The concept of “objectivity” is changing in newsrooms as journalists point out the limitations and implications of the traditional journalistic value.
There is currently a white supremacist idea of objectivity in newsrooms, said Morgan Givens, creator of the podcast “Flyest Fables,” in the Society of ProfessionaJ Journalists conference panel “Beyond the Protests: Inclusive Newsrooms/Inclusive Coverage” Sept. 12.
“If we point out power bias that somehow we are not being objective,” Givens said. “I don’t think that objectivity is this idea of ‘you have to remove any type of moral standage from your reporting.’”
During the panel, Givens said there is a difference between patronizing listening and actual listening that prevents action to take place, even after discussions and conversations about inclusion in the newsroom.
“We get into these rooms and they won’t listen to us,” the podcaster said. “Part of this inability to hear what we’re saying I feel like is from this inertia, this unwillingness to look within themselves, understand what they have been taught and remove what society has taught them from who they are as a person.”
Givens said he has been called an advocate for upholding the truth as a Black journalist and he urges white journalists to learn more about the history of racist power structures, including newsrooms.
“There’s a reason history repeats itself,” Givens said. “This has been coming and if you knew your history, you would know.”
When accepting his SPJ Fellow award Sept. 12, Univision News host Jorge Ramos shared a similar criticism he has received for being a Latino journalist.
“I can’t take away the fact that I am an immigrant and a Latino,” Ramos said. “I’m not being an activist, I’m just a journalist and I cannot stop being who I am.”
Robert Hernandez, professor of professional practice, USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism and the moderator for Givens’ panel, said racism and discrimination are not up for debate.
“Racism is not a disagreement. It’s not about being objective on both sides,” he said. “Structural racism is real and it is in our newsrooms. Good journalism is aimed to listen and serve our diverse communities.”
Kaitlin Washburn, a gun violence reporter for the Kansas City Star and mentor for the EIJ newsroom, said her journalism education was very “old school” and they taught her to be an “objective, detached observer” from day one.
“Journalists can believe in causes and being anti-racism and anti-sexism,” Washburn said. “These are big societal shifts and becoming more universal truths. I think journalists can very publicly say ‘Black lives matter.’ It’s an alliance to a belief and movement.”
Washburn said she personally refrains from putting her beliefs on social media out of fear it will be used against her, but there are certain times she said she takes a stand.
“When people attack my profession, that is where I can use my voice,” she said. “There is such an intense focus and criticism on reporters right now. Objectivity is a big reckoning.”
Panelist Kim Bui is the director of audience innovation for the Arizona Republic. She said the idea of objectivity is a “moving target” and inclusion in the newsroom is more than a conversation.
“I didn’t think I could be an editor or news director because no one looked like me,” Bui said. “I am one of very few directors of color that I know of and I can count the Asian-American contemporaries on my hands — maybe my toes.”
Bui said white journalists need to focus on retention and those in leadership roles need to know when to step aside. “Don’t just listen. Do something,” she said. “You have social capital that you can use. It’s time — let’s piss people off.”