Several years ago I wrote a story about my two best friends - one a Christian conservative Republican ex-Marine, the other an agnostic liberal Democrat college professor. In the piece I described how much I admired both of them but always seemed to find myself in the middle.
Well, they're still my best friends... and I'm still in the middle. My liberal friend still thinks I'm too conservative, and my conservative friend still thinks I'm too liberal.
I've always been a moderate. Don't misunderstand, I have plenty of passion and opinions, but I try to see an issue from all sides and make an effort to find common ground whenever possible.
Not only in my journalism, but in my life.
I guess I got this in part from my parents, who generally didn't judge people based on their politics. But I was forced to really put this principle to the test when the coach of my debate team in college made us take the opposite position of what she knew we believed.
It opened my eyes, and my heart. It made me a bit less strident and gave me a better understanding of people whose views were different than mine. It made me try even harder to understand and appreciate why folks sometimes believe the things they believe.
I think this is an essential quality not only of a good person, but a good journalist. Sadly, this philosophy seems to be falling out of favor in the media these days. Soon, to find a reporter without an obvious political bias you'll have to visit Jurassic Park, because objective journalists are going the way of the dinosaur.
We're living in an increasingly polarized time, and this is reflected dramatically in what we read and hear in the news. It seems almost everyone in the press now
identifies with either one side of the aisle or the other. There's not a whole lot of agenda-free reporting in 2012.
Even in alleged hard news print reports you can often identify the slant of a reporter (or the company for which he or she writes) within the first few sentences. As far as broadcast journalism goes, we've got MSNBC on the left and Fox News on the right, and never the twain shall meet.
I'm doing what I can to hold on to the most fundamental tenet of journalism, which is that the only bias you should have when covering a story is the truth. If you can't be entirely objective, at least be fair.
I recently wrote a story story for Newsweek/The Daily Beast in which I interviewed several
veterans advocates who expressed concern over how veterans would be treated under a
Mitt Romney presidency.
A month later, I wrote a piece for Newsmax in which I interviewed veterans advocates who were very concerned about how President Obama has handled Gulf War veterans.
Of course, most Romney supporters probably dismissed my Daily Beast story as biased, and most Obama supporters probably dismissed my Newsmax story as biased. The American people by and large evidently only want to read or watch reports that reaffirm their already entrenched political beliefs.
Is there still a hunger for bias-free reporting? Is there still a desire among news consumers to be challenged or to learn something that might not correspond with what you already think is the truth? You tell me.
While objectivity may be out of fashion, I'm still a believer. When I write an opinion piece, that's one thing, but when I write a news story of news feature, I will always try to present all sides of an issue.
There's nothing self righteous about this, folks. It's just journalism as it was meant to be. Do you agree?
This sums it up well. It's from the Pew Research Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism:
JOURNALISM'S FIRST OBLIGATION IS THE TRUTH
Democracy depends on citizens having reliable, accurate facts put in a
meaningful context. Journalism does not pursue truth in an absolute or
philosophical sense, but it can--and must--pursue it in a practical
sense. This "journalistic truth" is a process that begins with the
professional discipline of assembling and verifying facts. Then
journalists try to convey a fair and reliable account of their meaning,
valid for now, subject to further investigation.
Journalists should be
as transparent as possible about sources and methods so audiences can
make their own assessment of the information. Even in a world of
expanding voices, accuracy is the foundation upon which everything else
is built--context, interpretation, comment, criticism, analysis and
The truth, over time, emerges from this forum. As citizens
encounter an ever greater flow of data, they have more need--not
less--for identifiable sources dedicated to verifying that information
and putting it in context.