Swarthmore's independent campus newspaper since 1881

On objectivity: a commitment to coverage in context

in Opinions/Staff Editorials by

 

In journalism, we are tasked with maintaining objectivity — with communicating truth, with presenting the facts, with providing the necessary information for readers to decide themselves what the right answer is to a situation. At the Phoenix, we recognize that the notion of objectivity is loaded, so our commitment to objectivity is a specific one that seeks to preserve journalistic integrity and accurately report on the Swarthmore community.

There is no such thing as true, complete objectivity. Every person has their own set of biases that arise from vastly different experiences and positionalities. No matter who covers a story or how many times we read over and edit a piece, the story will always be written by a person who chooses the story’s angle, collects the quotes, and decides what information should be included.

These biases are impossible to completely eliminate. But while absolute objectivity might be unattainable, journalistic objectivity is not. By holding strong to methodologies and procedures that prioritize specificity and context, we at the Phoenix do our best to convey information to readers in a way that is both accurate and responsible.

We do this through our policies and practices. For example, writers cannot cover news regarding the students groups of which they are members. This policy makes it so the coverage of events does not serve the purpose of promoting a student group, but rather discussing the group’s role on campus and the community’s reaction to that role.  

We report the facts, so we will not legitimize factually incorrect statements. In collecting quotes and viewpoints, we make an effort to accurately represent the breadth of opinion on issues on campus, in terms of both personal views and positionality within the institution. In an article about any given action, we seek comment from representatives of the college, from students involved in an action, and students not involved in said action. This is to better situate our coverage within the framework of the college.  

As part of this necessary situation, we recognize the imbalances that are present in power structures on campus — especially regarding students’ interactions with the administration. We consider the accurate understanding of these power imbalances to be crucial for maintaining journalistic objectivity.

The notion of ‘dialogue,’ a much-used term on this campus, cannot be used as a tool to present power imbalances as discussions between equal sides. It cannot be used to create false equivalencies. Especially as students fight for more support and agency within the institution, we at the Phoenix recognize it would be irresponsible journalism to not cover these stories by prioritizing the student-activists’ perspectives, which are not lifted up through official channels of communication.

Some current movements calling for more support from the institution include Students for Justice in Palestine’s petition for a Sabra hummus ban, Swarthmore Sunrise’s call for divestment from fossil fuels and removal of the Board of Managers’ social justice ban, and Organizing for Survivors’ list of demands to improve Title IX policies on campus. In these situations, responsible and objective journalism is reporting these movements in the context of the unbalanced power dynamics between administration and students. Our view of objectivity in this context is to emphasize how these social issues are important to the student body, and must be addressed by the campus community.

As our semester reaches an end, we at the Phoenix look forward to continuing to work to provide students with responsible, fair news. We will also remain committed to building relationships and understanding the context of the institution as a whole, because these are some of the most fundamental principles for reporting the truth.

 

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