Editorial: Objectivity as the antidote to polarization
It is hard to know where the country is headed.
We first used this space more than 10 years ago to warn against the vitriol that was engulfing our politics, but in retrospect, the atmosphere then seems mild compared to today's toxicity.
It is hard also to know where actual journalism is headed.
The cable news channels seem consumed by slanted infotainment, with hackneyed panels agreeably repeating sound-bite opinions in endless hypnotic loops. The births of partisan media posing as traditional news organizations have spread so rapidly that it seems almost normal now when a politician as sharply divisive as Donald Trump decides to start a media platform -- then to call it Truth Social as if politicians have no incentive to distort. (With "truth" in all caps as if the louder you shout something, the more it should be believed.) Meanwhile, Facebook's internal documents suggest the social media giant has intentionally played to anger as an algorithmic technique to increase engagement.
Are we headed toward a future where journalism is used only to support a point of view, not as a mechanism to help develop one?
Given that troubled question, we were pleasantly reassured last week by a Northern Illinois Newspaper Association panel discussion of four college journalists. Maybe the future's not so bleak after all.
Do these young journalists see a future for print? Well, maybe no, maybe yes. But perhaps print isn't the right question. Perhaps the real question is how, in whatever format, does responsible news media attract those who don't seem interested in consuming news in the first place.
We believe a reaffirmation of objective reporting is the only hope. Holier-than-thou journalism pushes people away. You have to listen in order to be listened to.
From that standpoint, we were greatly encouraged by the NINA panel of young journalists. They understand and embrace the requirement for objectivity.
We were particularly impressed by the clarity of observations by Diana Anghel, an Antioch High School graduate who now serves as editor-in-chief of the Daily Illini, the University of Illinois student newspaper.
Should reporters be free to get involved in social justice protests, she was asked? Only if they're willing to stop covering them.
"A published article shared with a community," Anghel said, "can have a lot more impact, speaking of the 'greater good,' than an appearance ... Our reporter hats never come off. And with the current levels of distrust in media, journalists participating in all societal causes free-range is bound to destroy the lingering public trust in the industry."
A reporter has to have the distance to hear the debate.