Here Are the Things You Need to Know About Objectivity and Fairness

Keep Your Own Opinions Out Of The Story

Cameraman shooting TV show
mediaphotos/E+/Getty Images

You hear it all the time – reporters should be objective and fair. Some news organizations even use these terms in their slogans, claiming that they are more “fair and balanced” than their competitors. But what is objectivity?

Objectivity

Objectivity means that when covering hard news, reporters don’t convey their own feelings, biases or prejudices in their stories. They accomplish this by writing stories using a language that is neutral and avoids characterizing people or institutions in ways good or bad.

But for the beginning reporter accustomed to writing personal essays or journal entries, it can be hard to do this. One trap beginning reporters fall into is the frequent use of adjectives. Adjectives can easily convey one’s feelings about a subject.

Example:

The intrepid protesters demonstrated against the unjust government policies.

Just by using the words “intrepid” and “unjust” the writer has quickly conveyed his feelings on the story – the protesters are brave and just in their cause, the government policies are wrong. For this reason, hard-news reporters usually avoid using adjectives in their stories.

Fairness

Fairness means that reporters covering a story must remember there are usually two sides – and often more – to most issues, and that those differing viewpoints should be given roughly equal space in any news story.

Let’s say the local school board is debating whether to ban certain books from the school libraries.

Many residents representing both sides of the issue are there.

The reporter may have strong feelings about the subject. Nevertheless, he should interview citizens who support the ban, and those who oppose it. And when he writes his story, he should convey both arguments in a neutral language, giving both sides roughly equal space.

A Reporter’s Conduct

Objectivity and fairness apply not only to how a reporter writes about an issue, but to how he conducts himself in public. A reporter must not only be objective and fair but also convey an image of being objective and fair.

At the school board forum, the reporter may do his best to interview people from both sides of the argument. But if, in the middle of the meeting, he stands up and starts spouting his own opinions on the book ban then his credibility is shattered. No one will believe he can be fair and objective once they know where he stands.

The moral of the story? Keep your opinions to yourself. You can find a reporter’s code of conduct here.

A Few Caveats

There are a few caveats to remember when considering objectivity and fairness. First, such rules apply to reporters covering hard news, not to the columnist writing for the op-ed page, or the movie critic working for the arts section.

Second, remember that ultimately, reporters are in search of the truth. And while objectivity and fairness are important, a reporter shouldn’t let them get in the way of finding the truth.

Let’s say you’re a reporter covering the final days of World War II, and are following the Allied forces as they liberate the concentration camps.

You enter one such camp and witness hundreds of gaunt, emaciated people and piles of dead bodies.

Do you, in an effort to be objective, interview an American soldier to talk about how horrific this is, then interview a Nazi official to get the other side of the story? Of course not. Clearly, this is a place where evil acts have been committed, and it’s your job as a reporter to convey that truth.

In other words, use objectivity and fairness as tools to find the truth.

Return to 10 Steps For Producing The Perfect News Story

Follow me on Facebook , Twitter or Google Plus , and sign up for my journalism newsletter.