Repairing the “Fourth Estate”

Journalism students are taught professional standards and how to follow them. To me, there is a glaring issue with that and that is the issue of objectivity. Journalistic objectivity is the idea that journalists should remain nonpartisan and equally fair to both sides of an argument, lack an agenda and only be interested in reporting the facts. These sound like good qualities. The simple truth is that objectivity is impossible and harms journalism at large.

There are objective facts and these should be reported. However, there should be an understanding that any decision and thought in response to these facts is a subjective experience. Nothing is free from bias. The moment that a news outlet decides to cover a topic, it is choosing to cover that issue at the expense of the others it could have covered. That is why it is easy to distinguish between right-leaning and left-leaning news organizations. This type of bias is easy to see. People on the political right often criticize the mainstream media for having a liberal bias. Well, except for Fox News. I disagree with them.

As I said before, nothing is free from bias. There is a reason why anyone would want to cover a given story and it’s okay to admit that. Subjective reasoning is not mutually exclusive from the objective truths of the world. In some cases, journalistic objectivity empowers falsehoods and provides a platform for misinformation.

The mainstream and supposedly objective media has another bias. Its bias is in sensationalism. They craft stories to excite people and gain viewership, not to unveil the truth. They play into people’s fears by covering stories that are geared to our basic instincts. People believe that crime is high, but the truth is that crime rates are down. It’s easy to understand why outlets discuss crime and other bad news. The public watches it. Our inner survival instincts want us to believe the world is dangerous, so the worst possible news is always going to be watched. It is a business. It has a profit motive, not a moral one.

I suspect that people see this. According to a Gallup poll from September 2016, only 32 percent of Americans trust the news media. The media caters to people in power. Politicians go on TV and are not held accountable for what they do. Lack of faith in the media is destroying the Fourth Estate.

How do we fix this? We change our attitudes toward professional journalism. The reason I love opinion writing is the fact I don’t need to hide my thoughts. I am not a robot spitting out facts that my producers or editors deem worthy. There is a freedom to be true to who I am and what I think is important. I can do this without misrepresenting facts and remaining true. Why wouldn’t I? Wouldn’t I lose credibility if I got facts wrong? Why would anyone listen to what I thought if I wasn’t truthful? In expressing my opinion, I still have the incentive to seek truth.

A similar attitude can be applied to news. I do believe that it is OK for journalists to have an agenda. Journalists should be skeptical of all people in power, serve the public interest, ask tough questions and seek out and expose hypocrites and abusers of power or privilege. And with these duties, journalists should constantly keep an open mind. This is a bias that doesn’t fit on the typical left-right paradigm. Journalism should be about the duty to expose the truth and to question everything. This is not objectivity. It is a clear mindset that is dedicated to essence of journalism — truth.

Journalists and writers should be open to expressing their thoughts on issues and approach their job with a sense of purpose. No one can honestly say they are unbiased. I think more trust can be found when we accept all of our biases and present ourselves openly. Faith in the press is at an all time low. Everyone needs to come together and say what they think to serve the public interest. From that, maybe together we will find the truth. Keeping with the same industry practices will not fix this issue. Denying journalistic objectivity isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution, but it’s a start to fixing a vital part of society.

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