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When Journalists Say They’re Objective — What Does That Even Mean?

The headquarters for National Public Radio, or NPR, are seen in Washington, DC.
The headquarters for National Public Radio, or NPR, are seen in Washington, DC.

The concept of “objectivity” is day-one stuff in any journalism program. It’s the idea that reporters shouldn’t bring any of their personal experiences or biases to their work, and instead relay the facts of a story from a neutral standpoint.

But in this current moment of political division and civil unrest, some journalists are questioning this once-fundamental tenet. Who does objectivity serve? And who defines what’s objective?

Black journalists are taking to social media to describe experiences where they were asked by managers and editors to take down tweets, stop commenting publicly or generally asked to be silent on issues relating to the Black community out of fear of seeming “biased” or violating a newsroom’s social media policy.

And as the debate about whether or not journalists should be expected to leave their identities at the door — to preserve objectivity — is ramping up, the conversation has further evolved into who gets to decide what’s objective and whose views are elevated in this decision.

Should journalists should leave their identities at the door? Or is there value in having journalists who bring different experiences and perspectives to their reporting?

Copyright 2020 WAMU 88.5. To see more, visit WAMU 88.5.

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