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Executive Report - By Thomas Baekdal - June 2020

Defining journalistic objectivity: Being biased towards the facts

Over the past weeks, many people in the media have discussed how to cover #BlackLivesMatter, COVID-19 and things like climate change without showing bias. But we keep talking about it in the wrong way.

In the media industry we have developed a 'group-think' where we will insist on not being biased, or to only talk about bias in terms of political leanings.

I bet that most of you, when thinking about objectivity, think about it as 'we should not focus on a specific side of things, but just bring people the information'.

For instance, in a recent (and very good) interview between Mathew Ingram and Amanda Darrach, Mathew asked this:

That brings me to a sort of related question about covering protests, which is about how much journalists should allow themselves to sympathize with or identify with - or promote - the issues behind the protests. This seems to have reignited a lot of ongoing debates around objectivity and whether it can or should exist as a staple of journalism. What do you think?

I understand what he (and many others) are saying here, but this is not the way we should talk about this. The problem is that they are defining journalistic objectivity in comparison to a political spectrum.

Like this:

One very simple example of this is to look at climate change. In the US, we have one side of the political spectrum saying that climate change isn't real and that it's all just a hoax invented by China ... and on the other side of the political spectrum, we have people saying that climate change is real, and pointing to the work of scientists.

As a newspaper, to then place yourself in the middle of those two views, and report about each from a 'neutral ground' is not just wrong, but incredibly disrespectful to your readers.

So, we need to talk about objectivity in a completely different way. Journalism is not something we place in between two opposing political sides. In fact, journalism should not be defined politically at all. It should not be to either side, nor should it be in the middle. It should not be anywhere near this political scale.

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Thomas Baekdal

Founder, media analyst, author, and publisher. Follow on Twitter

"Thomas Baekdal is one of Scandinavia's most sought-after experts in the digitization of media companies. He has made ​​himself known for his analysis of how digitization has changed the way we consume media."
Swedish business magazine, Resumé


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