Is objective journalism possible?

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I think it is possible to approach objectivity in journalism. It is an ideal worth working towards, even though it may not be ultimately attained. The discipline affects the content in beneficial ways.

But I would not define “evaluations” as being journalism. Reviews and criticism seem to me to more resemble forms of “editorial” writing.


I think this is the best possible distinction. Objective journalism is certainly possible, if you are reporting events in the middle east you can essentially list a series of events and in most cases not be biased (unless you are omitting details that can provide context).

Game reviews are definitely editorial and should be treated like such. Someone (I think Destructoid) did a 100% objective game review, and it was just a list of features (audio, graphics, etc.). It was pretty useless (which was the point). Find a review written by someone that shares your values (Feminist perspective, I just wanna play a shooter, etc.) and you’ll probably find it a better indicator of how you will enjoy the game.

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[quote=“popobawa4u, post:2, topic:61132, full:true”]
It is an ideal worth working towards, even though it may not be ultimately attained. The discipline affects the content in beneficial ways.[/quote]

The ideal of objectivity also has some very negative effects.

It has turned balance into a false god. In order to appear neutral, journalists routinely approach stories as struggles between two sides, even when there are more than two (e.g. political alignments in the U.S.) or fewer (climate change).

The easiest way to appear objective is to stick to the facts. When journalists introduce criticism or context, they risk being accused of bias. One way this manifests is a focus on reporting on events (e.g. a heat wave) rather than analysis of larger phenomena (e.g. climate change). Another is the habit of quoting officials without challenging what they say: regardless of its truth, an official claim is fact in the sense that the official said it.

All of this leads journalists to privilege the powerful in their reporting, to focus on events rather than trends, to write stories that amount to he-said-she-said. But the appearance of objectivity masks bias. It makes it easy to exclude alternative views while creating the appearance that there is only one true frame for understanding the world. The world of objectivity is the world of Thatcher’s TINA, a world in which often There Is No Alternative.

Journalists present themselves as objective because it serves their interests. It is part of their self identity and status as professionals. It helps media companies avoid accusations of bias. And it is cheap: reporting facts and quotes in isolation is far less time consuming than performing a long-term investigation.

Gamergate is but an extreme example. Journalists, audiences and regulators have all come to demand objectivity. More particularly, they demand the appearance of objectivity, even if doing so actually introduces bias - and masks that bias.

When you look at journalists who have become heroes, I think you will find that they took a stand. It wasn’t their objectivity that made them great. It was their criticism. And that came from them as individuals, from some substantial subjective perspective, not from the imagined rational no-place of objectivity.

Sustaining Democracy? Journalism and the Politics of Objectivity by Hackett and Zhao is a good but dry book on the topic.


I think it’s well established that objective reviews are possible:

Seriously though, I don’t think people demanding “objective” reviews think games are dishwashers - they’re just too dumb to have thought about it at all. Raised on out-of-ten reviews broken down by graphics, sound, gameplay, etc., they probably think that breaking a review down into enough components and giving it a series of numerical scores is “objective.”

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I think the article also misses the point that ‘objective’ for many would simply mean ‘not bought and paid for.’ I don’t need the critic to be an emotionless robot, I just don’t want them to be a shill.


I’m going with no. I always preferred the honest, “yes, I’m a biased human being” approach, rather than the “I’m an objective lens” approach to… well, anything really. It’s the hubris of the notion that one can ever fully rise above our selves in such a way as to remain objective, that’s hard to come to terms with for many. While I think that attempting to be objective migh seem like the right path, I think all that ends up doing is further muddying the waters, and make one appear to be less objective in the long run.

Yes, this. It was the drive for balance that has ruined reporting on NPR. It used to serve a real public good, but now it’s just watered down in its attempt to be “balanced” in fear of losing the pittance received from the government.

This is the worst. A good journalist should constantly challenge all notions in front of them, even if they don’t come to any firm conclusions.

I think you’re right, but people on the right, who swear by fox don’t think their media is bought and paid for, nor do those who see themselves on the left, who don’t think MSNBC is bought and paid for.


Isn’t a review, at it’s heart, not about objective criteria, but about the reviewers subjective view of a work of art/media/culture? Even something seemingly objective, like graphics or sound, can have different effects on different people, therefore cause a different reaction in each individual. I can’t really watch movies, etc, that are from the POV of a handheld camera, because of the shaky camera work, which makes me nauseous. but there are tons of found footage films that people seem to love… My inability to watch them without taking Dramamine doesn’t make them bad movies, artistically, it just means I can’t watch them.

I don’t’ think pointing out issues like broken down graphics really rises to the level of a review… Isn’t that more just a fact? I think it would be mentioned in a review, but the review itself would go into other things, too, right? Just saying “this aspect of the game is glitchy, and needs to be fixed” isn’t much of a review and not what’s expected.


Except that the people who keep screaming for “objectivity” have actually made it 100% clear that they WANT major companies to buy and pay for journalism and have previously said they see nothing wrong with companies pulling out ads after negative reviews, and they’re completely against any other funding method.


[quote=“beschizza, post:1, topic:61132”]At Medium, Jay Allen deconstructs the demand for “objective game journalism” sometimes found among those uncomfortable with their hobby’s growing status as an art form. […] The belief that games (or movies, or books, or anything else) can be evaluated by objective criteria perhaps strikes you as laughable.[/quote]Hmm. Was there a time when critics started reviewing something like, oh, IKB 191 and were accused of taking kickbacks or otherwise of being “unobjective” ?

