What does it mean for journalism to be “objective?” Two prominent journalists argue that it’s time to stop using the word. And in a new report from Arizona State University’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication, they offer solutions for producing fair and accurate news that resonates with today’s journalists and, more importantly, today’s news consumers.
“Beyond Objectivity: Producing Trustworthy News in Today’s Newsrooms” was written by Leonard Downie Jr., the Weil Family Professor of Journalism at the Cronkite School and former executive editor of The Washington Post, and Andrew Heyward, a nationally known journalist, award-winning broadcast news producer and former president of CBS News.
Cronkite doctoral students Rian Bosse, Stephen Kilar and Kristina Vera-Phillips and undergraduate student Autriya Maneshni also contributed to the report.
The Stanton Foundation awarded the Cronkite School a $150,000 grant to research the concept of journalistic objectivity in today’s newsrooms.
The report explores how the idea of objectivity has evolved and how to reconcile the core principles of fact-based journalism with the values of younger journalists and modern newsrooms to better serve today’s diverse audiences.
“At a time when journalism is under attack on multiple fronts, Downie and Heyward make a fresh and powerful case for fair, accurate and responsive reporting — one that acknowledges how newsrooms and communities have changed since the days of top-down, one-size-fits-all news culture,” said Battinto Batts, Jr., dean of the Cronkite School.
“Beyond Objectivity” draws on more than 75 interviews with news leaders, journalists and other experts, as well as Downie and Heyward’s own experience as lifelong journalists.
“The role of the news media in protecting American democracy through vigorous truth-seeking journalism is more important than ever today,” Downie said. “Trustworthy journalism by a new generation of journalists and newsroom leaders is essential to that mission.”
In addition to chronicling the evolution from traditional monolithic notions of objectivity to the multiple perspectives of the modern newsroom, the report provides a “playbook” to help newsroom leaders move beyond accuracy to truth; unlock the real power of diversity, inclusion and identity; create a credible policy for journalists’ social media and political activities; focus on essential original reporting; show their work as an integral part of the journalism process; and develop a set of core values for their newsrooms.
“If a newsroom does all of these things, it’s transformative,” Heyward said. “Even if it’s not a revolution, it’s a significant evolution that will require a new generation of leadership that embraces these principles.”
“Beyond Objectivity” is available on the Cronkite School’s website and will also be distributed to journalism schools, news organizations and journalism associations.
Cronkite will also create a series of workshops that will apply the report’s findings to the work and culture of individual newsrooms — part of what the authors hope becomes a continuing conversation about journalism’s core values that helps preserve and strengthen the public’s trust in reliable reporting.
About the Cronkite School
The Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University is widely recognized as one of the nation’s premier professional journalism programs and has received international acclaim for its innovative use of the “teaching hospital” model. Rooted in the time-honored values that characterize its namesake — accuracy, responsibility, objectivity, integrity — the school fosters journalistic excellence and ethics in both the classroom and in its 13 professional programs that fully immerse students in the practice of journalism and related fields. Arizona PBS, one of the nation’s largest public television stations, is part of Cronkite, making it the largest media outlet operated by a journalism school in the world. Learn more at cronkite.asu.edu.
About the Stanton Foundation
The Stanton Foundation was created by Frank Stanton, who is widely regarded as one of the greatest executives in the history of electronic communications and one of the television industry’s founding fathers. Dr. Stanton served as president of CBS for over 30 years. He created the first televised presidential debate, between Kennedy and Nixon, which is widely viewed as having had a major impact on the outcome of the election.
The Foundation supports areas in which Frank Stanton wished to continue his philanthropy beyond his lifetime. Those areas include protection of First Amendment rights and creating a more informed citizenry.