It's clear when it comes to the news, people have trust issues. In popular culture, journalists and reporters are often celebrated as heroes who are uncovering corruption, war crimes, and other forms of injustice. We gotta nail these scumbags. We gotta show people that nobody can get away with this. But in reality, public trust in media has dropped to a new low. In the 1970s, research by Gallup found that 72% of Americans trusted the news. Now in recent years, this has dropped to around 40% with a historic low in 2016 of 32%. But where does this idea that we should trust the news even come from? What do we expect from reporters and journalists? Last episode, we took a look at the polarization of the news. Now most people seem to be aware of the political and commercial interests in media.
In the same Gallup study, 8 out of 10 Americans see a fair or a great deal of bias in news coverage. So why do we expect objectivity anyway? I went to the source itself and spoke to journalists about their role in the media landscape. The media tends to play judge a lot. And I have a problem with that. That's not our job. Instead of making judgements, we let others do that. And we cover stories from as many perspectives as possible. I would define my purpose as a photojournalist, just to kind of relay and inform and convey a scene to someone.
Not necessarily, I'm not coming at it from a perspective of trying to change something. I think that's more activism. Why did it happen? That's the job of a reporter. As a reporter, you're taking it from different directions and you want to balance it out. And that's where my skill as a reporter comes in: to get as much, as many facts as I can at that time, because I need to tell my viewers what's going on. They're itching for the story. Because everyone tells a story from their own angle, it is your job to have a combination of angles and perspectives and find a balance and narrow it down for your viewers. So there seems to be a consensus that the job of a journalist is to listen and hear from as many perspectives as possible and flesh out a story and broadcast it to a wider audience. They do the research and present their findings back to us: the news consumer.
Think of the idea of the foreign correspondent, since we cannot possibly be everywhere at the same time, we rely on them to talk to people on the ground and report the story back to us. And our job is to tell these various stories and the nuances within those stories. Of course, we need to understand the impact of what that story will be.
The most exciting part for me is actually going in the field and reporting and talking to people because that is when you connect with the people. And when you connect with the people and when you connect with the voices in your story, that's when you stay in touch with the world. I feel alive. So any kind of, sort of logical reason, or for me to have like sort of morale, you know, moral purpose to it, of course that's there, but the really selfish reason is that I just love it. And that's why I do what I do. Hi, my name is Fariba Nawa.
I'm the host of On Spec and a freelance journalist. When I was 12 years old, that's when I knew I wanted to be a journalist. And it was a way to express myself and learn to empathize. My first foreign assignment was Pakistan, Islamabad, Pakistan. And Peshawar. And then I went inside my homeland, Afghanistan. I choose my stories based on my own interest. And that's the beauty of being a freelancer. Mostly in Turkey, I've focused on migration and women's rights. Those are the two subjects that I have sort of honed in on besides the breaking news that goes on here, which we know is a lot. When I was in America, I was encouraged to develop my own voice.
And I'm like, as a journalist, I'm not supposed to have a voice. I'm just supposed to tell you the facts. And I was confused, I was like, "I don't understand. Is this journalism?" The point of journalism is the truth. It's to give people accurate information about how things are. The point of journalism isn't to make everything better. And I think journalists really confuse those two things. Advocates are what we need for improvement, but not journalists. You are in business as a journalist, just to sort of explain and tell people what's in between the line. And you see, it's a blurred line between your opinion and actually telling facts. What changed over time is that it became in the interest of the newspapers, particularly, to appeal to a larger audience. That means you didn't want just the left or the right. You wanted both. And so that created a tradition, along with a few other things, where there was an attempt to give just the facts, a kind of middle of the road perspective. The idea of objective journalism, again, has to do with the fact that news is made to make money.
And so in the last century, it was in newspapers interest to be non-partisan, objective, neutral, to attract as many advertisers as possible. And that built an ethic in journalism that newsrooms still cling on to. Over the last 50 years, journalists have really tried at least to be objective. And that was a way of saying, "Journalism is something special and valuable and something that can be trusted." In the past, I think there was always a sense that the journalist was supposed to be anonymous. A disembodied voice, they're almost trying to be scientific. They were saying here is what's happening in the world. I'm just reflecting what is real and what is true. There's a group of more traditionally schooled journalists who believe that journalists should be nothing but an impartial observer. Their voice and their beliefs have no place in their reporting. But in recent years, more and more journalists have questioned this idea of impartiality and objectivity.
