Why I’m abandoning objectivity (in posts on social media)

My posts over the past month have been an admittedly half-baked analysis of what I wish I’d known before reporting for the Missourian and rosy accounts of what it’s been like studying abroad so far. This one is different.

Over the past year and a half’s rocky political and social climate, and especially since the election of our current president, I’ve felt angry, devastated, scared, defiant and, most of all, frustrated. Frustrated at my inability to speak out against blatant human rights violations, in both intention and policy — all because I’m a journalism student.

This isn’t about me holding a liberal slant — I’m tired of hiding my perspective behind a thin veil of “objectivity.” It is exhausting to be told to keep quiet when the very identities of yourself and those you love are under attack — specifically female identities, LGBTQ+ identities and the identities of people of color.

I recently had a conversation with some fellow journalism students in which we lamented not being able to take any type of serious position on anything because we could be perceived as “biased.”

Unfortunately for those who hold journalists to this un-biased standard, it’s simply not possible. Implicit biases have just as much impact on those sitting at a computer filing a story as they do on someone in uniform deciding whether or not to shoot.

Implicit biases exist within everyone. This means that I will never be fully objective, and I’m not going to pretend to want to live up to this standard of objectivity, either.

Because when I am asked to be “objective” at the expense of not standing up for the basic human rights of refugees, for legal U.S. citizens stranded in their countries of origin, for those who would be powerless without the privileged standing up for them, I lose my passion for reporting, for journalism, for claiming to be a voice for others at all.

With strict objectivity, journalism loses its teeth. Even more, it loses its mouth and voice altogether. I’m encouraged by publications like The Guardian and The New York Times that have stopped pretending Donald Trump is a mere sheep in wolves’ clothing.

It just so happens that I’m in a different country as Trump has begun dismantling much of what I hold dear about the U.S., which makes me feel extra powerless. If I can’t intelligently condemn the latest human rights atrocity carried out by the Trump administration on Facebook or Twitter without my entire body of work being called into question, I’d rather not be in this industry at all.

The idea of objectivity is outdated. Let’s go for transparency instead.

(For anyone feeling I’m on the wrong track with this one, please express your views to me or to my international reporting professor Gareth Harding, who planted the seed for this post.)

4 thoughts on “Why I’m abandoning objectivity (in posts on social media)”

  1. Hi Hannah!

    I’ve had many of the same thoughts as you. I’ve watched fellow classmates, colleagues and friends be personally impacted by the actions of the Trump administration, and it hurts that I can’t do more to help them except tell their stories.

    Social media has certainly been mentally draining these past few weeks, and maybe I’ll do one of those social media breaks. We give up a lot in journalism— participating in protests, cheering for sports teams, making long opinionated posts, etc.—but I think if we continue to practice our profession by the standards and ethics we were taught, giving up those things is a small price to pay if we end up bettering society through the work we do.

    I hope you’re having a great time in Brussels! It certainly seems like it.

    1. I don’t disagree with you at all, Tyler. I’m not giving up on ethics, especially in my reporting. I’m simply saying we as professionals should allow ourselves some self-discretion when it comes to social media. I’m not suggesting being reckless, not in the slightest. But let’s maybe loosen the reins a bit on behalf of humanity?

      1. I’ve drafted several tweets over the past few weeks and ultimately decided not to publish them because of that “objective” line of thinking. I certainly think it’s something the industry needs to address. Journalists should be able to express themselves, but I think there’s this fear it might lead to a loss of credibility with the public. I think we should be able to find a balance between objectivity/subjectivity though.

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