Objective Journalism Is A High Bar And Difficult To Maintain.

One of the “rules” of photojournalism and journalism is to remain neutral. Reporting on events, one needs to retain the understanding that there are always two or more sides to a story. I don’t always reach this bar. Stories that involve harm or hurt to others get my sidedness stirred. I know that and am not proud of it.

A colleague and I have discussions on this often. I recall going to several college football games to cover the games. They have some hard and fast rules about sideline behavior. No cheering, no rooting for a team, no team sportswear. The expectation was clear that you shoot both teams and cover the event and not a team. That is the standard I try to maintain in my reporting. Like I said, I don’t always achieve it.

After this last weeks game, I was, as a friend would say, all in my feelings. I recalled a radio discussion about President Obama using what he called thought experiments. Basically changing the details of the debate slightly, and then monitoring the changes. So before writing, I changed one of the teams to a far away team and thought how I would cover that game. It was different, I would have been more balanced and less reactive.

Three years ago, I was called upon to write up local games, and frankly, I was at a loss, I had only written up tennis in high school (a horror I still can visualize). I have been doing photojournalism for about 5 years, and feel much stronger in that. But I accepted the challenge. I have grown much since then, and have a long way to go. Many more errors to make.

My point? I think there are only two ways to rid my subjective nature about stories. 1. Write only about stories outside of the community where I live, or 2, write and strive to be that neutral party who serves as the eyes and ears of my readers.

I would like to have thought that I was pretty good at being objective in my reporting, this past two weeks has shown me come cracks in that nice aged exterior of mine. While it is okay for fans to be sided, and cheer for their home team, that is not the privilege of the reporter. How did I learn this? I watched my mentor and editor appear from the far side of the field, and when I mentioned that he had missed a big play, he explained he had been on the other side of the field the whole time. He saw it from a different angle. He had no stake in either team winning. He was objective. I was acutely aware at that moment, I was not.

Thank Goodness this is not a one-off type of process, I have time and stories to improve upon.

“I’ve read a lot of my bad reviews, and the good “bad reviews,” written by the more talented critics, are constructive. They reveal to me what did translate in my work, what came across, what was seen, or what wasn’t. I don’t obsess on the unfavorable aspect of their review, but I do seek what I can learn from it — Because their displeasure actually uncovers and makes more apparent what I do well, what I am successful at… and then I dissect that.” – Matthew McConaughey

Categories: Editor Thoughts

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