Can Transparency Replace Objectivity in Journalism?

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Amy Gahran used All Things Digital's disclosures in its "about" section as an example of effective transparency. (Credit: Screen shot detail from All Things D's website)

Move aside, the journalistic debate over objectivity. Instead, let’s talk about being transparent.

“Is transparency the new objectivity?” Amy Gahran questioned in a post for Knight Digital Media Center.

Gahran is a journalist and consultant. She describes herself as an “info-provocateur and media consultant.”

She explained that in All Things Digital, “a tech news and opinion site operated by Dow Jones,” writers disclose information about themselves “to clarify issues that people might raise regarding their personal ethics or biases.”

As Gahran wrote, some journalists claim it’s impossible to be truly objective.

Likewise, iMediaEthics notes veteran journalist Ted Koppel’s recent lament over the death of objective journalism in a Washington Post editorial. And, the Project for Excellence in Journalism highlights transparency as a principle for journalists:

“Journalists should be as transparent as possible about sources and methods so audiences can make their own assessment of the information.”

“Showing you have nothing to hide is one way to bolster personal and professional credibility,” Gahran wrote.  And, by offering the information to the public, Gahran said “you create powerful context for potentially controversial information.”

Gahran proposed All Things Digital’s method of voluntary, open disclosure as a learning tool in transparency.

StinkyJournalism read through several of the ethics statements. We noticed that many of them included information about any stocks owned and speaking engagement fees.

For example, All Things Digital associate editor Drake Martinet explained:  “I don’t accept paid public speaking engagements, but if you get too close I’ll most certainly talk your ear off, free of charge.”

Tips Gahran offered for news outlets or journalists seeking to be more transparent included:

  1. “Publish your key disclosures in one place.”
  2. “Leave what to disclose up to the individual.”
  3. “Make it easy for journalists to update their statements.”

Gossip blog Gawker recently proposed revised media ethics standards.  The first tenet advocated disclosure.  See StinkyJournalism’s media brief on the guidelines here.

iMediaEthics wrote about Amy Gahran’s blogpost calling for journalists to be civically involved here.


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Can Transparency Replace Objectivity in Journalism? Amy Gahran asks

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