Can anyone really be objective? Do you think it's possible to have fully objective reporting? There's no such thing as an objectivity. That, that I've learned throughout the years. No journalist can be totally objective. Totally unbiased on every story. That's the test of a journalist of integrity. Over a reasonable length of time, how hard does he, or she try to keep their own biases out? There's a lot of old school thinkers, especially white men coming from powerful countries who say, well, no, no, our voice can not be in it.
We're not relevant. Okay.
So you as a white man may not be relevant, but me as a refugee child from Afghanistan who had to flee my country at the age of nine, whose school was bombed, you know, who saw, I saw my classmate die in front of me, I am relevant. And I am going to talk about my perspective and I am going to put myself in the story because it matters. Also people connect more. Questioning objectivity does not mean that journalists should just embrace subjectivity and write opinion pieces all day.
Instead it means to be as fair and accurate as possible and using our awareness of our personal biases to be even more thorough in our reporting. And I think our job as a journalist has never been more important because you want to sift through that noise and distill the truth. And because also disinformation is so high. That's why the investigative journalists' skill is very highly prized now because the truth is just hidden in all kinds of crap these days. You have to look through it and sift through it and find what the truth is. My name is Adesewa Josh. I'm a broadcast journalist. I've been doing this job for nearly a decade. I currently am in Istanbul, Turkey. My career has been defined by one major story, which is covering Boko Haram. Telling other people's stories and highlighting stories of injustice, social development, politics, and stuff, sort of came naturally to me. We have the luxury of driving this route, but for many refugees, they had to make the journey on foot. I have covered migration, terrorism, the impact of terror on communities.
I've also covered refugee stories. So I went from a television presenter, just highlighting superstars and celebrities in the entertainment industry, to wanting to do something, if you like, more meaningful with myself. Journalist. Tom Rosenstiel reminds us that originally objectivity was more about the process than the journalists itself. To Rosenstiel journalistic objectivity was never intended to mean balance or neutrality. Instead, it meant something like the pursuit of truth using objective methods, because journalism is conducted by human beings and therefore it can never be truly objective. Their methods have to be, instead. This farce of objectivity is almost dishonest. It's dishonest and the readers and the listeners and the viewers, they see that. Rosenstiel's comments were in response to journalist Wesley Lowery, who in a New York Times essay argued that newsrooms were facing a long due reckoning over the meaning of objectivity. So what does that mean in practice? I think Wesley Lowery gives a pretty good idea of how to acknowledge our subjectivity while engaging in a process of objectivity. He encourages journalists to take a pledge, to devote ourselves to accuracy, that we will diligently seek out the perspectives of those with whom we personally may be inclined to disagree, and that we will be just as sure to ask hard questions of those with whom we're inclined to agree.
If then not the journalist, but the process itself is meant to be objective, things become more complicated when we realized even the process itself is flawed. The objective journalism model works off of what we understand to be news values. And those news values in and of itself bias the journalist. Right?
When we think about news values, we think about things like timeliness, unusualness, the impact, right? All of those things, bias us towards some stories and some framings of stories in a way from other stories.
Sometimes the most important thing in the country isn't the thing that happened in the last hour. It was the thing that happened yesterday. But when you turn on the news, what will you be watching? The thing that happened in the last hour. We also know that neutral, objective journalism is constructed a top a pyramid of subjective decision-making. Which stories to cover, how intensely to cover those stories, which sources to seek out and include, which pieces of information are highlighted and which are downplayed. No journalistic process is objective and no individual journalist is objective because no human being is. Everybody has a bias. And so I think what we can do is be fair and be honest about that bias. So when I cover stories, I'm very transparent about who I am, because I think people have a right to know. What people trust is authenticity. They like to see material that comes directly from the public themselves. That's why they connect more with personal essays. That's why they connect more with these voices on the ground, rather than sort of this voiceless reporter behind the scenes.
And you can do that. Of course you can do that. You can take yourself out of the story. If you aren't relevant, you actually should take yourself out of the story, but still tell me who you are. To me, that's important when I'm reading something. When I'm the consumer of news, I want to know, you know, who's John Smith. And so again, this system of objectivity was not about creating objective journalists. Rather it was about creating an objective journalistic process. Over the course of the objectivity model in American journalism.
