The transition produced one casualty ― staff writer Jonathan Springston ― who, after four years with APN, was fired for refusing to write non-objective stories. While APN, with its small staff and simple website, may not be a dominant player in the sphere of news, it is among a growing number of grassroots sources of news openly waving banners of partiality.
The move toward partisan news smacks in the face of long-standing ethical guidelines established by professional journalism organizations. The Radio Television Digital News Association (RTDNA), in its Code of Ethics and Professional Conduct, encourages reporters to "vigorously resist undue influence from any outside forces, including advertisers, sources, story subjects, powerful individuals, and special interest groups."
Ironically, politically-influenced, biased news content is responsible for the high ratings of some news organizations today. The success of right-leaning FOX News Channel and the left-leaning MSNBC Network, has given courage to news managers, like Cardinale, to step out from behind the curtain of impartiality.
Cardinale, who believes that there is no such thing as objective news, says the mainstream media tries to appear objective, "but is actually skewed towards promoting the corporate agenda of the ultra-wealthy." He goes on to say that, while APN may not be objective, it is "fair."
I wondered, is it possible for a journalist to be non-objective and, at the same time, fair? I think not. In the context of news, the word "fair," according to the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ), means to "present the news impartially, placing primary value on significance and relevance." Given that definition, FOX News' trademark phrase of "Fair and Balanced" may seem disingenuous.
Two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, Walter Lippman, a forceful voice for objectivity, was concerned about the subjectivity of reporting and felt that journalists needed a major makeover. Lippman felt that, in order for reporters to properly do their jobs, they needed more skills and expert knowledge. Joseph Pulitzer, publisher of the St. Louis Dispatch and the New York World, agreed, and, in 1912, established a school of journalism at Columbia University in New York City.
Lippman, who sought to establish journalism as a "profession," advocated legislation to make false documentation illegal, and supported the creation of a non-partisan news agency, and non-partisan research institutes. He believed so much in the importance of objectivity that he withdrew his membership from the American Newspaper Guild when it endorsed a series of political resolutions. He looked to the scientific model for a solution because he felt science was disciplined ― "a unity of method rather than of aim."
While the methods of scientists may be useful to journalists, some scientists don't find the methods of journalism useful to science. There are scientists who say that journalism's practice of "objectivity" is unfair. This issue is most problematic for climate change scientists who feel that the two-sided "objective" coverage offered by news people on the subject of global warming distorts the truth of the issue.
Dr. Gavin Schmidt, a senior research scientist at the Center for Climate Systems Research at the Earth Institute, says that he often feels frustration when reading news articles or watching television news programs in which the opinion of an established scientist is given equal weight ― the same number of printed quotes or length of sound bytes ― as a non-expert opinionated naysayer.
Schmidt says that 99.9% of the world's scientists are in agreement on the facts of global warming, leaving few experts to disagree over the issue. So, in the effort of reporters to seek out 'balance' for their stories, Schmidt says they often end up turning to discredited scientists, political action leaders with agendas, or "man-on-the-street" talking heads ― none of whom studied evidence, or know the scientific facts about global warming, but whose opinions are cast on par with that of an expert scientist. This, Schmidt says, is when "balanced" truly isn't balanced.
Can true objectivity, then, exist? Time Magazine founder, Henry Luce, said, "Show me a man who thinks he's objective and I'll show you a man who's deceiving himself." He may have a point, given that journalists are people who come from diverse backgrounds, and life experiences. However, striving to remain objective is the only way for the media to remain independent. Otherwise, news would merely be propaganda.
Back in his office, at the Atlanta Progressive News, Matthew Cardinale has revamped the website to reflect APN's new progressive editorial policy. The firing of Jonathan Springston elicited a flurry of comments on other blogs to which Cardinale felt the need to respond. Springston was let go, Cardinale explained, because "He held onto the notion that there was an objective reality that could be reported objectively." Bloggers fired back:
Despite the proliferation of partisan news, there are thousands of reporters, editors, and journalism school students struggling to provide fairness, accuracy, and balance in what they report. They struggle toward objectivity, difficult as that may be. As most writers know, it is easier to tackle a familiar subject than an unfamiliar one ― people are more likely to become partial to things with which they are familiar. But, the cream rises to the top and true journalists will take the more difficult road.
Stephan Barry, a journalism professor at Iowa State and contributor to Harvard Neiman Reports, writes, "The pursuit of objectivity is what separates us from our audience and from pseudo-journalists. Rather than cower to those who would use objectivity as a cudgel against us, we should reclaim it, use it, and reveal how we pursue it. More importantly, for the future, we should teach it." ✿