Is it Really a Big Deal if Journalists Share Personal Opinions?

by Dan Ward
I monitored an interesting online chat this afternoon in which Reuters columnist Jack Shafer answered the question, “is it really a big deal if journalists share personal opinions?”
Shafer made some strong points regarding reporter bias, admitting that as human beings all reporters inherently are biased, while stating “I think the best journalists can do is rely on an objective method to their work – be honest, be fair, not bury inconvenient arguments, and be prepared to change their minds.  We don’t expect scientists to be ‘unbiased,’ we merely expect them to be honest in their pursuit of scientific truth.  I want us to apply the same standard to journalists.”
Shafer’s comments appeared to support a view that journalists should make their views known, which drew many questions from chat participants (primarily full-time journalists) about how this can be done effectively.  Should it be in the form of commentary that attaches to their “objective” stories?  Should their views be expressed in the story itself?  Should they keep their views to themselves on the “official” news channel while feeling free to share views on their own social media networks?
While it might be helpful in my job to know precisely where journalists side on certain issues, I tend to agree with commenters who prefer journalists refrain from sharing their opinions.  As one commenter stated, “I will say that the ‘objectivity’ standard forces reporters to be fair.  No one can be 100 percent objective, but they can come close.  It gives us something to strive for.  It forces reporters to consider opinions and facts from different angles.”
So where do you stand?
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