Objective Journalism is a Myth

Forget what you were taught in school about journalistic ethics. There is no objectivity in the news. Journalists, editors and news corporations come to every story with their biases intact, and select and produce stories that reflect their leanings.

OK … actually, the situation is more subtle and complex than that. I’m not talking about the left-leaning media, or the “vast right-wing conspiracy”. Sometimes the biases are more mundane than that: news stations, to keep their ratings up, must produce entertainment in their news, to keep the viewers watching. And, we all know how this works: shock and gore, gossip and controversy are all grist in the entertainment mill, so stories with shock value will more likely get air time. And, a journalist who can throw in a controversial twist will get more attention from the editors, etc., increasing chances an article will be run.

This “entertainment influence” on journalism seems to be more a factor of TV news than print.

Maybe journalists like to hide behind the cloak of objectivity, but we as savvy consumers of news information need to weigh in on all the influences – economic as well as ideological — that drive a journalist and the whole news production process. Especially if you’re on the subject end of a journalist, you need to be aware. Of course, once you’re aware of journalism bias and such, and know that the real reason that journalist is interviewing you is to get a good story instead of uncovering “the truth”, you can use this to your advantage.

I’ve been on the receiving end of a news story more than once, and I was very aware that of the 10+ minutes of verbiage I was speaking into the camera, likely just 30 seconds of sound bite would make it on air. And that 30 second sampling may not be very flattering.  In my case, though, I knew the journalist was sympathetic to my cause (it helps to have a nice dialogue with her before the interview), and everything worked out well. The 30 second sound bite she took from my rival (so to speak) was not so flattering … and I knew that was very intentionally so. Re-read sentence 2 of this entry.

I bring this up because I was watching the news this evening. A very rare event for me. I was watching because a friend emailed, and said “watch Channel 2”, because they were going to run a Ron Paul story. I’ve been interested in Ron Paul’s campaign as he’s the only anti-war candidate from either major party to run. Anyway, what did I catch on this news story: one nice juicy tidbit of a sound bite: “Ron Paul tends to attract radical voters, like the KKK in Florida and prostitutes in Nevada”.

Holy cow, what a hack job!! I guess the prostitute vote is what pushed Paul up to 2nd place in Nevada, right?! This particular sound bite was totally uncalled for, and clearly was intended to discredit Paul – I mean, you’re digging at the bottom of the slime barrel whenever the KKK is involved (I once knew a guy that tried to use a KKK affiliation to libel a fellow employee; it got an immediate and vile reaction from everyone involved … but that’s a different story); the quote was from an HBU political science professor, and I’m sure they had another 10 minutes or more of him on tape, so plenty of other quotes could have been used instead

Now, if Paul would alter his positions on abortion and immigration a bit …

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kevin

I'm the founder and president of Agoric Source, LLC, co-organizer of the Houston Python Meetup, and active board member of several local non-profit organizations, including Ten Thousand Villages Houston, the Houston Area Model United Nations, and the Weekley Family YMCA. I'm first and foremost still a software hacker, but with my economics background and business experience, I serve well as a project or program manager, technical visionary, etc. I'm opinionated, but hopefully reasonable so. My blog is just a chance for me to keep up with my writing skills, and expound upon various technology and policy subjects. I especially try to keep up with the Houston software community.