialed professionals who have offered some penetrating critiques of the whole notion of objectivity in journalism.
Name: Chris Hedges
About: Chris is a former reporter for The New York Times, and winner of the Pulitzer Prize.
Blog Post: The Creed of Objectivity Killed the News
Quote: “… The creed of objectivity becomes a convenient and profitable vehicle to avoid confronting unpleasant truths or angering a power structure on which news organizations depend for access and profits. This creed transforms reporters into neutral observers or voyeurs. It banishes empathy, passion and a quest for justice. Reporters are permitted to watch but not to feel or to speak in their own voices. They function as “professionals” and see themselves as dispassionate and disinterested social scientists. This vaunted lack of bias, enforced by bloodless hierarchies of bureaucrats, is the disease of American journalism.” [emphasis added]
Name: David Weinberger
About: David is a Fellow at the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University. He is the author of Small Pieces Loosely Joined: A Unified Theory of the Web, and the co-author of The Cluetrain Manifesto: The End of Business as Usual. [He is also an adviser to Society Matters.]
Blog Post: Transparency Is The New Objectivity
Quote: “Outside of the realm of science, objectivity is discredited these days as anything but an aspiration, and even that aspiration is looking pretty sketchy. The problem with objectivity is that it tries to show what the world looks like from no particular point of view, which is like wondering what something looks like in the dark. ….
… Objectivity used [to] be presented as a stopping point for belief: If the source is objective and well-informed, you have sufficient reason to believe. The objectivity of the reporter is a stopping point for reader’s inquiry. That was part of high-end newspapers’ claimed value: You can’t believe what you read in a slanted tabloid, but our news is objective, so your inquiry can come to rest here. …
Transparency prospers in a linked medium, for you can literally see the connections between the final draft’s claims and the ideas that informed it. Paper, on the other hand, sucks at links. …. Transparency — the embedded ability to see through the published draft — often gives us more reason to believe a report than the claim of objectivity did.
In fact, transparency subsumes objectivity. Anyone who claims objectivity should be willing to back that assertion up by letting us look at sources, disagreements, and the personal assumptions and values supposedly bracketed out of the report.
Objectivity without transparency increasingly will look like arrogance. And then foolishness. Why should we trust what one person — with the best of intentions — insists is true when we instead could have a web of evidence, ideas, and argument?….” [emphasis added]
Name: Steve Buttry
About: Steve is the new Director of Community Engagement for a new digital news operation in Washington, DC. He’s also been a reporter, editor, and writing coach for the Des Moines Register, Kansas City Star and Times, Minot Daily News and Omaha World-Herald. Most recently he was the C3 Innovation Coach at Gazette Communications in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.
Blog Post: Humanity is more important and honest than objectivity for journalists
Quote: “One of journalism’s favorite notions is that we don’t become part of the story. We are supposed to be some sort of object (you know, objective) that doesn’t feel, that stays aloof and writes from an omniscient perch above it all. It is a lie, and we need to stop repeating it….” [emphasis added]
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Any thoughts on all this, Chris Johns? If so, please feel free to share them in the comments, below.
Coming soon: Objective Nonsense (part 3) featuring former NGM editor Bill Allen.