Is Media Objectivity a Reality, Fallacy or Both?

By Tim Johnson

Is Media Objectivity a Reality, Fallacy or Both? 1

As I was doing errands one Sunday in February, I heard an NPR piece on the radio that covered the firing of Lewis Wallace, an editor at Marketplace, who posted on his personal blog, “Objectivity is dead and I’m OK with it.” Taken both by Wallace’s blog and

Marketplace’s reaction, I read up on this topic and rapidly learned what a complex and nuanced subject it is.

About a week later, PRSA, a PR industry trade organization, published a call for papers for its annual conference to be held in Boston and I decided this was a ripe opportunity to get involved.

Fast forward, thanks to my colleague Victoria Guimarin, PRSA accepted our abstract, “Should Media Claim Objectivity? Is That Even the Right Question?” The panel took place last week and our panelists included:

Amy Bernstein, editor, Harvard Business Review
Larry Edelman, deputy managing editor, Boston Globe
Paul Michelman, editor-in-chief, MIT Sloan Management Review
Gary Putka, former executive editor, Center for Investigative Journalism

Since I spend more time placing our clients as speakers versus speaking myself, I had a decent case of jitters. Would anyone actually show up? Would the panelists get called away with a last minute emergency? Would I sit in a room that holds 125 people by myself for an hour?

It turned out to be all-good. The panelists showed up, they were well prepared and the room was full. Better yet, the audience was so engaged that I was only able to ask two of the eight questions I’d planned to ask.

We began with the obvious question of whether media can truly be objective, given that any two people provided a set of facts are likely to write two very different stories. We discussed what “standard” people should judge the quality of journalism by, and debated ideas such as “fairness,” “balance,” and “factual.”

We dove deeper into how the article topics medias pick communicate their biases. What is “media” today in an age where a blog can resemble an online publication was another topic. The balance between reporting news and providing the content a publication’s readership wants to read sparked a lively debate.

We closed with one attendee asking how senior media should train new journalists today, given an environment where traditional standards seem to have broken down, media is as divided as the people for whom they write and where the question of “what is media” versus pure opinion has bubbled to the top.

We are all consumers of media, what is your opinion on the state of media and can there be something called “media objectivity?” The discussion will continue, but until then, leave your thoughts in the comments below.

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