Objectivity and clarity are two of the most treasured values in journalism, as well as the most important in ensuring that readers can trust a news source. News consumers have to know that the information being presented to them is fact and not the opinion of the writer. Articles must be written in such a way that the content is explicitly clear with no room for confusion.
I take these standards very seriously, as any member of the Horizon staff will tell you. Because of this it is especially frustrating for me when American news outlets ignore these principles out of laziness or a disregard for journalistic integrity.
There are many subtle ways in which objectivity can be compromised, mostly of which are related to word choice. I always stress to my staff the importance of clarity in their writing, since most words have multiple meanings and there is no way to tell how a reader might interpret them.
Words and phrases have both a denotation, which is the explicit or written meaning of a word, and a connotation, which is an inferred meaning. For example, the phrase “according to” might seem like a good way to quote someone, but it could also create the impression that the writer does not trust their source and that the person is not credible.
It only takes one ambiguous word or phrase like that to potentially change the meaning of a story. If two people can read the same story and interpret the information differently, then it defeats the purpose of the story.
The online ranking agency Alexa cites Yahoo News as the most popular news website in the United States, so I think it can serve as a good example of the type of news most Americans are exposed to. As I’m writing this, the top story on the website is headlined “California seizes guns as owners lose right to bear arms.”
If you actually read the story you find out that the people losing their guns are only convicted felons or those with domestic violence restraining orders, essentially those who are not legally allowed to posess firearms. If a person was only to read the headline however, they would probably get a different impression.
The second most popular online news site, CNN, is currently running a story about the cat from the “grumpy cat” meme alongside its top stories, so I don’t think it’s much of a stretch to assume that they don’t take hard news all that seriously.
It remains to be seen whether American journalism will become credible again. Maybe if we all looked for more independent and trustworthy sources to find our news the big outlets would realize that there is a demand for unbiased, objective reporting. Until then though, make sure to scrutinize the information you read carefully, since no one is going to do it for you.