Objectivity and minorities in the news

Hands down, the main and most important goal of journalism is objectivity. But complete objectivity is difficult, especially when journalists have to write a story that appeals to their audience. OUSPJ took an in-depth look at one controversial example of the difficulties of objective reporting – minorities and marginalized groups.

The media covers minorities and minority topics in a variety of ways. Emma Morehart and Sarah Grothjan showed us just a few examples of stories about racial and socioeconomic minorities.

One story, produced in February 2009 by ABC’s Diane Sawyer, is called A Hidden America: Children of the Mountains. The story was about the poverty of children and families in the Appalachian Mountains.

The cover image of ABC's "A Hidden American: Children of the Mountains.

Take a look at the cover image to the right, and consider the name. Do you think impoverished children, working to stay strong in a tough environment? Or do you think feral children, suffering in a horror movie for the whole world to pity?

Why do you think Diane Sawyer chose to portray these children this way? Or do you think she made this conscious decision? These questions ultimately discuss one thing: objectivity.

Approximately a year later, in the summer of 2010, Ann Curry produced a Dateline series called America Now: Friends and Neighbors. This series, similar to A Hidden America, followed the lives of people living in several of the poor Southeast Ohio towns like Lottridge and Nelsonville.

The cover image of the Dateline series America Now: Friends and Neighbors.

To the right is the cover image of this Dateline series. How does it compare to Diane Sawyer’s take on Appalachia? What flaws or advantages of its own does it offer? What is your first impression?

When analyzing the media’s portrayal of minorities, the idea (and the challenge) is to take a step back, remove your journalist’s cap and recognize your first impression of the story. Remember the very fine line: objectivity is definitely difficult, but absolutely necessary.

Obviously, it is the nature of journalism to spark conversation and debate. Each of these stories received both praise and backlash. So, at what point is the journalist responsible for the audience’s reactions? And at what point can a journalist reach complete objectivity?

I’ll give you a hint: there is no single right answer.

For more examples, check out the coverage of the recent crises in Egypt. Try comparing and contrasting the Arabic-language news network Al Jazeera with American networks like CNN.



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