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2020
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7

The neutrality vs. objectivity game ends

“Trust me — every person of color in your newsroom has a story about how a manager questioned either their news judgment, their diction, or whether they could be neutral or objective.”

In 2020, news organizations will stop playing the neutrality vs. objectivity game with journalists of color.

Okay, that’s an aspirational declaration — but we have to start somewhere right? Trust me — every person of color in your newsroom has a story about how a manager questioned either their news judgment, their diction, or whether they could be neutral or objective.

I remember the day an old boss questioned out loud whether I’d be able to objectively cover a story about the shooting of a black man by police. This was 2007, before the killing of Tamir Rice and Philando Castile. Before the latest spat of nationwide dialogues and hand-wringing about the disproportionate killings of black and brown people at the hands of police.

This particular news boss wondered about my capacity for objectivity because I am black, and she held a common and misguided idea that I couldn’t be neutral or objective because my skin makes it impossible to see “all sides.” This is a common refrain, one many journalists of color have heard before — and it’s a deeply flawed idea that erodes our efforts to comprehensively cover the communities we serve.

Reporters can’t be objective if they are neutral. Yes, you read that right: Objectivity is not neutrality. Neutrality tries and fails to correct the real biases and prejudices of the journalist, which is impossible to do.

This flawed way of thinking also assumes that white journalists have a neutral point of view. News as we know it was built on this idea — that cultural norms, ideas, and points of view, which have historically come from white journalists, are neutral. But we can see from history that news coverage can be explicitly biased, centering the white experience, and in many cases blatantly racist. Some news organizations, like National Geographic, have begun to examine how racist ideology has shaped their journalism. It’s an attempt to slowly chip away at this larger idea. But the truth is it’ll take real work to break down the systems that have led to the news coverage we see today.

So, as we enter 2020, it’s important that we do the following:

  1. As newsrooms attempt to diversify, we understand and embrace what a diverse newsroom really means for coverage. It means that your news will look and sound different. This will feel foreign at first. Centering other voices and perspectives takes real work; it’s hard and messy. But it’s necessary. Especially if your organization is serious about diversifying.
  2. You must listen to the people of color in your newsroom. Remember, you hired them because they are smart and capable journalists. Let them do their jobs.
  3. Get rid of the idea of “bothsidesism” — and more importantly, false equivalency. Acknowledging the rights and humanity of people is not a “side.” The cost of being neutral is an ill-informed public that is distrustful of what we do.

Here’s to hoping!

Tonya Mosley is co-host of NPR’s midday news show Here & Now.

In 2020, news organizations will stop playing the neutrality vs. objectivity game with journalists of color.

Okay, that’s an aspirational declaration — but we have to start somewhere right? Trust me — every person of color in your newsroom has a story about how a manager questioned either their news judgment, their diction, or whether they could be neutral or objective.

I remember the day an old boss questioned out loud whether I’d be able to objectively cover a story about the shooting of a black man by police. This was 2007, before the killing of Tamir Rice and Philando Castile. Before the latest spat of nationwide dialogues and hand-wringing about the disproportionate killings of black and brown people at the hands of police.

This particular news boss wondered about my capacity for objectivity because I am black, and she held a common and misguided idea that I couldn’t be neutral or objective because my skin makes it impossible to see “all sides.” This is a common refrain, one many journalists of color have heard before — and it’s a deeply flawed idea that erodes our efforts to comprehensively cover the communities we serve.

Reporters can’t be objective if they are neutral. Yes, you read that right: Objectivity is not neutrality. Neutrality tries and fails to correct the real biases and prejudices of the journalist, which is impossible to do.

This flawed way of thinking also assumes that white journalists have a neutral point of view. News as we know it was built on this idea — that cultural norms, ideas, and points of view, which have historically come from white journalists, are neutral. But we can see from history that news coverage can be explicitly biased, centering the white experience, and in many cases blatantly racist. Some news organizations, like National Geographic, have begun to examine how racist ideology has shaped their journalism. It’s an attempt to slowly chip away at this larger idea. But the truth is it’ll take real work to break down the systems that have led to the news coverage we see today.

So, as we enter 2020, it’s important that we do the following:

  1. As newsrooms attempt to diversify, we understand and embrace what a diverse newsroom really means for coverage. It means that your news will look and sound different. This will feel foreign at first. Centering other voices and perspectives takes real work; it’s hard and messy. But it’s necessary. Especially if your organization is serious about diversifying.
  2. You must listen to the people of color in your newsroom. Remember, you hired them because they are smart and capable journalists. Let them do their jobs.
  3. Get rid of the idea of “bothsidesism” — and more importantly, false equivalency. Acknowledging the rights and humanity of people is not a “side.” The cost of being neutral is an ill-informed public that is distrustful of what we do.

Here’s to hoping!

Tonya Mosley is co-host of NPR’s midday news show Here & Now.

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