Given that this is my first blog, I kept the search engine block on for a while until I found my voice. I didn’t think I was there yet and so before I went public I showed it to friends and family to get some feedback. The most common advice I received was to “make it more personal”, “put more of yourself out there” and this, which only a family member would write:
People are interested in hearing what a foreign (Canadian) journalist of the highest calibre thinks about all this and about the experience of becoming a web journalist.
For someone who’s spent decades working in mainstream television news, telling people what I think is just….well, difficult. When I was a reporter and later a senior producer at CBC National News, I didn’t wear buttons, sign petitions, attend rallies, plant signs on my lawn, talk to pollsters, ring up talk shows or tell people outside family and close friends how I vote. I was extremely careful about expressing my personal views on matters in the news, especially on hot button topics such as abortion or gun control. The fear was that a personal opinion could lead to charges of bias against the news organization, which would have been egregious, especially when I worked at the CBC, Canada’s publicly funded broadcaster. Then, and now, the CBC adheres strictly to the principles in its Journalistic Standards and Practices policy:
We provide professional judgment based on facts and expertise. We do not promote any particular point of view on matters of public debate. The trust of the public is our most valued asset. We avoid putting ourselves in real or potential conflict of interest. This is essential to our credibility.
Not only am I struggling to write publicly from a personal perspective but I’m trying to rationalize the online notion that objectivity, because it is elusive in its purist sense, is passé and that “transparency is the new objectivity“. I’m not sure I buy it. Intellectually, I understand the theory but I don’t think the world is better served if we abandon en masse the notion of fair journalism based on telling all sides of the story.
It was with some dismay that I read the recent derision in the online community over National Public Radio’s (NPR) decision to remind staff that they could not attend political rallies hosted by comedians Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert. As a mainstream news organization that endeavours to present all sides of a story, NPR was merely reminding employees to adhere to its long-standing ethics policy to avoid situations that could reasonably lead to allegations that the network is biased.
It led to an online dust-up with well-known American blogger Jeff Jarvis who says telling reporters to conceal their viewpoints is a lie of omission and went further to admonish NPR with this: “It is time to get off the fucking pedestal and return to the streets”.
It is interesting to compare the Jarvis post to another recent piece about objectivity and TV profits written by Ted Koppel in the Washington Post who makes this observation:
….we are no longer a national audience receiving news from a handful of trusted gatekeepers; we’re now a million or more clusters of consumers, harvesting information from like-minded providers.
Will the abandonment of objectivity for transparency lead to the “death of real news” as Koppel states or is it the future of news in the world according to Jeff Jarvis? I wish I knew the answer.