As a journalism major, the past few years have been filled with uncertainty. There’s no question that journalism as an industry is in a precarious period. Faith in the news media is at an all time low, while the most trusted figures in America are CEOs and business leaders. 

In an age full of misinformation banners on social media posts and “fake news” on everybody’s mind, journalism needs to adapt to the times. 

To restore faith in the media, news outlets need to replace the outdated value of objectivity with transparency, which would allow news to better deal with bias, reinforce the watchdog role of the free press and redefine reporters as unique people.

While the goal of the press has always been to inform the public, the objectivity standard is a recent invention. It wasn’t until the 1920s when Walter Lippman attempted to introduce a consistent method of testing evidence to apply to journalism and interpretation of the facts. They created objectivity to check bias, but the impact is an ironic resurgence of bias. 

By introducing an open-ended standard that has since gone through very little clarification or revision, we’re confronted with the realization that journalistic objectivity is simply impossible.  

This isn’t necessarily a shortcoming of journalism. Most people would agree nobody can be free of biases. In the face of personal bias, striving for objectivity is like putting water on a grease fire. 

Sure, some ideals can be lofty, but in the face of objectivity, journalists attempt to bury their biases or hide them from readers. Since there is no real guideline on objectivity, readers only get a façade of unbiased news while the bias remains unmitigated. 

If objectivity is impossible in most stories, truth tends to be determined by groups in power and authority figures. If journalists are to strive for objectivity, then the quality of facts and evidence are paramount. This would normally be beneficial, but since most news can’t be reported objectively, it lets the government and the powerful control the perspective in which readers get news. 

One impact of the rise of objectivity is a climate where news favors government sources. A result is that those who rely on government documents don’t question government sources as much in fear of being cut off from them, which also creates a dangerous precedent where scandals and other abuses of power can go unchecked or be “debunked” as misinformation. 

An over reliance on government sources impedes the role of the free press to be a watchdog for the interests of the people. When we stop questioning those in power, it serves to undermine this role significantly. The result is a situation where the very organization meant to call out powerful groups relies on them for truth. 

Even data and scientifically backed facts can’t be objectively reported. Data can be misrepresented and biases become reinforced as fact. 

The issue is there’s no clear way to define if data has been misrepresented or if there’s just a “difference in method.” People are likely to consume untrue data that is technically objective. 

Once a person believes the conclusions that journalists are drawing from misrepresented data, confirmation bias makes it difficult to challenge this new view. This creates a false assumption of objectivity in readers who don’t have the specialized knowledge to understand inconsistencies, incompleteness or bias. 

If the media is to recover from this low trust, we need transparency, not objectivity. 

Transparent journalism encourages honesty about bias and method, which allows readers to engage with reporter bias. This is because when journalists bury their bias to appear objective, readers are often never able to know how a story has been impacted by the reporter. 

With transparency, reporters can stop being seen as faceless news entities and be seen as the imperfect people they are. This could be done through more clear guidelines determining how reporting is done, including openness about data interpretation. 

Social media is a way of allowing readers to become familiar with reporters as people. Objectivity in media has led to the ethical dilemma of how much reporters can express on social media and how those views reflect the publication they work for or the work they do.

Transparency oversteps this dilemma by encouraging journalists to be themselves on social media. It is important to be able to know the people who are interpreting and delivering news to the public. 

The benefits go both ways. Transparency promotes more accountability from journalists, it also fosters more receptive attitudes towards media from the public simply due to the nature of objectivity. 

Objectivity is easily misunderstood. A popular assumption is that objective means free of bias. In reality, everyone interprets objectivity differently, even journalists, and people who see that the news has bias are likely to lose faith in it, as found in a Gallup poll.

Those that believe in the news are still misled by objectivity because the competitive nature of online news is at risk of producing incomplete and inaccurate stories, with readers normally having a hard time discerning a lack of objectivity because they lack specialized knowledge. 

The first step to an accountable media is recognizing that one person can’t know everything and that news can’t be perfect. Transparency is necessary now more than ever to restore faith in the media. A shift to transparency signals an honest press, which is necessary to restore faith in the media. 

Some may argue that the benefits of transparency don’t necessarily warrant phasing out objectivity, or that they can coexist as journalistic standards. However, the very presence of objectivity as a standard does more harm than good by creating a vague guideline that isn’t easily applicable to a large portion of news. This creates unnecessary confusion and misinterpretation while providing little to no practicable guidelines besides to simply be correct.

Since transparency can create accountability and check back on biases without impacting watchdog journalism or the way journalists do their job, it is probably time to rethink objectivity. 

Ben Lampman is a junior Journalism major. Reach him at benlampman@dailynebraskan.com.