In his article “Journalism’s Era of Change, but Objectivity Still Plays a Critical Role”, Tom Kent asks,”objectivity still a value worth carrying into the future?” His answer is yes.
Professional media outlets maintain standards of objectivity. However, the rise of new media such as internet blogs and social media such as Twitter and Facebook have raised the issue of whether or not traditional standards of journalistic objectivity are needed, or in fact even possible. There’s a question here because the line that defines what is “journalism” is being blurred, and as that line has been blurred, so is the concept of objectivity.
A common idea these days is that with the new media, anybody is a publisher – anybody can set up their own website and claim to be journalist. Are they really journalists? Frequently no. What will tend to happen is that we have to live with the maxim “caveat emptor” – the principle that the buyer alone is responsible for checking the quality and reliability of goods before a purchase is made. Consumers of the new media are going to have to be better readers who have better critical thinking skills in evaluating their sources of information. But how will they do that?
Bloggers and self described Twitter “journalists” have a huge audience. In addition to blogs there are both talk radio (which isn’t really new but is now being affected by the new media) and cable “news”, FOX and MSNBC, as well as various websites that purport to be news sources. To me, these are largely platforms of biased opinion and special pleading rather than objective journalism. The reality is that many people want this new media and the information that they deliver. But they should be aware that much of what they think is “news” is not really journalism. It’s largely opinion, and the casualty is probably objectivity.
The public now has a new toy: the internet. Is that bad? In and of itself, no. It is bad if society becomes more ignorant, bigoted and close minded, and it is bad if a society makes bad decisions based on bad information.
Kent is especially strong in his discussion of the needed role for traditional media, not in distinction from the new media, but rather as part of it. He’s especially effective describing the way social media routinely links to traditional media, and of the real need for traditional standards of objectivity. I especially liked his criticism of those who cry elitism. He’s right to turn that around on the critics by asking if everyone will be their own editor/filter of all information? Of course not. It was not clear to me what Kent thought the near future would bring, but I think that most people will, as Kent notes, continue to rely on “legacy” media, and simply supplement that with their preferred new media sources. In that sense the free-market in news will work the way it always has.
Journalism is going through changes brought on by new technologies. But it will adapt to the technology, as it adapted to radio and television. That adaptation will include continued reliance on traditional objectivity.