Ever since I’ve been observing and writing about things and events, I’ve encountered the paradox of striving to be objective through the unavoidable fact of subjectivity. That is, the observer’s point of view changes everything. Whatever I observe and experience, is filtered through my eyes, my ears, my sense of touch, taste, etcetera. The observations are further filtered through my personal emotions and mindset that are present at the time.
The best I can do as an individual is to strive not to interject my personal opinions and non-factual information when conveying a factual news report or story.
What if I take a photograph or make a video of the thing or event? There is the problem of where I stand while composing and capturing the image. The thing or event appears different from various angles and distances. Furthermore, the physical limitations of cameras means that I cannot include everything at the same time from every single angle. Even if I could create holograms, point of view would be a factor, in fact, creating a hologram would present more difficulties not fewer regarding objectivity.
The viewer of a photo, video, or hologram will have her or his own point of view that colors interpretation. The same is true for you, as you read these words. How you relate to my selection of words and the order I place them in sentences may differ from my intent.
The speed with which you read this sentence varies from the speed I wrote it. You will place different importance on certain sentences and paragraphs than I do. Maybe you will linger on a particular phrase or become distracted by an error in grammar or spelling. You might be in a hurry to get through this post so you skim through it. Are you sleepy or wide awake when reading this? What was my level of awareness when I wrote this paragraph?
The ultimate goal of complete objectivity is an ideal. For the time being, complete objectivity is unattainable. The best we can do is remember there is the possibility of objectivity. We can strive to observe others and situations in the manner of scientists. We can compare our observations with the descriptions provided by other people. In that way, we can come close to discovering the objective nuggets of “truth”. So far, comparative observation and reporting are the best ways of deciding between our different arguments and hypotheses.
In these times of people accusing journalists of conjuring up “fake news”, it is difficult to present objective facts to news consumers who believe journalists are deliberately trying to misinform. It is easy to parrot press releases that validate the news consumers’ beliefs and opinions. Information that invalidates or differs from those beliefs and opinions is dismissed as “fake news”. This cynical filtering makes it difficult for working reporters who follow the ethics of objectivity to effectively do their jobs.
My present efforts in writing blog posts is different than my past efforts as a mass-media employee. As a blogger, I can lean towards practicing an art that is more free. When I was a reporter and news reader, I was more like an artisan not an artist. As a mass-media worker I had to strive towards emotional distance from the story and espouse objectivity. Although I did my best to be objective, I could never be completely sure how my audience would interpret what I told them. Whatever facts and the context means different things to different audience members.
In the end, being objective means having a commitment to capturing the truth, even if it is distasteful to the reporter. The pursuit of objectivity means the writer believes in and is committed towards revealing the data and facts. Objectivity is the ability to experience something outside of one’s personal point of view.
The Blue Jay of Happiness quotes author, filmmaker, and journalist, Sebastian Junger. “I think objectivity is like this strange myth that people think you’re supposed to achieve, but actually, the dirty little secret is that it’s not attainable any more than pure justice is attainable by the courts.”