Letters from the Editor: Objectivity in practice
I strive to let the newsroom be a place for polite discourse. I maintain that all debates should be kept courteous and open to disagreement from any party. This is an exercise in objectivity.
In my years working for this publication, I’ve heard countless debates on politics, philosophy, administrative decisions, and the ever popular “cake versus pie” argument. I’m team pie, in case anyone was wondering.
If I’m writing an opinion piece on the merits of cake versus pie, I’d be comfortable describing this preference. However, when writing for news, it would be incredibly inappropriate of me to describe or even hint towards my preference for pie in an article about a cake. That wouldn’t really be fair, would it?
It is crucial, as reporters, that we work to remain unbiased and fair. This is a difficult task to ask of anyone with opinions and, of course, people looking to write for news organizations often have a lot of opinions about what’s going on in the world. That’s why it can be discomforting, even infuriating for our staff to parse through articles and pick out editorializing statements.
Truly, as an editor, one of the most frustrating obstacles I run up against is the use of adjectives; my loathing of adjectives has increased tenfold since I’ve started scanning news articles with the intend to eliminate each and every biased grammatical modifier. With every adjective, there is one underlying message: this writer has an opinion on what they’re writing about and it may not be an opinion shared by the reader.
This year in particular, I’ve fielded a few questions about why I don’t allow anonymous writers or sources. The answer to that is simple: anonymous writers or sources, as I have encountered them, are looking to talk about their opinions without taking responsibility for it. They are very rarely in any real danger or under threat.
The problem we face as a news organization is that, when opinions begin to factor into news writing, it’s questionable whether or not an article is news or an editorial. This is why, when people come in and ask to write anonymous opinion pieces, my answer is no. This is also why, when I’m reading a story and a writer’s opinion on an administrative measure or campus event begins to become clear, that article is edited to be a more balanced news piece.
This is also why we run corrections: we’re going to make mistakes because we’re human and we don’t always catch things when we should.
As I write this article, I’m looking at the words I watched being excitedly pained on to our wall by a previous Editor-in-Chief (my first boss, Danny Fisher). The Sun Star mission statement is as follows:
“The Sun Star’s mission is to provide UAF and Fairbanks with a reliable, stimulating student-produced news publication, maintain a forum for expression and offer practical journalism experience for students.”
I stand by that statement. The newspaper is not here to cater to anyone’s personal opinion, but it is here to offer students the chance to gain journalistic experience, which in my opinion means developing journalistic objectivity.
The Sun Star is here so that students of varying ages, backgrounds, and affiliations can pick up the newspaper and find something to read within it’s pages. It is here so that those same students may come and learn from the environment, which we strive to keep expressive and open.
This doesn’t mean we won’t cover divisive topics, just that I urge the staff and freelancers that keep this paper in print to remain unbiased and fair while reporting.
But hey, you’re free to disagree with my stance.