Thursday, December 02, 2010

Journalists should bare all and drop the pretense of objectivity, says Alan D. Mutter

Is time for journalists to declare who or what they believe in before they go about the business of gathering and reporting news?

Media critic Alan D. Mutter think so.

Says Mutter:

journalists not only possess valuable insights into the matters they cover but also have an absolute obligation to share their perspectives with the public after diligently gleaning all sides of a story in an ethical and open-minded manner.

For journalists to be able to report effectively on the news and its significance, we have to replace the intellectually indefensible pretense of objectivity with a more authentic standard that journalists actually can live up to.

The way to do that is to treat the public like adults by providing the clearest possible understanding of who is delivering news and commentary – and where they are coming from. Hence, the following proposal:

Let’s take advantage of the openness and inexhaustible space of the Internet to have every journalist publish a detailed statement of political, personal and financial interests at her home website and perhaps even in a well publicized national registry. Full disclosure would enable consumers to make their own informed judgments about the potential biases and believability of any journalist.

This standard will work as well for journalists and media outlets committed to down-the-middle reporting as those desiring to express a point of view.

A superb example of how detailed disclosure could work can be found at AllThingsD.Com, where co-editors Kara Swisher and Walt Mossberg unsparingly bare their personal interests.

1 comment:

bob said...

Once upon a time, earnest journalists who put public service before a salary worked hard to pursue all sides to a story. If anything, they bent over backwards to present the viewpoints of those whose politics and/or philosophies were most unlike their own.

Not all reporters pulled this off, and some didn't try very hard to do so, but I was lucky to work with some who came just about as close to pure objective reporting as you could get.

I don't buy Mutter's take on dropping the pretense of objectivity, mostly because I think too many journalists with a self-declared bias will take that as an excuse to propagandize rather than report factually.

Plus, who referees the reporters' disclosure statements for truth and accuracy?

There's absolutely nothing wrong with self-disclosure; that shows respect for one's readers. But disclosure shouldn't be a replacement for attempting objectivity, as Mutter seems to think. It should be an add-on.