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 conducted by organisations outside of the traditional news industry, entities that inherently by their nature, have less focus on objectivity and impartiality, rather than goals and outcomes.
Smart NGOs long ago realised they could use these digital platforms and tools to spread their own message, instead of having to rely on partnerships with 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, multidirectional flow of digital discourse has seen journalists’ role as arbeiters and gatekeepers of news undercut.
Within the increasingly crowded digital contest of ideas, amid opinionated and public figures and social commentators, objectivity and impartiality doesn’t rate as well compared to emotive subjectivity.
Increasingly, news angles are 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 the damaging mythology of “objective” media coverage, so journalists can better confront social injustice.
Many 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.
With more partisan approaches to news reporting advancing, organisations may need to change the nature of their communications strategies.
If journalists and NGOs can advance particular causes, then by the same rules, private organisations can also seek to gain greater agency within the digital discourse through the same methods.
Industry thought leaders argue that organisations can longer afford to not take a stand on important social and industry issues pertaining to their business, as MeToo, BlackLives Matter and Climate change have all demonstrated.
From an ethical perspective, private organisations can positively contribute their knowledge and expertise to improve industry and broader social issues, while making their commercial or operative standpoint clear from the outset.
While advocacy journalism no doubt has its place, businesses would 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 should be able to assess the news and information accordingly.
Organisations that are upfront with their commercial and operative standpoint, can contribute tangible social value, by exploring and potentially solving pertinent and impactful issues relating to their business and industry.
This adds perspective, expertise and resources to the global digital discourse, while broadcasting an organisation’s values, expertise and credibility in its area of focus.