A quick riff on objectivity

I’m not going to go at length about the End of Objectivity, or even the perils of objectivity, although I should get around to posting a little literature review and presentation I wrote on the topic awhile back.

But here’s a good concrete example of how awkward it can be sometimes to include “both” sides of a story in a news article…

I wrote this story on the immigration issue for today’s Spartan Daily. I talked to faculty from history, political science, and social science. I talked to a few students whom I thought might be Latino (they were), and a few who I figured weren’t (they weren’t).

And there I was, with a story totally devoid of anyone backing HR 4437. What was my obligation? My editors wanted a voice in there to state the case, but as the day went on, even the Republican leadership in Congress backed off from the whole “illegal immigrants = felons” part of the bill. So, I put in a few calls to U.S. representatives from California who had sponsored or voted for the bill. No dice, no calls back, no one who could give a statement.

Next thing I tried was a conservative group on campus – they thought the legislation was the wrong way to try and solve the problem. If the story wasn’t already up over 800 words, I probably would have thrown a quote from them in the story, but I still didn’t have the counterpoint needed.

What would you do in this case? Would you seek out a fringe group that you KNEW would give you a useful quote?

I called the Minutemen.

The media relations guy picked up his cell phone after a couple rings, then politely answered my questions with a nice long statement on the issue, giving me the “illegal immigrants = felons” bit, plus blaming all involved governments for the problem.

What’s the right thing to do? Should I have asked my editors to hold the story until I got in touch with one of our Reps, or was the Minuteman interview good enough? Should I have walked around campus until I found students who thought deporting 12 million immigrants is a good idea?

2 Replies to “A quick riff on objectivity”

  1. I’ve wrestled with this same problem, but I have come to the belief that objectivity and fairness to the truth must are not necessarily “balanced”; any “balancing” in certain cases damages the credibility of the article and the fairness. ie. much the the intelligent design “debate” currently in the media.
    I read your article; it was good.

  2. Yeah, what he said. You’ve seen the Daily Show. Objectivity isn’t getting both sides of the story. That’s the lazy journalist’s objectivity (well, this case is a bit of the exception). In my book (not being a journalist, but merely as a reader) objectivity requires 1) keeping your own biases out of the story 2) learning enough about the issue to knowledgeably write about it and realize when somebody is trying to snow you.

    So I don’t think you needed to call the Minutemen, but from the way you framed the piece, I don’t think it hurt the article either. And yes, it was a good article.

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