British Columbia

Q&A: Objective journalism disappearing but that's OK says Pulitzer Prize winner

A Pulitzer Prize-winning journalism professor says news consumers are "looking for sources that are authentic and that’s different from objective."

Pulitzer Prize-winning journalism instructor says authenticity more important to readers today

A few examples of so-called "old media," forged in a time when objectivity was everything. A journalism professor says authenticity is more important these days.

Objectivity in journalism is dying.

And according to UBC sessional journalism instructor and Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Steve Woodward that's not such a bad thing.

In an interview with On The Coast host Stephen Quinn, he says people are fundamentally changing the way they consume news, and news outlets, old and new, are changing to accommodate them.

Quinn and Woodward discussed the new media landscape, of social networking, blogs, Twitter, YouTube and more, and how it's different from the "good ol' days" of print, TV and radio.

Journalism has always been a fast-paced profession, trying to break stories. What's different now about that?

"I think objective journalism is almost an old school term. With social media, people trust people." (CBC)

The audience is changing. They're really looking for context these days. You have two different types of news consumers these days. You're seeing the emergence of publications like Vox, which says they "explain the news."

And I think there's a growing hunger for that, actually. There are the Twitter-freaks who can only hang onto 140 characters and that's all they can do.

But there's a whole other area of journalism called long-form, which is just old-fashioned long stories, but not just necessarily that they're long, but they delve into a subject like climate change.

We see publications like The Guardian and The New York Times take on those issues online in sometimes incredible multimedia formats. So there's a depth there that we never got before.

There is. You see a lot of publications like The New York Times devoting a lot of effort, bringing in multimedia experts.

It's not just a story, it's an online experience for their readers. Times is doing it, Washington Post, The Guardian is doing a great job, CBC is doing a lot of that.

But is that where people are getting their news? Are they going to those sites? I think I heard 40 per cent of millennials get what they think is their news on Facebook.

But you have to look at what's behind that. Facebook doesn't have its own news operation.

"You don’t have a single place to go to for your news anymore." (Evan Vucci/The Associated Press)

Facebook lets people share articles from CBC or wherever with their friends. So what's happening is you don't have a single place to go to for your news anymore.

You get recommendations from friends. So the way to go out and get better news is get better friends!

Is there still a place for objective journalism?

I think objective journalism is almost an old-school term. With social media, people trust people. People don't like other people because they're objective.

They like them because they're truthful, they're honest, they're human. People are looking for that out of their news. They're looking for sources that are authentic and that's different from objective.

But at the same time, you still have to be fair as a news outlet. You have to be balanced. You have to put things into context. What's the difference between that and what we call classic objectivity?

With objectivity, you're going to get all sides of a story. You're impartial. Let's cover climate change: let's call a climate change scientist and a climate change sceptic and let them face off.

And that kind of false equivalence has really done a disservice to readers, I think.

We wouldn't do that! There's no other side to the climate change issue in the same way there's no other side to gravity.

Exactly. But we used to do that. There are certain issues that have become codified. We know what side to be on. But that's not objective. We've made up our minds about that.

This interview has been condensed and edited for length and clarity. To hear the full interview, click on the audio labelled: Objectivity in journalism is disappearing. So what?


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