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Objectivity or Verification?

Objectivity is often looked to as the ultimate goal in reporting.  Presenting both or all sides of a story evenly and fairly,  eliminating any hint of personal bias on the part of the writer, and simply reporting facts are all factors of an objective journalistic piece.

Isn’t that what we look for, as readers?  Sure, it’s dry and straightforward, but at least we know we’re getting a balanced view.

However, is the finished product, the way in which the information is presented, really the most important part?  As long as the writer does not lean too much toward on side or the other, it must be reliable news.  But often, readers easily become disenchanted by this kind of reporting, with the vague phrasing and unclear statements.  The point of journalism should be to investigate and discover the truth of an issue and then accurately report the facts.  The report itself means nothing if the investigating is incomplete or half done.

Early this past summer, I read The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, which began with the account of Swedish journalist Mikael Blomkvist who had been found guilty of libel.  While investigating the financial exploits of a well-known owner of a multi-billion dollar company, Blomkvist gleans most of his facts from a willing but anonymous source.  Blomkvist goes ahead and uses the information in his article that is meant to expose the billionaire and his corrupt business dealings.  While the billionaire is indeed guilty of the crimes Blomkvist highlights in his publication, the specific information from the anonymous source on which Blomkvist bases his accusations turns out to be inaccurate.  Once the inaccuracy is discovered, Blomkvist is sued and found guilty of libel.

Even though Blomkvist is correct about the billionaire’s character and corrupt business dealings, his investigating came up short, which shot down any credibility his story has. How the information is discovered and verified is far more important than whether or not the writer is remains completely objective or not.  As long as facts are checked, questions are answered, and methods and sources are honestly presented, the article should reveal an accurate picture, whether or not the journalist sneaks in his or her opinion somewhere.  The method behind gathering information and discovering the truth is what should be most important to us both as readers and as writers.

Discussion Questions for COM 121:

Examples of poor investigation on the part of journalists on a national or international level? 

How did those poor investigative techniques taint or skew the validity of the story and the credibility of the writer/publication?

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