“Everyone knows The Evening Sun is a Republican newspaper.”
“Your paper couldn’t be any more Democratic if it tried.”
Two reader comments, as far apart on the right-left scale as you can get, both made in the same week. When it comes to politics, a newspaper just can’t win.
Not that we’re trying to, of course. The Holy Grail of journalism is objectivity, that steady, middle-of-the-road absolute that is, in the end, utterly unattainable. The mere fact that every morning I pick and choose which stories to put in the newspaper and where based on what’s given to me by The Associated Press, my own reporters and the space available, already puts a chink in our objectivity armor. What you see in this newspaper today is not all the news there is, nor even all the news that’s fit to print ... rather, it’s likely all the news that fit and looks good to me.
More than in any other, the arena of politics – world, national, state and local – is one in which we strive for objectivity as much as humanly possible. But again, the reports we receive from the AP and those of our own staff are colored to a degree by the eyes of the reporter who wrote the story, choosing the topic, the presentation, the photo, the quotes and all the words in between.
The news you read in a newspaper, hear on the radio or see on television is by its very nature subjective – filtered through the minds of those who present it to you. Pure objectivity, as I stated before, is a noble, yet unattainable goal.
What can we strive for, and achieve, is to be fair. To give equal play, to tell both sides of the story. While I don’t keep a running tally in my office, I try to print as many pro/anti Republican stories as I do pro/anti Democrat stories (substitute the party of your choice here). For all the abuse we took in ‘30 Seconds’ about this election year, I’ll bet you dollars to doughnuts that for every picture of Barack Obama, there was one of John McCain (or Sarah Palin, because, let’s face it, she’s prettier). But ask a Republican, and all they saw was Obama. And the Democrats, nothing but McCain. It’s all a matter of perception.
Case in point: I sent Frank Speziale out on election night to get photos at the local Republican and Democratic headquarters, hoping to have something to use for our coverage on Wednesday. Since there were no actual candidates present at either location (not a big election year on the local front), none of the photos Frank came back with were that compelling, given what was happening on the national scale. So I didn’t use either set. Let the accusations fly!
I’m sure that there are politically-minded readers out there who have assumed they know which way my personal politics lean, or the affiliations of our corporate higher-ups and staff. All I can say is this: Don’t assume anything. Speaking for myself, when I first came to the paper I changed my voter registration to specify no particular party designation. “Neither an Elephant nor a Donkey be,” a Polonious-paraphrasing editorial sage once told me. Which has worked out just fine, except when it comes primary time and I can’t vote. The price we pay for our dear old friend objectivity, I suppose.
As for the staff, over the years I’ve seen everything from right wing to left wing to no wings at all. Some have chosen to divulge their personal politics in editorial columns and blogs, others have not. None, I can assure you, have done it on the front page. Democrats, Repbulicans, Independents, Apathetics – it’s that eclectic mix of politics and personality which makes for a tasty newspaper stew, in my humble opinion.
Through it all, hopefully, we’ve been there to present the facts in a fair, unbiased manner, giving readers the information they need to make informed decisions in November. All we asked in the end is that you did just that – vote.
And with any luck, you’ll still never be able to guess which lever I pulled on Election Day.