I find myself willing to believe that such works have some sort of appeal that I lack the proper training to fully grasp, mostly because the alternative is that there are just that many people out there who are bonkers.

Perhaps, but in your following paragraphs you seem to conflate “the ideal of objectivity” with “the appearance of objectivity”, which could be seen as the two extremes of an objectivity continuum. If I needed to state a concise feature which I thought characterized objectivity, I would say this tends to be evidence. There does not seem to be any objective reason for assuming one source of evidence to be especially authoritative, in exclusion of other relevant evidence. Trends, as you mention, can certainly be evidence that something newsworthy is happening. I’d argue that this is the test of meaningful versus superficial objectivity - where’s the evidence? If there is a reliance upon weasel words and appeals to authority, then there are likely underlying biases to be examined. If there are numerous perspectives, and even sources cited for further research, then I’d say that somebody is at least trying. The only failure is for people to believe what they read without thinking about it. And no, polarizing everything into pairs of opposing perspectives tends to be anything but objective, it’s the stuff of obvious ideology.

Hardly! Offering the best available evidence does not implicitly offer a regressive authoritarian payload.

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It is not possible or even desirable to have objective journalism either. Journalism is the first draft of history, and there is no such animal as a true history. You only have your choice of lies or at least distortions.

What you’re describing would be a first draft chronicle. A chronicle is a list of events, whereas a history links those events into a causal narrative. Even mere chronicles always distort the truth, since the writer has to decide which events are worthy of being recorded. Modern archaeology has discovered massive famines and plagues that went unrecorded in the chronicles of the time since they didn’t make a great difference in court life.

Would your objective journalist record that time an Israeli teenager got ice cream with a Palestinian teenager? Or when they later got married? Or would she merely record that their child was killed in the latest attack?


Exactly. Humans can never be objective, but we can certainly claim to be objective. What that means in real terms is, “my point of view is fact, not opinion, and all who disagree are simply wrong.” To be objective would be to perceive everything perfectly, to have no opinions, to be… omniscient, maybe. Funny how the ones who claim to be objective always seem to be atheists.

The suggestion that by “objective” people mean “not corrupt” is interesting. The term is usually meant specifically to refer the journalistic impartiality of the editorial voice, not to the presumptive ethical landscape of the writer’s agenda. But of course you can talk of editorial objectivity in ethical terms, and we do.

The people doing the complaining, however, have such a weak grasp on the issues they’re complaining about (and the peculiarity of their own preferences) that it all seems the same thing to them: if an uncorrupted journalist’s work is described as ‘objective’, does that mean that ‘subjective’ work is inherently corrupt? Why YES, obviously.


One book that I use for my US survey is Zinn’s A people’s history. I dont’ use it because it presents a progressive point of view, which it certainly does. I use it because Zinn was very honest about his biases and views. He says it in the first chapter that he’s biased towards people who have experienced oppression in the US. But the fact that he lays out his biases is important, because most text books do not do that, but are indeed imagined to be authoratative, and settled history. Which they, of course, are not…


I think this is a problem on both sides of these issues, TBH, but atheists are often speaking from a scientific POV, which they argue is more objective in nature, but it’s a question whether it is or not. I don’t agree with that, nor do I assume that I have some sort of lock on reality because I’m an agnostic… Religious people do this as well, however. It’s part of the reason that they can’t come to terms often (although they do through organizations like Americans United for the Separation of church and state, which include both religious folks and atheists.


The thing that gets my goat is the 99.997% :slight_smile: of science stories that use some shill as a counter to established scientific orthodoxy – the sort of article that would give Jenny McCarthy equal time to a CDC expert in pursuit of some myopic notion of objectivity.


We can’t all hope to reach the lofty heights of objectivity that fox news occupies


For you, objectivity may mean faithfulness to evidence. But that’s an abstraction: to actually be (or try to be) objective, journalists have to decide what to do. For them, objectivity means a specific set of professional practices - the “discipline” you mention in your first comment.

As it happens, those practices are fairly specific: things like balance, respect for official sources and reserving criticism. Indeed, for some time balance was established in U.S. government policy in the form of the Fairness Doctrine. The objectivity we have is not the only possible one; it developed over time in response to particular needs of the people involved.

You say I conflate the appearance of objectivity with the ideal. But objectivity is what people think it is. Another understanding of objectivity, entailing different practices, might be better from some particular point of view (e.g. yours or mine), but it is not the one the field of journalism has chosen. If you claim you have an objective position from which you can say your definition is right and theirs is wrong, then we fall down a rabbit hole of recursive justifications.

Defining objectivity in terms of evidence, in effect making of journalism a science, has its own problems. Science itself is not objective, as Thomas Kuhn explains. The question of which evidence counts cannot be resolved by the scientific method itself. It can only be found through discussion and debate: through people representing particular points of view. This is why we speak of a climate change consensus: because in the end, consensus is the best we can do.

The illusion that we can get beyond this: that we can really establish once and for all which evidence is best and the boundaries for reasonable debate is exactly what TINA means. In that case, the point was to exclude neoliberalism from political debate: we can’t debate it, because the reasoning that compels it is objectively sound, and neoliberalism was objectively necessary. Take away that confidence and we are left with the chaos of differing subjective perspectives which must confront each other, each trying to assert for itself the mantle of truth and necessity.


Even if it were possible, objective journalism would probably be too boring for those of us reared in the era of infotainment.

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