Yesterday, I spend half the day on a train. I went down to Cork for a journalism conference and was pleasantly surprised. I wasn’t expecting very much but with some big names and wonderful speakers it really was very good. Most excitingly for me, I met some interesting people.
With many captivating subjects up for debate it gave me much food for thought and ten pages of notes scribbled into my pad. One of the big topics that kept coming up, was one close to my heart, OBJECTIVITY and the need for it. Two of the speakers were at odds about this and one is a large figure in the world of Irish media. His name is John Waters, an Irish Times Columnist, and unsurprisingly he said that there is no such thing as objectivity and everyone should write from their own perspective.
Mr Waters is know for his unorthodox opinions, his love for his own ideas and ranting and raving about what ever seems to tickle his fancy. Knowing all this it was predictable to hear him state that “we are all protagonists” and that this should be reflected in our writing. He went on to say that journalism has nothing to do with reports, which are objective and purely factual. Sadly for him he completely overlooked that the name REPORTER comes from report, meaning to give an account/statement about a situation or event. However the most frighting thing about Mr Waters is that he is actually TEACHING people who want to become journalists, and his complete disregard for the difference between NEWS and OPINION, makes me shudder to think about what kind of journalists his “mini-mes” are going to be.
Thankfully he had a lot of opposition by actual reporters, mainly the enlightening Irish Times Foreign Affairs Correspondent Mary Fitzgerald. As someone who has been all over the world, reporting back from war zones and crises areas she knows the value in staying objective and the dangers when you stray into personalising your articles. She talked about Stoppard and how he said so eloquently that journalism has bowed to commercialism and has now an entirely different purpose “which is to divert and distract and entertain”. She explained that although, maybe even because, this is happening in the world of media we need objective journalism, otherwise what kind of a “media-eco-system” would we be creating? One that has no function other than to while away the hours, which would mean a complete loss of the fourth estate, leaving people in power unchecked and the public uninformed about what is happening behind the smoke screens.
I whole heartily agree with this, and as a journalist and lecturer I hope my student will discover that objectivity is a good thing and that, while you should have and form your own opinion, staying objective when reporting on things is what journalism is all about. After all as Mary Fitzgerald quoted Michael Bugeja once saying:
Objectivity is seeing the world as it is, not as you wish to see it