Objectivity vs Transparency in Journalism

Jay Rosen, who teaches journalism at NYU, has written a post on PressThink explaining to types of valid journalism. One is based on objectivity (or ‘viewlessness’), or what he calls “Politics: none“. He describes it as the following:

It is not the natural, inevitable or “right” way to do journalism, but rather a form of persuasion in which journalists try to get us to accept their account of the way things are by foreswearing any political commitment, avoiding overt displays of opinion, and eluding strong conclusions via quotation or summary of competing arguments.

Of course they also try to persuade us by pointing to irrefutable facts, uncovering new information, and being accurate, truthful and fair.

That latter form, which he ascribes specifically to Glenn Greenwald (who clearly has opinions about the NSA programs he has reported on – which is why he was sought out by Snowden) and the Guardian, is that of transparency, or Politics: some.“:

 It is not the natural or inevitable way to do journalism, but a form of persuasion in which journalists try to get us to accept their account by being up front about their commitments, grounding their freely-expressed opinions in fact, and arriving at conclusions through the sound conduct of public argument.

It seems to me that the latter form is the superior one, though Rosen admits that both can be valid and effective. For one, it seems obvious that it is impossible for a journalist to be meaningfully “objective” and be “viewless” with no opinion on political issues. Clearly, all journalists do, so it strikes me as somewhat dishonest to act as if it is not the case. Your politics will inevitably effect your journalism, and if you never disclose them, it is impossible to know how  they are affected.

This is why transparency is so important in this field. Transparent journalists are much easier to trust, even those whose politics I don’t agree with. There are no questions of a hidden agenda, because they are up front with their agenda and explain why – presumably with facts – they believe it’s an agenda worth supporting. It just seems more honest. This is why, should I ever be lucky enough to work in the field, I will strive for transparency, not objectivity.

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