When I attended the School of Journalism at the Ohio State University in the late ’70s, journalistic objectivity was the standard. We were drilled in the Dragnet approach to reporting — i.e., “Just the facts, ma’am.” Sure, the facts could be presented in a vigorous, colorful way — that’s what made for good reporting — but the personal opinions or views of reporters were strictly reserved for “opinion” pieces that would go on the op-ed page, and probably would be labeled “opinion,” to boot.
The approach of the professional journalism community to objectivity has changed a lot since then. I thought about the changes when I read the lead paragraphs of this news article by AP reporter Foster Klug about the meeting between the North Korean and South Korean leaders today:
“In a historic summit more striking for its extraordinary images than its substance, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and South Korean President Moon Jae-in set aside a year that saw them seemingly on the verge of war, grasped hands and strode together Friday across the cracked concrete marking the Koreas’ border.
“The sight, inconceivable just months ago, may not erase their failure to provide any new measures on a nuclear standoff that has captivated and terrified millions, but it allowed the leaders to step forward toward the possibility of a cooperative future even as they acknowledged a fraught past and the widespread skepticism that, after decades of failed diplomacy, things will be any different this time.
“On the nuclear issue, the leaders merely repeated a previous vow to rid the Korean Peninsula of nuclear weapons, kicking one of the world’s most pressing issues down the road to a much-anticipated summit between Kim and U.S. President Donald Trump in coming weeks.”
We’ll never know how the story of this historic meeting would have been written in the old, studiously objective days, before point of view journalism was accepted as the new normal. It’s safe to say, though, it would not have suggested that the meeting lacked “substance,” stated that the meeting involved a “failure to provide any new measures on a nuclear standoff” and was viewed with “widespread skepticism,” and reported that the leaders “merely repeated a previous vow” and “kick[ed] one of the worl’s most pressing issues down the road.” Imagine that kind of reporting at the U.S.-Soviet summit meetings of the ’60s, or Nixon’s visit to China! It just didn’t happen.
Is the new journalism better than the old? Proponents of point of view reporting say it simply recognizes reality, and that forcing reports to be mindlessly objective dehumanizes the reporter and fails to acknowledge that reporters bring a perspective to the story when they report it. Perhaps, but I’m old school — in this case, literally. I’d be much more comfortable if Foster Klug, whoever he is, left his perceptions, fears, and other baggage behind and simply gave us the facts — leaving it to us to draw our own conclusions.