Jay Rosen has another valuable rumination on his aptly named PressThink site. This time, he’s taking on what we called for years “objectivity,” but which he posits should be thought of as “The View From Nowhere,” a just-the-facts approach that attempts to bleed (unsuccessfully) any hint of opinion from reporting.
Shifting about in these language games, journalists have kept objectivity more or less the same over the years: a system of signs meant to persuade us to accept an account of what happened because it appears to contain only what happened and not what the composer of the account feels about it. That’s why you should trust it: because it appears unadorned. The way we capture this in popular culture is by reference to Joe Friday: “Just the facts, Ma’am.”
That’s not to say that an account presented this way actually is pure fact. No way. There is no act of journalism that is not saturated with judgment. Even a photograph is framed by the picture taker. When I refer to “Just the facts” I simply mean: that is how the story asks to be understood, not… “that is all there is to it.” There is always more to it.
In other words, the very act of reporting is an endless series of choices and value judgments. So, what to do? Rosen has five numbered idea bombs, meant to spark discussion, each considered and provocative. This is my favorite of the moment:
4. The View from Nowhere may be harder to trust than “here’s where I’m coming from.” Objectivity is often seen as safer by self-styled traditionalists in the mainstream press. But I like to put the accent on what’s tendentious about it. So I make use of my own term, the View from Nowhere, to describe the ritualized uses of objectivity and to suggest that there is something strained about them. Easing that strain is not impossible. It means shifting to a different rhetoric: “Here’s where I’m coming from,” sometimes called transparency. This is a different bid for trust. Instead of viewlessness, “You know where I stand; judge accordingly.”
As the right-leaning law professor, Knoxville homeowner and photo enthusiast Glenn Reynolds of Instapundit likes to say, you should read the whole thing.