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Objectivity: Does it have a place in blogs?


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August 30, 2005

Objectivity: Does it have a place in blogs?

Stephen Baker

A nuggett from Jeff Jarvis's article on new CBS blogger, Vaughn Ververs. "Try this on for size," Jarvis writes.

I think there?? no such thing as an objective blogger. Or you??e probably not blogging. You??e probably not talking with people, eye to eye. We??e about to kill the myth that journalists can be thoroughly objective; let?? not start trying to accrete that artificial ethic to blogs.

I would say that true objectivity is impossible for humans. We're subjective animals, and we have our skin in every game. Nonetheless, objectivity is worth maintaining as an ideal. In involves trying to be open-minded, to see other sides, and to be ready and willing to write articles that challenge the writer's views and hopes.

Do we try to be objective as bloggers? I don't think it's the right word. Our goal in the blog, as at the magazine, is to be fair and accurate, but to present a story or a post from a point of view. It's a line of analysis, our read on what the story means.

A key question for mainstream media bloggers, one we're only coming to grips with now: Are we freer with our opinions on the blog than in the pages of the magazine. Not really, I'd say. Individual bloggers, like Jarvis and so many others, speak for their own brands. We don't. Our blog has the BusinessWeek brand right up top. And if you do a search on Technorati, you see right away that many in the blog world refer to Blogspotting simply as BusinessWeek. We're part of the BW team--albeit the part without editors.

I have found this institutional link frustrating, on occasion. I went so far as to establish another blog, a personal one. But then I realized that if I spilled my views freely on that one, any restraint I showed on Blogspotting would be a mere formality.

Some bloggers argue that journalists should make public all of their private views and personal connections, anything in their lives that might sway their coverage. I have two objections to this. First, it's futile. Life experience is a tangle of tangles. And I consider it quite a paradox that some of the same people who say we're incapable of writing an objective news story want us to detail our own lives objectively. Would this mean mentioning the grade school bully who was black/Jewish/Irish Catholic, etc? Does he come before the sister who works for the ACLU, or the uncle who's a priest? Life is one big soup. And to try to put a life in any kind of order is to give it an angle.

Second, disclosure seems to assume that we're ruled by our past, and incapable of doing the job we're paid to do: reporting the full story and writing it fairly. Granted, lots of journalists fail this test. But I'd say we should be judged by our work, not our life resumes.

11:27 AM

mainstream media

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Actually, I'm puzzled by the original suggestion that we be more subjective. It seems to me that good blogging, like anything else in public communications, is really best when the author is striving to represent multiple viewpoints, encompass the arguments, and then add their own perspective. That sounds like a journey towards objectivity, though, not subjectivity. To me the subjective alternative is basically "just state your opinion. Done!" with some sort of rosy-eyed optimism that 'somewhere' in the blogosphere someone with an alternative viewpoint will express it and somehow they'll magically be connected in the greater discussion.

Personally, there are very few overtly and crassly subjective bloggers I read, just as there are few overtly subjective publications I read too. Everyone's different, but I'd like to think that professional bloggers, business bloggers, and others who seek to help elevate the public discourse put more effort into representing multiple points of view, dissipating the tedious flamefests that are rarely informative, and generally just think through what they're writing and whether it actually is consistent with reality.

Whatever that is. :-)

Posted by: Dave Taylor at August 30, 2005 05:59 PM

Steve-

Don't the same fundamental journalism rules apply to blogs as to traditional media? A piece of reporting often needs a POV to be clear. Sometimes that POV is the reason for the writing. I think that when the POV gets so pronounced, they put the piece in OP/ED, right? A promising aspect of blogs seems to be that the readers can now interact in near real-time with the reporters. I really hope that doesn't tranform a blogger who started as a professional writer into some sort of venal "on-line personality". I can't really see why it would have to go down that way if the writer stuck to what's proven and works and takes advantage of the technology to make his or her writing better.

Pete Z.

Posted by: Pete Zievers at August 31, 2005 10:41 AM

Pete, point-of-view doesn't equal advocacy. It's more likely to stress what will happen, not what should happen (or what the writer would like to happen). Let's say the article is about an open-source challenge to Microsoft. The writer does the research and concludes that Msft is in the driver's seat. Instead of doing a on one hand/on the other hand story, the write takes a point of view: Microsoft is likely to win this battle. That may not be the writer's desire, but it is the point of view of the story. In such a story, the counter-arguments for why the open-source side may win are grouped in what we call a "to be sure" paragraph, or maybe a couple of them.

The interesting thing is that sometimes you start a story thinking the line will go one way. Then you do reporting, and the "to be sure paragraph" keeps getting fatter. Finally you conclude that you have the line backwards. The To be Sure section becomes the story, and the original line and the evidence to support it gets smushed into the To be sure section.

To reiterate: it's not editorializing, it's providing analysis

Posted by: steve baker at August 31, 2005 04:53 PM


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