Is Objective News Possible?
Never bury the lead; of course, objective news is possible. Unfortunately, I will also conclude, it is not earnestly pursued.
The structure of this chapter is as follows. I briefly explain the nature of objective news and of the debate regarding its possibility. I then assess the main arguments for the unattainability of objective news. A close examination of these arguments shows that, contrary to widespread belief, journalists who try to provide objective news are not striving in vain. I close by discussing the effect of competing journalistic aims and other limitations on our efforts to generate objective news. I suggest that the unwarranted skepticism regarding the possibility of objective news is an artifact of the changing priorities of journalists and inadequate journalistic methods, and that the only real issue is how we can better train those journalists who want to generate objective news.
Objective news is essentially an epistemic kind. What is sometimes now called the “journalism of verification” is merely what yields objective news: verification (or justification) is an epistemic notion.1 The editorial adage “When it doubt, leave it out” also expresses its epistemic nature. More specifically, objective news reports are those that can provide testimonial knowledge or justified belief about some aspect of the world to those who read or hear them. To satisfy this requirement we apply epistemic standards of evaluation. For example, we ask, “Is every sentence in the report supported by sufficient objective evidence?” A statement is objectively justified if it is rational to believe on the basis of evidence that anyone should accept. For example, observing ten inert bodies in the