Civil Affairs: Objectivity

CIVIL AFFAIRS

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I would like to ask a question to my readers, and I trust it may be one that irks even those who typically agree with me. What is the true importance of objectivity in reporting?

Longtime readers of my opinions and posts will know that, every few weeks or so, I will make the point of unequivocally noting that I am not a journalist and Texpatriate is not a newspaper. That is, to say, one should not be so naïve as to rely upon texpate.com as an exhaustible source for information to the detriment of sites such as the Houston Chronicle or the Texas Tribune.

Make no mistake; I am still not a journalist, at least in the contemporary definition of the word. I rarely conduct extensive interviews for my stories and regularly practice analysis & responsive writing rather than original reporting, both of which being invaluable traits of the profession.

The point I make in this disqualification, however, is not that my partisan history or other biases preclude me from contributing relevant stories or news items to the political zeitgeist. In fact, to some extent, I believe that by being forthcoming and “placing my cards on the table,” so to speak, I have most honestly established my true intentions. I ask those who disagree with me, would it be better for me to nefariously hide my true opinions while still advocating for the same category of stories?

Whether it has been more mundane details about the City Council election and upcoming Democratic primaries or the flashier and sexier stories on Ben Hall’s Facebook page and tumultuous tenure as City Attorney, I have always strived to present legitimate news stories to all those interested. Most recently, this has taken the form of weekly summations of the Houston City Council’s meetings, often at a time when the Houston Chronicle declines to expand upon this type of news.

And while I do occasionally infuse my personal opinion into the mix, I have serious doubts as to those who believe it taints the entirety of my work. If you are too dumb to separate those sentences where I make definitive statements about past events and those that include phrases such as “I think” or “I believe,” heavy analysis on local politics may not be right for you. If you do not like the fact that I infuse my opinion, there are plenty of newspapers that would love your business. But I generally receive favorable reviews for these opinions, so I will continue them.

I take, for example, David Jennings of the popular blog Big Jolly Politics as a fantastic example of this principle. David makes a name for himself with reporting the niche field of Harris County Republican gossip and dealings. Most of the time, he has the scoop on a story that nobody else is covering; and his article are chock full of opinions. In fact, these opinions typically consist of at least one ad hominem attack, sometimes even directed towards myself. And yet, the original reporting he does on the Harris County GOP Chairman’s race is still just as valid and just as thought provoking as someone who might not have chosen to engage in partisan name-calling. It does not lessen the final product in any way, shape or form.

I regularly read David’s blog posts, no matter how much I might think he is a reactionary wingnut, and I know he reads my blog posts, no matter how much he might think I am a northeastern, socialist, limousine liberal. Differences in political views do not automatically disqualify the value of any facts from the field he may report or those he has otherwise obtained.

That is the same standard I hope everyone is able to apply to both myself and Texpatriate. I infuse my facts with opinions, but they are not —by any means— indistinguishable. If you agree with my opinions, good for you; if you don’t agree, that is also your prerogative. Either way, what is important is to note the facts put forth in my writing, which are facts irrespective of what I place in the next paragraph.

Noah M. Horwitz published a weekly column, “Civil Affairs,” in a Boston newspaper from 2012-2014He has since transferred the column’s home to Texpatriate.

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8 thoughts on “Civil Affairs: Objectivity

  1. As a fellow blogger, this is often something I struggle with as well. We hold journalitsts up to a set of “expectations”… Imagining someone like Walter Cronkite to have just reported the facts of a situation, and never given an opinion.

    But the reality is that this is now t now, nor was it ever the case. Our most trusted “news sources”… The Houston Chronicle, the New York Times, evening news channels have always displayed opinion, even if that opinion is only evidenced in what they choose to cover, it’s still there.

    That said, what separates good journalism from bad IMO is three ideals… Factual integrity, follow-through and balance.

    A good news piece is one that allows the reader to be able to distinguish what is fact from what is opinion. This distinction should always be clear.

