Reporting a story fairly and accurately depends in large part on the number of sources a writer is able to generate. It is not enough to simply present opposing views because often there is a middle ground left uncovered. Moreover, similarity is not sameness, and so nuance and subtlety must be considered even when sources agree in large respect.
The truth is there are generally many more sides to a story than what appears in the all too commonplace he said/she said framework of newspaper articles. There also is more than one way to tell a story, complicating the matter further.
It is my job as a journalist to convey to the best of my abilities all sides of a story and to choose a compelling way to tell it from an innumerable amount of choices. This is the challenge of my profession but also its greatest reward.
Three weeks ago, I began a new era in my career as the business, crime and government beat reporter for the Sparks Tribune. As a first order of business, I began sifting through the work of my predecessor to discover what was happening here, what stories recently had been reported and what needed my attention.
In doing so, I learned about the value this newsroom places on creativity.
It is one thing to report the news as simply a collection of facts, events and dates and another thing entirely to report the news with depth, perspective and clarity. As one of my professors at the University of Georgia used to say, “Context is king.” And if context is king, then creativity is its queen. Good reporting depends on both.
New approaches to age-old stories and unique forms of storytelling are just two ways creativity can enliven hard news. Without context, however, creativity becomes cliché. Or worse yet, bias.
Like anyone else, journalists are not immune to bias. Perhaps we are even more susceptible than most. Objectivity is not an easy quality to develop in oneself.
But objectivity is not without its flaws. It sometimes muddies and ignores the truth.
For example, how many times have you heard a politician say something that was factually untrue yet was reported without correction anyway, all in the name of objectivity?
How many times have you read a story that pitted two extremes as representative of objective reporting?
And how often have you seen reporters present a false equivalence, wherein two rights or two wrongs are given equal weight without regard for degrees of difference, just to satisfy the ethos of objectivity?
It is my belief that fairness and accuracy are infinitely better indicators of truth.
Several years ago, I wrote a story profiling a Burmese family who had just been resettled in Atlanta as part of a United Nations refugee program. Over the course of six months, I followed and interviewed all members of the family, learning about their travels and travails, the lives they lived under the heavy hand of dictatorship and their midnight escape to freedom.
The lens of accuracy allowed me to explore the depths of their hardship while objectivity would have only clouded the honesty of their tale with government propaganda. And that would have been wrong to do.
If objectivity has a singularly important role in journalism, it is to remind reporters that the truth lies in listening to all sides. And then fact checking. As the journalism adage goes, if your mother says she loves you, check it out.
I hope that I can live up to my own pronouncements and I expect you, the reader, to hold me accountable when I do not. After all, this is your newspaper and I am your representative here. Your criticism is much preferred to your silence.
I’ll see you around.
Joshua H. Silavent is a reporter at the Sparks Tribune. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.