Objectively biased

Column by Mallory Tucker, Staff writer

Journalism is a peculiar profession. The job of a journalist is to inform their readers, viewers or listeners of current news that is timely, significant, proximate, prominent or involves a matter of human interest. And while our duty is to disseminate news, it is also our duty to do so in an interesting, story form. Just as famous authors capture the impressions of their era through their fictional work, journalists do the same through truth. In our modern world, news can be distributed easily and immediately in 140 characters or less, yet I struggle to agree with the notion that social media and bystander journalism is the new norm of the field. Yes, they are both important factors, but they will never, in my opinion, completely replace the art of journalism.

In The Elements of Journalism, Bill Kovach and Tom Rosenstiel said: “The purpose of journalism is not defined by technology, nor by journalists or the techniques they employ. The principles and purpose of journalism are defined by something more basic: the function news plays in the lives of people.”

Journalism, in other words, is about touching peoples’ lives.

If journalism as a whole is peculiar, which I believe it to be, sports journalism is twice as strange.

The biggest difference between newswriting and sports writing is that of the connection between athletes, coaches, fans and programs and the reporters that cover them.

While investigative reporters sometimes write news series that extend over a length of time, causing the journalist to form a relationship with his or her sources, this is the norm in sports journalism, not a once-a-year feature. Yes, reporters on police and various other beats form a repertoire as they speak to the same people day in and day out. But as they yearn to learn about the news their sources possess, sports reporters yearn to learn about the lives their sources lead. We sit down for extended periods of time with athletes for features, we interview them week after week at press conferences and we sit in the same seat on press row game after game. For beat reporters, the story doesn’t ever stop. There’s always a “What’s next?” and there’s always a relationship that can’t be undone.

That’s where things can get tricky, sticky and downright messy. It’s always said that journalists aren’t at a game for the win or the loss; they’re there for the story. But when you’ve gone to every game and you’ve learned every backstory, it’s hard not to secretly – and I mean secretly – hope for a specific outcome. When you know the significance of a game to players, coaches and fans, it’s hard not to wish the best for the people you spend all of your professional time with. Unless you’re heartless and incapable of forming normal relationships, in which case I suppose journalism is a great field for you.

The greatest journalists have recognized, addressed and managed this issue – that of objectivity – to the best of their abilities so that those who follow in their footsteps can better understand the role it plays. Kovach and Rosenstiel describe objectivity as “one of the great confusions about journalism.”

According to the two world-renowned journalists, objectivity is not meant to imply that journalists are free of bias, rather that they develop a consistent method of testing information. This development, when used in all journalism, ensures that biases don’t undermine the accuracy of a journalists’ work. As long as a piece is fair, accurate and true, bias should not be a defining factor, no matter the connection a writer has made with a subject during their time working together.

Louisville, Ky., native (and crazy person) Hunter S. Thompson once said: “So much for objective journalism. Don’t bother to look for it here – not under any byline of mine; or anyone else I can think of. With the possible exception of things like box scores, race results, and stock market tabulations, there is no such thing as objective journalism. The phrase itself is a pompous contradiction in terms.”

Although Thompson, a Gonzo journalist, took writer-source relationships to extremes, I think he has a point. What I’m trying to say is this: It’s hard. It’s difficult to be a beat reporter, a university reporter and a sports reporter.

It’s difficult to remain objective and impossible to remain unbiased. As we sit in interviews, nodding in agreement with our interviewee, laughing when they laugh and crying when they cry, it’s hard to undermine our human nature, and it’s even harder to touch our audience if we aren’t touched by our sources.

1 Comment on "Objectively biased"

  1. Megan Warren | April 28, 2015 at 3:34 am |

    Very intriguing read! This article gives a sneak peak into the world of sports journalism and I didn’t realize how interesting it can be.

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