What we've seen is a shift where that standard is no longer being applied to the model, but rather is being applied to the journalist. And so you have a lot of performative objectivity. Journalists who do not vote and declare publicly that they do not vote, as if they can now somehow become objective if they abstain from political engagement. I think that one of the biggest problems with objectivity is that it has become understood as a devotion to false balance, which leads us to a different concept: neutrality. The word objectivity has suddenly gained all of these additional words that are not really synonyms. So sometimes we talk about objectivity, but we also talk about balance. Balance and objectivity are not the same thing.
Or we talk about neutrality. You're writing a piece about climate change and you go out of your way to find a climate denialist scientist so that no one can argue that you did not have that voice included. Even if there's no factual basis to include such a person. The idea that journalists should be free of any opinion is easy to defend when your opinion fits the status quo. But journalism is not a," he said, she said" story. It goes beyond just reporting two opposite sides. Truthful, not neutral. There's a difference. Yes. Truthful is bringing the truth. Neutral can be creating a false equivalence. We should cover them truthfully, we should cover them fairly. But I still think we should be questioning the meaning of neutrality in this time.
Consider the story of Lewis Wallace. In 2017, Lewis Wallace was fired from his job at marketplace when he wrote a personal Medium blog stating that objectivity is dead. As a journalist who is transgender and the only trans journalist at the company, he questioned the idea of both objectivity and neutrality. He writes that journalists can both come from a particular perspective and still tell the truth. We can check our facts, tell the truth and hold the line without pretending that there's no ethical basis to the work that we do. An important sort of shift for us right now is to move away from this conflation of objectivity or non-partisanship or being non-biased with being trustworthy. Because they are not inherently the same. And I think those concepts have become really muddled in a way that's actually really damaging.
There's really no good reason to hold onto neutrality as a core value in journalism. In his blog, Lewis Wallace explains his issue with neutrality is that "neutrality is impossible for me. And you should admit that it is for you to. As a member of a marginalized community, I have never had the opportunity to pretend I can be neutral." Now the idea of neutrality seems almost counter-intuitive. Maybe not in all forms of journalism, but at least in investigative journalism, which is meant to uncover information that is otherwise inaccessible to the public.
Sometimes that is as simple as going through a bureaucratic process, but at times it can be unsafe or even dangerous. Take the example of Daphne Caruana Galizia, a journalist from Malta who was assassinated after reporting on money laundering, corruption and nepotism. Or Jamal Khashoggi, a Washington Post columnist who was murdered inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. And that's only a number of dozens of journalists who are killed each year. Reporters without borders says that 80 journalists have been killed so far this year. Now that's 15 more than last year and it makes 2018, the most lethal on record.
So this idea that a journalist can and should not be political, just crumbles apart, especially when you consider places where press freedom and access to information are under attack. When journalists are facing censorship, imprisonment and arrest reporting, the truth becomes a political act in itself. Jason Rezaian is spending his 447th night in a jail in Iran tonight. The mean threat against journalism in Nigeria today is a government that is intolerant to freedom of expression. The police raided my office on charges of conspiracy to topple the government. I got attacked. My equipment got smashed up. I got tortured. But the example does not have to be that extreme. Take the case of Jorge Ramos, who was kicked out of an Iowa press event after he confronted Trump about his immigration policies. This is how he reflects on neutrality and taking a stance after the event. A lot of people seem to have an issue when journalism meets activism, but I think there are times when you just can't expect journalists not to take a stance.
I straddle the line because in journalism school, again, learning journalism, you learn that you have to keep a distance. Because that's the healthiest thing to do. You can't save people. That's not your job. In fact, you can harm them more if you think that way. And so a lot of my stories about girls and women have involved this dilemma for me. How far do I go in trying to help them? So when I'm done with the story, then as a human being, I try to help them. And that's important to me because it doesn't stop with the story. That's him there on the ground captured on my DV camera. If he stays there, he might get killed. I pick him up and carry him to the barricade. You perhaps become something different from a traditional objective journalist and that kind of breaks the spell and it can create problems for the audience as well.
Are you a journalist or are you a rescuer? Are you part of this story or are you just telling it? I got a camera in my hand and I started to run toward him to take a video of it. And that was my first instinct. And I took, I mean, two steps running toward them. And then I thought it just seemed, in a split second, it just seemed inappropriate. And then there was criticism about it that I'd crossed a line that I had, you know, gotten involved in something that I shouldn't have. I'd do it again. Yeah. I think there's definitely space for activism and subjectivity in journalism, but then you're kind of crossing maybe some traditional ethical lines as to what journalism is. I don't have a savior complex, but why shouldn't I have a job that has an impact? It makes a difference.
