There is something very satisfying about thinking we can accurately reflect reality, much like a mirror. The associated metaphor—“the mirror on nature”— was once, in fact, the standard description of objective reporting: the reporter’s task is to directly reflect the world to the reader or viewer, without any of the distortions or biases that would alter the “real” view. Many journalists still give a variant on this in their off-the-cuff comments about objectivity, and, in my experience, students are very drawn to the metaphor. We want the world to be a clear and distinct place, wholly accessible to the careful and discerning reporter, whether journalist or scientist.
Fifty years of metaphysics and epistemology have, unfortunately, put a pretty serious crimp in this “na ve empiricism.”1 The world, it seems, simply doesn’t present itself in a way that makes such reflection possible. Realizing this, the academic literature and news codes now generally talk about objectivity as “fairness,” as free as possible from ideological influence. For example, the Los Angeles Times “Ethics Guidelines” state:
A fair-minded reader of Times news coverage should not be able to
discern the private opinions of those who contributed to that cover-
age, or to infer that the newspaper is promoting any agenda. A
crucial goal of our news and feature reporting—apart from editorials,
columns, criticism and other content that is expressly opinionated—
is to be non-ideological. This is a tall order. It requires us to recognize
our own biases and stand apart from them. It also requires us to
examine the ideological environment in which we work, for the
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Publication information: Book title: Journalism Ethics: A Philosophical Approach. Contributors: Christopher Meyers - Editor. Publisher: Oxford University Press. Place of publication: New York. Publication year: 2010. Page number: 131.
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