How Do You Define Objectivity?

Photo credit: Mikhail Zinshteyn (all rights reserved).

With the term “reform” being tossed around like an Ivy League acceptance letter at a high school graduation party, the need to suss out the possible bias and slant of a source often gets overlooked. Is a columnist with undisclosed connections any different than a press relations officer? Is a reporter on the payroll of a group with an agenda really a reporter?

The search for a touchstone on objectivity doesn’t often lead to treasure, but sometimes perspective can be gained from casual reads far removed from one’s beat. While not offering any definitive answer, I plucked this novel definition of objectivity from Sports Illustrated tennis reporter Jon Wertheim:

“‘Objectivity’ doesn’t mean an absence of opinion. It means an absence of conflict or motive. We expect the movie reviewers to have strong feelings and subjective observations about movies. We don’t expect them to be on the payroll of a studio or have their household’s income directly affected by how a particular star actor is perceived by the public.”

In this instance, Wertheim is responding to a reader’s email that impugned the reliability of television sports commentators:

“Since when are the TV commentators legitimate journalists? Why should they be objective and have they ever been? While I don’t think the commentators should be cheerleaders, at the other end of the spectrum, wouldn’t a completely objective commentator be dry and boring?”

What do you think? Is Wertheim too permissive in his definition, too restrictive, or spot on?

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