Saturday, June 21, 2014

Neutrality is killing journalism

I was watching the public TV show New York Now. They conduct a yes/no poll question on their website during the week. On the show, they show the results of the poll and selected answers. They always show one pro- and one con- or two pro- and two con- answers. They do this whether the poll results were 53-47% or 91-9%. A small thing but illustrative.

One of the three things that is crippling modern journalism is the conflation of the principles of neutrality and objectivity. Most feel journalism's goal should be objectivity; most journalists claim the same if you ask them. Yet in practice, the goal increasingly seems to be neutrality, little more than transcription.

Neutrality is telling the truth. Objectivity is telling the whole truth (or as close to it as resources allow). Objectivity is "Serbs committed an estimated 90% of the atrocities in the Balkans wars and Bosnians 10%." Neutrality is "Both sides committed atrocities." Both statements are factually correct. But the former is clearly a greater reflection of the truth.

I think news organizations have largely abandoned objectivity in favor of neutrality/transcription because activists of all stripes wage relentless campaigns of accusations of bias. If you report anything negative about any group or organization, you will be accused of bias against that group. Neutrality becomes the easy way out, as you can say you were reporting equally on both sides. Unfortunately, this insistence on the lesser truth has devalued journalism to the point where increasingly few numbers of people feel it worth paying for.

No comments: