Editor Speaks Out: Seeking journalistic objectivity

By on September 19, 2006

Reporters are supposed to keep a personal distance from the people and events they cover. After all, this is an important aspect of journalists’ desire to be objective, or to report a story from as fair and thorough and factual a standpoint as is possible.

This tenet is a cornerstone of journalism and is surely among the first ones students of journalism learn.

This week, I reported on the candlelight vigil that was held in commemoration of the five-year anniversary of the terrorist attacks on the United States. I was on the quad as a newspaper reporter, surrounded by hundreds of my peers who took part in the vigil.

There, I was offered a candle from a student but did not accept it. And I did not console anyone nor did I look to be consoled. In short, I strove to cover the ceremony as objectively as possible, as I do in every story I cover. But this story was not just any other story. And it never will be. Nor should it be.

Even though I was at the vigil as a reporter, I could not stop myself from being a human being. And as a human being, I care about the well-fare of people and I am deeply saddened by the deaths of nearly innocent 3,000 people. And so, as I listened to Jessica Waring, a sophomore whose father James Waring was killed in the North Tower of the World Trade Center, tears streamed down my cheeks.

Upon realizing I was crying, I started to think that I was not the objective reporter I had considered myself to be. For wasn’t I supposed to be devoid of emotions and feelings? Wasn’t that part of what it meant to be objective? What would my journalism professors think of me if they saw me crying while I covered the 9/11 vigil?

And then, I decided that by crying it did not mean I had sacrificed my objectivity. So I no longer tried to conceal or wipe away my tears. How could I not cry in hearing Jessica describe her loving father and the immeasurable loss his death brought to her, her sisters and her mother?

I then realized that my mourning was nothing to be ashamed of. In fact, I became interested in journalism in the first instance because I enjoy meeting people and hearing their stories. I am passionate about engaging with people. So I figure I must surely be allowed to cry when I hear a story involving such unimaginable loss as the 9/11 terror attacks.

And so, I stood surrounded by hundreds of my peers on the quad and I did not try to suppress the tears streaming down my cheeks. I could not ignore the immense sorrow that overtook me when I heard Jessica talk about her father. Nor should any reporter ever feel compelled to do so in such a situation.


About David Hutter