Journalistic Objectivity

Romy Koo, Editor

Information gives people leverage to have autonomy over their lives. Unfortunately, information does not reach every sector of society—or rather, truth is not a universal resource. In a world of affinity-based media, it has proved to be a challenge for readers to discern correct representations of what’s happening from distorted versions. This challenge highlights the need for the practice of journalism objectivity. Amid the growing influence of opinionated reporting creating echo chambers, journalism needs to go back to a modified version of the tradition.

The concept of “objectivity” was introduced to the field of journalism in the 1920s. People discovered unconscious bias in articles and agreed that humans are not objective machines; we all viewed the world through individual subjective lenses. Acknowledging the subjective nature of human beings, journalists adopted the idea of objectivity as the need to utilize objective methods of reporting to offset reporters’ unconscious bias. Objectivity doesn’t mean that journalists aim at complete impartiality; rather, it indicates their inability to be without bias. As media critic Tom Rosenstiel says in one of his tweets, “to understand objectivity’s true meaning, think of transparency of method and discipline of verification.” [1]

Objectivity is a value upheld by mainstream news organizations, such as the New York Times and the Washington Post. In a New York Times opinion column Is Glenn Greenwald the Future of News?, Bill Keller, a previous columnist of the New York Times, describes the NYT as a publication that adheres to aggressive and impartial reporting, with reporters who keep their opinions to themselves unless they write opinion pieces. [2] Such journalism often produces more credible outputs. For example, when the government told the NYT to stop publishing the Pentagon Papers due to national security, the NYT disagreed and published nonetheless. Bill Keller believes such impartial reporting is beneficial to society because they only provide the information people need to know to arrive at conclusions of their own. [3] 

Such objectivity practiced by many news venues, however, is heavily criticized as it gives rise to “Bothsidesism.” Bothsidesism occurs as journalists misinterpret objectivity as “neutrality”. In order to truly understand the modern system of journalism, it is crucial to draw a line between objectivity and neutrality. By definition, neutrality means “the state of not supporting or helping either side in a conflict, and disagreement.” [4] Neutral reporting thus tends to avoid declarative statements about what is true. Journalists dodge blame by giving both sides equal treatment and finding balance, regardless of what actually happened. Neutrality also encourages irresponsible behavior among politicians who know they can hide behind newspapers’ neutrality.

As opposed to the faction in support of objectivity, others have deviated from the traditional path and attempted a rather revolutionary, opinionated approach. The United States’ history of crusading journalism highlights how aggressive and passionate journalism brought about milestone reforms. An advocate of such subjective journalism, Glenn Greenwald claims that the only standard for journalism should be accuracy and reliability, not objectivity. There is no point in trying to conceal their opinions; all reporting inevitably contains certain viewpoints and being open and honest about them helps readers recognize bias. Attempting to put up an objective façade makes it easier for reporters to distort facts to support their political values. As the muckrakers had in the progressive era, modern-day partisan reporters have also made major accomplishments, such as Edward Snowden’s revelations of the National Security Agency and have now established themselves as another form of journalism accepted by the public.

Every piece of journalism has its flaws since they are created by flawed humans. Similarly, articles that aim at objectivity can never be perfectly objective, but that doesn’t mean journalists should give up trying. Subjective journalism tends to be too declarative and decisive. It provides a fixed frame of viewing an unconcluded story, and readers are passively swept along. But journalism isn’t about telling the people what to think. Journalism is meant to provide the truth, not different versions of facts. Subjective journalism might be factually accurate, but substantially untrue. It is up to the individual readers to draw conclusions from the objectively provided information. 

As Glenn Greenwald and Tom Rosenstiel had both acknowledged, humans are innately subjective creatures, and objective journalists are also capable of omitting facts to frame the story in ways to defend their subjective viewpoints. The side-by-side comparison articles from various publications can fill in the gaps the others left open; readers can see the bigger picture. Therefore, in order to take a step closer to truth, readers can break out of their echo chambers and actively read outside their boundaries.

To make amends for the humane, inherent defect of subjectivity, journalists can declare their biases. Knowledge of the possible liberal or conservative bias of an article can help readers exclude the bias inside their heads when absorbing information and make educated judgements. Also, regardless of what kind of journalism one pursues, journalists must continuously think about what it means to be a journalist. They should resist falling into the habit of compromising with reality, whether that be pressure from authorities, and feel the weight of disseminating news to the whole country.

[1] @TomRosenstiel (Tom Rosenstiel). “To understand objectivity’s true meaning, think of transparency of method and discipline of verification.” Twitter, 24 June 2020,

[2] Keller, Bill. “Is Glenn Greenwald the Future of News?” New York Times, 27 Oct. 2013,

[3] Ibid.

[4] “neutrality.” Oxford, 2021. Web.