Fairness, objectivity raise questions

Readers expressed concern about the Daily’s coverage of some recent events.

Several calls and letters questioned the relevance of race in the March 30 story by Daily reporter Koran Addo about the stabbings that occurred near the University last week.

Steve Thompson asked, “Why was there such an inordinate emphasis on the race of the individuals involved?”

By comparison, neither the St. Paul Pioneer Press nor the Star Tribune made mention of race in their coverages of the stabbing.

There was no indication in either the police reports or from witnesses that the assault was racially motivated.

According to Addo, “Race was only used to distinguish between three groups involved in what was a complicated situation.”

Rick Moore stated his position clearly: “It should be a newspaper’s policy never to identify race unless it is germane to the story.”

I agree. Including race, if only to sort out a complicated situation, creates images for the reader that extend beyond the truth. Race was not an issue here, and should not have been included.

Objectivity in journalism

Christopher Loch expressed concern about objectivity in the media as presented in Daily reporter Ed Swaray’s article of Aaron Brown’s lecture on March 29.

“Brown’s speaking event was confusing and contradictory. One sentence (‘Journalists do not just report news, they give it form’) announced that journalists have biases (like all other human beings) and that these biases show through in their reporting of the news. Three sentences later we get, ‘Brown agreed … his responsibility to his audience is to present objective newsÖ’ The story ought to have noted the blatant contradiction.”

Loch’s closing concern is, “The author of this article missed a chance to bring attention to the need for media literacy.”

According to the Project for Excellence in Journalism, objectivity of method, not of the journalist, was how the concept of objectivity was initially understood.

Columbia Journalism Review Managing Editor Brent Cunningham wrote, “A particular failure of the press (is) allowing the principle of objectivity to make us passive recipients of news, rather than aggressive analyzers and explainers of it.”

In the Canadian Journal of Communication, Gilles Gauthier wrote, “The matter of objectivity can be legitimately raised with respect to only one of these types (or one category of types), and that is straight news reporting.”

Daily Managing Editor K.C. Howard said it this way: “At the Daily, objectivity is important; fairness is even more important.”

She said fairness is “presenting the sides of a story equitably, and objectivity is reporting on an event as though through a window.”

Loch is correct to point out the apparent contradiction in the story – as an alert reader should. Swaray was doing his job when he included the quotes, but did not comment on them.

John Schaus is The Minnesota Daily’s readers’ representative, and as such acts as the Daily’s ombudsman. He is independent of the newsroom and welcomes readers’ comments about the Daily’s reporting, or its absence, at [email protected]