And when I see that, of course it feels good. It feels good. And I appreciate that. I think there's still an impact. I mean, photography is not ever going, I think in my opinion, to change the world or stop a war or save humanity from some sort of oblivion. Photographs, still, especially with like Aylan Kurdi, this photograph of a dead Syrian child on a beach in Turkey did change for example European policy. So I think photos still have power in that sense. And then there's kind of blurred lines between activism, citizen journalism and more traditional journalism. I think one of the reasons why we've seen a lot of debate about objectivity, neutrality and activism is because we've seen a rise in citizen journalism. With general access to smartphones and social media, people have challenged the professional practice of mainstream media.
Yeah, everybody pretty much has access to a camera or a phone. It doesn't make everybody a professional photographer or videographer or journalist, but it is part of the puzzle of journalism to make up those pieces and fill in the gaps where maybe professionally trained or professionally working journalists of all mediums don't have access. You know, a citizen journalist is that person who is out walking their dog, minding their own business when a plane crashes and they film it, you know, at any point.
Anyone today can become the most important journalist in the world. So to me, anyone who holds up a camera and tells us what's going on is not a reporter. It is user generated content, and God bless it. Reporters have a much more, a deeper, stronger obligation to incorporate all the views. To balance it out and to explain to us what is going on there in a way that, okay, you get both sides of the story.
That's why we do this job. Not to take one person's idea and just smash it across our faces and see if that's everything that happened. The average citizen is not going to investigate a corrupt multinational corporation or corrupt politicians. That's going to be a journalist with sources who digs deep and finds those stories. In general, yeah of course, citizen journalism is a great thing, but I think it's just that formal media institutions need to be careful in the way they use citizen journalism. I think it may not be completely objective.
People may be not, they don't have the traditional journalism training and ethics. Right now the key thing that these companies need to be doing and what a lot of them are doing is making news from noise. You know, we're seeing all of these different puzzle pieces drop off these photos, these tweets. Journalists have to sit there and find that narrative and figure out what happened. You know, we can see all these pieces, they come together. And there's your story. Before, if you were talking about police brutality or these riots you would have to perceive it in the way it was framed and presented to you. Nicholas Sandmann is another example. You would have to perceive in the way that it's edited and presented to you by the corporate press.
Now, everyone has a video, has a video camera. Everyone has their perspective, and it's very useful when these incidents happen, where you could see the same incident from several angles and you don't need Don Lemon or Chris Wallace to tell me what this means. I can see with my own eyes. Truth is unobstructed on social media. And like, if you're, if you're careful and patient, you can see the truth. Yeah. Like for example, data on COVID and some of the best sources are doctors. Like, if you want to know the truth about the coronavirus and what's happening, just follow people on Twitter. Yeah. There's certain people that are just like sources for me versus the CDC and the WHO. Right. I mean, I think technology has disrupted everything in terms of how news works, which is to inform. But informing is no longer the main objective of news. Analysis is there. People want to understand what's going on around them.
It's why you have people covering beats. Now, obviously journalism is not just one thing. They're broadcast journalists, investigative, citizen, photo, even Twitter journalists these days. The meaning of journalism is changing when communication and technology changes and honestly has become completely inflated. Just take a look at how John Oliver reacts when he's called a journalist and what he thinks that says about the media landscape today. Oh no, I really appreciate it – you're right! I'm not a respected journalist because I'm not a journalist. No, no, I'm not. No, I'm a comedian.
But you're doing the job of a journalist. No, I'm doing the job of a comedian. So I make jokes about the news. So I'm pretty clear about the lane that I am in. But let me just say that you have more credibility than most journalists here in the United States. And I would say in many other countries. But that is more of an insult to the current state of journalism than it is a compliment. I agree. I'm not sure where I myself stand on objectivity and whether it can be achieved as a journalistic process. But what I now do understand is that the meaning of objectivity and neutrality are driven by a media landscape that has an allegiance to power and aims to be palatable to advertisers. In the next episode, I will take a closer look at these commercial interests in media and how tech giants like Google, Facebook, and Twitter are only eroding the news industry further.
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