Modern Journalism: Objectivity Out, Advocacy In?

February 13, 2017 • Business Models, Ethics and Quality, Short stories • by

The challenges facing modern journalism – and how to meet them – was the subject of the 2017 Reuters Memorial Lecture, at St Anne’s College, University of Oxford, last Friday. In We broke the news. How do we fix it? Melissa Bell, of Vox Media, said it is time for the industry to admit its own problems.

Since 1976 trust in mass media has been falling continuously. Now Google is more trusted than news organisations, Bell said.  She pointed out that many news organisations lack a good business model and fail to meet the changing needs of their audiences. Another challenge facing media is the speed of technological change at a time of democratisation of news, Bell added.

Bell spoke strongly against worshipping objectivity. Objectivity is a hollow aim, a massive weak spot for journalists, she said.  The emotional side of news is very important and journalists need to embrace the fact there is a huge amount of emotion in the news every day.

She identified nine key problems, including: competition over diminishing returns; a race for ratings; and frequent fights about ethics in journalism.

But Bell was also optimistic and claimed there is time to fix the problems. Fixes are at hand: be interesting and not too worried about being objective. The media should be entertaining yet not provide entertainment, she said.

She called on the industry to get to know media business better, see through the lens of explanation, and find a new business model.

Discussion following Bell’s speech was chaired by Alan Rusbridger, former editor-in-chief of The Guardian.

Panelists included Marty Baron, editor of The Washington Post, who told the audience it is easier, with hindsight, to see what went wrong in the past, but more difficult whilst in the middle of change. We tried a lot of things, there was a lot of effort, he said. The industry was changing dramatically, the burden was on us and we had to accept this.

Tom Standage, deputy editor of The Economist, said that obsession with objectivity originated in the United States in the 1920s, while Europe had always been more at ease with a partisan approach. He called for transparency and openness to be a new objectivity.

Another panellist, Ritu Kapur, Founder and CEO, The Quint, said news audiences should never under estimate their audiences. She said The Quint’s audiences are young, diverse and highly engaged in politics. Kapur said media organisations should engage more with their audiences, through conversations and comments.

This article was first published on The Baron

Nine ways the media broke the news

Pic: screenshot, Vox

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  • What I just read sounds as though leaders in journalism want to make news more like FOX News–partisan–and be less objective? Is that really the or an answer? To engage the auidence and have more comments is that also another viable solution, like CNN does with every single speech, debate and report–bring on the commentators so they can just tell us, the audience, what we just heard, only from their point of view. No! This is all wrong, in my opinion, a freelance journalist and former editor for more than 20 years. Where is the truth is reporting news this way? It gives opinion more than news. It’s entertaining to those one side of the party line and infuriating for those on the other. Is that emotion you speak of eliciting from the audience?
    Here is what I would like to see and read: I’d like to first off read or hear the full story–the five ws and h. This is not happening anymore, so half the time I’m confused about what is going on. In each follow-up to a story, the facts should be reinterated for those just learning of the story, which is also not happening now. A great example is ISIS or ISIL. The news organizations call the group ISIS, while the government calls it ISIL. Neither explain what the acronyms, if that is what they are, stand for. So where do people go to find that out–Google! Simple journalism, giving the facts and not taking a stand is what is needed. It’s because of the newscasters and columnists voicing their opinions, comments and taking stands that people don’t trust the news. It feels too much like propaganda.
    What I’ve just read is panelists not discussing why people trust Google more than news organizations, but rather how to boost ratings and get more of the old-mighty dollar! Going into journalism, we all knew it was a poor field, but we did so with truth on our side and wanting to furnish the world with that truth–not our opinion. Now it’s about corporations that own the NY Times, CNN, FOX, etc. that control what truth can be told. If you want to make news trustworthy again, divide advertisers and owners from editorial!

    • Moving “beyond” objectivity is silly, of course. That said, the media – I’ve been part of it all my life pretty much – CAN do more explain to our audiences how/where we gathered the facts (why are so fewer articles hyperlinked/footnoted a la Wikipedia?), and be even more scrupulous about watching for unintended tone and omissions that lead the “biased” reader/viewer to believe we are being overly selective or just downright opinionated in news judgments. We can and must take 100 percent responsibility for what’s “on the lines” – and think through what our audience of today might see us as intimating “between the lines.” But when facts are labeled opinion or worse, “fake news,” we simply need to prove harder, in context, that we are providing facts and truth as best as can be ascertained in the hurricane of spin we face in social media these days.

  • Suspected spam? Excuse me? I’m discussing a point and that is spam? Please explain how this is spam and you deleted it: (I’m taking this to the top!)

    What gets me is these are the “leaders,” top media in our industry and they are actually discussing a more bias media for ad sales and to appease their owners. I’m scared for our Bill of Rights, 1st Amendment, w/o which, we fall into misinformation and a lack of accountability!
    There is a reason freedom of speech and press was the first Amendment to the Constitution–not the second (of which in today’s world private gun ownership cannot go up against the U.S. military) and not the fifth (in which gives people the right not to self-incriminate, but we all know means more and more protection about telling the truth–non-transparency).
    I truly believe the mass media must earn people’s trust again or it becomes just another cog in the wheel. Money has always been a factor in keeping these news organizations going, but there are ways to get funded and not cave into ad/owner coverage and non-coverage. For instance, many papers have gone online already. Internet ads geared toward the reader–not the paper–is one.
    There MUST be that separation between ad sales and now ownership of the media with editorial!
    Since the 15th Century with the advent of the printing press, most legitimate papers never even knew the ad-sales department, never communicated with them and therefore never or rarely created editorial that was aimed to bolster advertisers. Moving away from objectivity–the backbone of trustworthy reporting/news by our current journalism brass–is beyond saving a few bucks!
    Merriam Webster’s definition of objective under 3 a: expressing or dealing with facts or conditions as perceived without distortion by personal feelings, prejudices, or interpretations objective art an objective history of the war an objective judgment is what is needed. reporting news objectively, without bias and thoroughly fact-checked I argue is the only way to make the news trusted amongst the people!

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