“There are three sides to every story: your side, my side, and the truth. And no one is lying. Memories shared serve each differently.” – Robert Evans
A May submission to The Chronicle of Higher Education’s Newsletter, The Review, asks if objectivity is a problem for journalists.
The “appearance” of objectivity versus maintaining balance has been a long-debated subject for those working in media, and it should be.
Ethically, reporters, producers, anchors, and anyone else who is a member of the media should strive for unbiased reporting. Keyword: strive.
A person’s background, upbringing, values, and beliefs will always play a part in how they experience the world.
Many people watch network news organizations like ABC, NBC, and CBS. Others prefer cable channels like FOX or MSNBC. People who experience the world differently have different preferences in how they want the news delivered.
You could show two viewers from opposite sides of life the same story, and each person would take away an insight that the other did not.
The same is true for journalists on-scene during a criminal investigation, or in the city council chambers during a meeting. Each outlet’s reporter may focus on a different angle for their story.
Objectivity comes into play from the very moment something newsworthy happens. Whoever is on scene at a breaking news event might talk to different sources; see and report different details. That doesn’t make the other details false but leaving them out could risk the balance of the story.
When interviewing subjects and editing a story for broadcast or publication, journalists must practice due diligence. It’s an ethical rule for journalists to always reach out for comment from the parties mentioned in their story and give them ample time to respond before deadline. However, they do not always get a response.
Many companies defer to saying, “No comment,” or simply ignore all requests for an interview or statement. This is not in their best interest and makes it near impossible for a story to have balance when one side of the aisle doesn’t want to contribute.
I can think of multiple times in my career as a journalist when an organization striving to keep something “hush-hush” refused to provide me an interview or a statement regarding an issue. I was still tasked with producing the story regardless, so I had to get MOS (Man-On-Street) opinions from folks who knew little to nothing on the issue.
This is a frequent practice in news, to do “reaction” stories when the people in midst of crisis don’t want to talk. It just furthers their problems when they think it’ll go away.
A journalist’s job is to report the facts, but the less there are to work with, the more room there is for interpretation. The media can only report what has been confirmed, and that depends on who is willing to talk.
For the best possible outcomes, PR professionals and leaders need to start getting more comfortable sharing their side of the story with the media.
Their behind-the-scenes perspective makes a dramatic difference in the angles a reporter can take with their story. My advice? Always take the interview. In the rare circumstances that one isn’t advantageous, follow-up with a clear, concise statement. Never ignore the request.
Understandably, talking to the media can be stressful, especially in times of crisis. That’s why every organization needs to have annual media training.
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