Subjective & Objective Parts of Journalism
Objective journalism reports the facts and places them in context. Subjective journalism, which has been re-branded as advocacy journalism, reports news from an intentionally biased viewpoint to promote a position. That position can be political ideology, social values or positions that directly benefit the newscaster or news agency.
Walter Cronkite was voted the most trusted man in America in 1972. His ability to report news with depth and insight without applying his own personal bias was the trademark of his career. He was the original “fair and balanced” news reporter. His work was thorough, he was fully prepared and he was unafraid to ask tough questions of politicians and government officials, regardless of their political leaning or party. Objective journalism follows similar guidelines to give an unbiased understanding to their audience.
Subjective Advocacy Journalism
The popularity of Oprah Winfrey and daytime talk television programs may have initiated the return of advocacy journalism. Subjective reporting unashamedly weaves personal beliefs and motivations into news broadcasts. Ideas that were once restricted to the “letters to the editor” pages are now often found on the front page headlines. Advocacy journalists support their slant on the news on the basis of defending people or positions and giving voice to those who have no voice outside of their journalism reports.
News vs. Propaganda
Successful journalism organizations pursue both sets of priorities and are able to distinguish between the two. Journalists should objectively evaluate news and give their audience context and an understanding of the events. Journalists in the United States have a long history of protecting the “little guy” from the reach of the rich and powerful. But when news organizations use this power to influence public opinion and public behavior to financially favor themselves, the line between quality reporting and propaganda becomes blurred. Examples of news organizations that can report the same news from two completely different points of view are Fox News and MSNBC.
Truth and Trust
“Objectivity is seeing the world as it is, not how you wish it were,” said Michael Bugeja of Iowa State University's journalism school. Cronkite agreed. “We all have prejudices," he said, "but we also understand how to set them aside when we do the job.” When their audiences expect to hear truth, facts and context, news organizations take risks when they choose advocacy journalism. The news organization runs the risk of earning the reputation of a propaganda outlet rather than a reputable news organization. The public's trust is broken when truth is confused with personal, political or social agendas.
Since 2003, Timothy Burns' writing has appeared in magazines, management and leadership papers. He has contributed to nationally published books and he leads the Word Weavers of West Michigan writers' group. Burns wrote "Forged in the Fire" in 2004, and has published numerous articles online. As a trained conference speaker, Burns speaks nationally on the art, science and inspiration of freelance writing.