The world of journalism has been transformed by the internet over the past two decades and many shibboleths have been discarded.
One that for a long time seemed to be destined for the scrap heap was the idea of journalistic objectivity. As journalism academic Jay Rosen has often pointed out, objectivity is a myth and the “view from nowhere” doesn’t exist. Everyone brings a perspective and lived experience to their journalism.
That’s why diversity in newsrooms is so important.
When Donald Trump was elected in 2016 it sparked a big debate in American journalism about how best to combat lies and misinformation propagated under the authority of the presidential seal. Some argued that journalists should become advocates and wear their hearts on their sleeves. This played into Trump’s attempt to cast the traditional quality media as purveyors of fake news. If everyone is seen to be pushing a barrow, if the media is openly antagonistic to one side of politics, then there is no one you can trust. Truth doesn’t matter. Anything goes.
For this reason as the editor of The Conversation, I cling to the unfashionable view that the ideal of non-partisan journalism is vital for democracy. The Conversation exists to provide audiences with quality information on everything from politics to vaccines to how to prepare children for school. But we don’t push agendas and we are not advocates.
I believe it is important to publish articles you can disagree with – as long as they are cogent and evidence-based. Everyone on the editorial team has views about the types of policies and interventions that work best to create a better society and address the existential threat of climate change. But it is not our role to campaign for any one of them. Rather, we aim to keep our own counsel and facilitate the discussion.
Ultimately we believe that the world needs purveyors of quality information who don’t pursue an agenda or ulterior motive. Journalism is a service industry, a public service. We need to serve readers with humility and respect. We need to have the discipline to be self-critical and own up to our mistakes. We need to understand that we perform a small but vital role and that this requires us to stay in our lane.
There are other ways of approaching journalism and there are valid arguments for taking these different approaches. What’s crucial, and what I want to highlight, is that journalists at The Conversation operate under a strong charter that gives us the editorial independence to determine our own path.
The path we have chosen is to create a quality information service for the broad public and public policy experts alike, and to do it to the best of our ability with transparency, humility and respect.
I hope you agree that this is a good way of delivering on our promise and repaying the faith that readers have placed in us.
This is an edited version of a message recently sent to Friends of The Conversation, donors whose generous contributions underpin the editorial independence discussed above.