    Journalists, like everyone else, are human. As such, they are going to make mistakes. Another mark of good journalism is one that cares enough to follow through with the story, and make clear public corrections and redactions as necessary.

    Finally, journalists both good and bad, have an opinion about what they report. But a good journalist is one that has at least taken some time to understand multiple views and present the news in a balanced manner. Even if the sides of a story aren’t given “equal time”, you can tell the those opposing views were considered.

    So who’s to say why a blog can’t possess all of these traits? I think it’s certainly possible.

  2. If I understand your question, then here is my answer. Objectivity is pretty damned important if yours is an organ that prides and tauts itself as being that. I think of the NY Times and the Christian Monitor. I do not think of Fox.

    in the short time I’ve been reading your work, I’ve not noticed your misconstrued the facts. I like that you write factually, but that’s not why I read you. I read you and most of the other blogs I read for stimulation, to provoke thought. Little else.

    • And I wouldn’t have it any other way. If the Chronicle or the Tribune already writes on a issue, I don’t really contribute anything along the line of reporting. Rather, it is those issues which no one else is covering.

      On those issues, my opinion is much less readily apparent.

      • Well you may not contribute additional facts, but the contribution of perspective is extremely important. Especially when yours is a perspective that wasn’t out there before. Perspective is absolutely the raison d’être of blogging. Sure it’s fun when bloggers get a scoop and can actually “report” something, but our value is in the intellectual data that we contribute to the conversation.

        It’s like the news Anita Perry made when she mistakenly became Pro-Choice in her Texas Tribune interview. She tried to clarify and say that she supports the Governor’s position on Abortion, but as a woman, it’s impossible for her to see the issue in the same way as Slick Rick. That perspective piece is critical.

        Facts are the foundation of journalism… Anyone can hopefully agree on that. But perspective is the “secret sauce” that makes a particular piece of journalism stike resonance among the masses.

  3. How much bias is instilled in an article and how much the conclusions presented rely on it to make sense is part of the equation too. The balance Texas Leftist mentions is so uncommon in mainstream media and blogging that it’s refreshing to find those who still believe in it.

    To use your own example of Jennings blog, I check in on it from time to time if a particular topic is of interest. His take will often be wildly different from a middle of the road Republican, so much so that those in the know roll their eyes regularly when they hear about his latest rants, but it does sometimes result in interesting comments. The down side is that either David or someone at the Chronicle regularly censor many comments from running, typically those that take a different stance from his. I’m sure he’d marginalize those he censors in a dozen different ways but frankly, he’s no more interested in rational discussion than his rhetorical opposites on the far, far left; he just wants to influence without being held accountable.

    I read a number of local blogs to get a better take on local issues. If they are not balanced or stray too far from the facts as I know them, I check in less frequently but as the others mention, it should be clear what comments of yours are fact and which are opinion, my conclusion being you do better than many of the “professionals” regardless of your political leanings. My favorite is Charles Kuffner but he has earned it over many years. 🙂

  4. Objectivity as a standard is an impossible goal. Nothing wrong with injecting an opinion, personal belief, or phrasing one’s view of the world somewhere in a blog post. Just know the difference between fact and opinion … and know that the latter should be more malleable than the former.

    If your goal is to prove to someone else that you can write to their standard, feel free to prove yourself to them. But if you’re writing for yourself, then be yourself. Lacking that: read Kevin Drum (Mother Jones) and Ed Kilgore (Washington Monthly). They get it about right.

  5. Objectivity as a standard is an impossible goal. Nothing wrong with injecting an opinion, personal belief, or phrasing one’s view of the world somewhere in a blog post. Just know the difference between fact and opinion … and know that the latter should be more malleable than the former.

    If your goal is to prove to someone else that you can write to their standard, feel free to prove yourself to them. But if you’re writing for yourself, then be yourself. Lacking that: read Kevin Drum (Mother Jones) and Ed Kilgore (Washington Monthly). They get it about right.

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