Objectivity as a core tenet of journalism is increasingly coming under question within the new digital media landscape.
Social media and new digital technologies have decentralised and democratised the dissemination and consumption of information, fracturing traditional media systems.
This has opened up opportunities for a different type of journalism from organisations that haven’t traditionally dealt in news, and by nature have a greater focus on missions and goals rather than objectivity and impartiality.
Smart NGOs long ago realised they could use digital media tools to spread their own message, instead of going through traditional media.
Organisations such as the American Civil Liberties Union and Greenpeace now operate in-house editorial operations, hiring experienced editors and reporters from the Times and the BBC to produce regular news stories.
The new age of digital media has also precipitated a shift in how ‘traditional’ journalists view their role.
The real time, multi-directional flow of digital discourse has seen journalists’ role as arbeiters and gatekeepers of news diminished to a degree.
Now having to compete in the increasingly crowded contest of ideas with opinionated social media commentators, objectivity and impartiality can often gain less digital traction when compared to emotive subjectivity.
Increasingly, many are seeing news angles being framed by commentary and agendas, as opposed to objectivity and impartiality.
It’s culminated in a new generation of journalists “questioning whether, in a hyper-partisan, digital world, objectivity is even desirable.”
In fact the Dean of the prestigious Columbia Journalism School has even described objectivity as an “inherited shibboleth.”
In his book The View from Somewhere, Lewis Raven Wallace argues against journalist neutrality and advocates for the validity of news told from distinctly subjective voices.
Wallace stipulates that upholding the centrality of facts and the necessary discipline of verification remain crucial. But argues for the dismissal of what he describes as of the “myth of journalistic objectivity,” so journalists are able to take a stance and confront social injustice.
Increasingly mainstream journalists now use personal social media feeds to clearly articulate their views on social issues, while still seeking to write in the traditional objective form of journalism. The appropriateness and potential ethical pitfalls of this approach has generated significant media industry debate.
With the nature of news reporting changing and more partisan approaches to journalism advancing, organisations must change the nature of their communications strategies.
If journalists and NGOs can advance particular causes, then it’s imperative private organisations also become part of the conversation and gain agency within the digital discourse.
Organisations can longer afford to step away from important social and industry issues pertaining to their business.
Private organisations can positively contribute their knowledge and expertise to improve industry and broader social issues, while making their standpoint clear from the outset.
Despite recent criticisms of objective based journalism, impartiality or at least the pursuit thereof, is likely to remain a key tenet of journalism and should not be the domain of business and organisational interests.
And while advocacy journalism no doubt has its place, businesses are likely to be better served taking a more nuanced approach, looking towards new reporting methods such as Constructive journalism and Solutions journalism that seek to circulate “timely knowledge to help society self-correct, spotlighting adaptive responses that people and communities can learn from.”
Mixing commercial interests and journalism no doubt presents issues, but if guided through a transparent framework that seeks to uphold the centrality of facts and the discipline of verification, then audiences are given the opportunity to assess the news and information accordingly.
Corporate organisations can be upfront with their commercial standpoint, whilst contributing tangible social value, by exploring and potentially solving pertinent and impactful issues relating to their business and industry.
This provides the opportunity to add valuable perspective, expertise and resources to the digital discourse, while broadcasting an organisation’s values, expertise and credibility in its area of focus.