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On Objective Journalism

Like most nonfiction writers, I think a lot about objectivity in journalism. I’ve had magazine editors tell me that they would never hire me because of the work I do for corporate publications, and I think, well, yeah, but major enterprise software companies know that their customers are too smart to read ads, so they demand good stories. Meanwhile, many magazines consider it gutsy to write stories critical of cigarette smoking, because after all, they rely on cigarette ads for revenue.
And how often have we been subjected to the false-objective story, in which some crackpot gets to spout for half of a story in the name of balance? You know, the “Dr. Suzy Psycho, research fellow with the American Federation of Tar and Nicotine Producers, noted that there is significant controversy in the scientific community about whether or not cigarette smoking leads to a hacking cough. ‘Our studies show that breathing clean air causes more respiratory distress than breathing the air in a studio apartment shared with a two-pack-a-day smoker,’ she said.”
I made that up, but you know what I mean.
Anyway, given the reflexive charges of bias that pervade the biased American media, I thought this article in Duke’s alumni magazine about the lacrosse team incident was interesting. It doesn’t go into the case itself so much as the effects of the controversy on the campus. I thought it was pretty balanced, given how close we are in time to the event and how close the magazine is to the story. It’s a good example of how an article can be critical yet balanced, fair yet still deeply reported.
And no, I didn’t go to Duke. I don’t have feelings for Duke one way or another. I came across this article while looking up information about Duke for a story I’m working on now, and I thought that you might find it interesting, too.

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