News in 20th Century America; 24; Objective Report
The following program was produced and recorded by the University of Michigan broadcasting service under a grant from the Educational Television and Radio Center in collaboration with the National Association of educational broadcasters news in 20th century America. A series of radio documents on the gathering writing and dissemination of news compiled from interviews with men and women who make news their business. Everyone who asks the next question of course can a person be completely. Can his copy be completely sterile can it be devoid of opinion. The answer is probably that certainly his background does have an effect upon his presentation of ideas. The principal test which we apply is the test of a will and intent to be objective. The voice is that of signals and vice president in charge of Neela's for the Columbia Broadcasting System. One of the people you will hear today discussing objective reporting. This week's edition of news in 20th century America.
Now here is your host at birth. News commentator gives his opinion on an important issue. Is this editorializing. Is he slanting the news. A newspaper writer reports a fact and then comments on the meaning of that fact. Is this interpretive news or is it objective reporting. Today the first of two programs which will attempt to answer such questions as is there such a thing as objective reporting. We began by asking Dr. Frank Lukyn mocked dean emeritus of the School of Journalism at the University of Missouri to define the term objective reporting. I think Corey is fortunate water mains of course in the absolute sense reports that are broadcast without any bias or in pain or hurriedly added.
Subjective. But to be controlled this tortured by the ideas and views are part of the trouble is they. Complete objectivity and the SAS would never be possible even for a robot to achieve. Why there must be some. Money. Behind the creation here. If complete objectivity is impossible to achieve we asked Dr Mott Can you describe objective reporting on a practical working level. It begins with the observations or a single report. A good reporter a sharp eyes sensitive hearing and reading a perception trained to be in cue Service agents. But he's not a machine. The subject of teeth and sharpens your cries.
Yes any other person. Also yes certain mental backgrounds. Sometimes you don't realize the hands and some of them may be helpful in his work. And some other kinds of cue deep seated prejudice us which made. No human being to be entirely free of predators. We say. Further cooperation as position time and space less position limits what a reporter sees hears feels. Well I'm afraid this begins to sound like a lecture but I feel very strongly that realization of these things is important as a basis try thinking about how to carjack the NewsHour. Ordinarily when today a working newspaper man in the United States of America talks about.
Objective news he means News free from. Any conscious society and the conscious us and that's what we're driving toward. How does a reporter go about keeping his news stories free from Contra slanting from any conscious bias. We asked a veteran newscaster HP cotton board to comment on the problems involved. You've got to remember that in most cases the newscaster has nothing to do with preparing the material that he voices he is simply a voice of fresh vibrant more or less youthful voice that gives life to the copy. But it's the writer to the news who prepares it to selects it which is a very important editorial function. Those people who say they don't editorialize the news and don't believe in any editorial comment in
connection with news fail to remember that they're constantly exercising it Adorian judgment in the news items they select. And in those that they discuss. Because it's very seldom that more shall I say 5 percent of what the press bulletins and the press stories and even those specially prepared for Radio 5 percent of what they offer that is actually used. So there you have a very important editorial function of selection. Then of course again the matter of emphasis which does he consider the most important. The fact that a local grafter was finally convicted and sent to jail or the fact that a dictator in Egypt has been overthrown HP coltan Borna points to selection and emphasis as the key influences involved in reporting the news and further that it is the man who actually puts the words to paper.
Who is responsible for such decisions. How do the wire services handle the problem of choosing material written by reporters stationed all over the world. We talk with Robert Serling radio news editor for United Press International in Washington. We asked what happens to a story once it's been written. Does more than one person read it or does it go directly on to the wire from the typewriter. No it's just double checked. A reporter. Let us say let's take the presidential press conference for example. That copy is phoned in by a White House man over a dictation phone. It then goes to a man on the desk. From the man on the desk who is editor and perhaps rewritten it or changed it around. Not changing the facts but. Grammatical or spelling errors or emphasis of. Emphasis of the news itself from that desk man it goes to what we call a man in the slot who. Has the final editing say.
He will usually give it a cursory glance but it may involve. A fairly high policy decision on how a bulletin should be written should be treated or written or in a story like a presidential press conference where you may have 20 or 30 subjects coming out of the press conference. The job of the desk is to decide whether the reporter dictating the story is correct in his emphasis and which is the most important story. We wondered whether this problem of emphasis could go too far. Whether UPI had ever been accused of slanting the news because they happened to place one item ahead of another. I think in handling. Perhaps 50000 words a copy a day a wire service inevitably is going to fall into a situation where one side or another will accuse him of being prejudiced because of the play or the emphasis I'll give on the story but I think it all evens out in the long run I seen let's say the Republicans accuse the UPI of being biased and one
story on the same story the Democrats will insist we're prejudiced toward Republicans. One of the newsman we interviewed raised the question of the responsibility of the press to go beyond the mere reporting of facts. Bill it's a prize journalist. Roland is a reporter for The Minneapolis Star Tribune. Here are his views on the subject of objective reporting. Now what I'm saying is that a reporter or a newspaper has a responsibility to be more than a mouthpiece or a sounding board for an individual with particular views. He has a responsibility to be so well informed on the subject and that he knows when the person being interviewed is shading the truth are actually maybe using facts to give the public a distorted view of the situation. Therefore I think that he has a responsibility to ask probing searching and even embarrassing questions in order to get
the full truth. In fact I think a great many newspapers have made of such a fetish out of this so-called objective reporting that they cease to have a life they've ceased to give the people what they must have. Now if I may go further in that respect it's my belief that the basic. And the basically the most important news stories of our time. Are highly emotional. They are about racism they're about communism they're about colonialism they're about sex. These are things about which people have a deep intense feeling. And a great many opinions. And it's the rare story that can be written about these subjects that someone will not feel goes beyond the bounds of objectivity. But if we're going to write about them we have to be willing to make people angry and to run the risk of being accused of editorializing even to an extent.
Mr. Owen introduced the problem of recognizing shaded or slanted material of using facts to give the public a distorted view. We asked him to give us an example of that kind of a situation. You're interviewing a prominent Southern figure who is seeking to justify segregation as in Virginia. And he says to the REPORTER Well it's a fact you know. That the average negro student in seventh grade in this state is two years behind the average white child. In educational achievement. And I don't think it's right for you to ask us to mix Negro children of that degree of achievement with white children you know drag the white children back. Well I think the reporter has an obligation to go on and ask this individual. What is the reason for these negroes being two years
behind the average white child. Now this interviewer may go on to say that he believes negroes are inferior and that this is the reason R. He may go on and say well it's because the segregated schools to which they've gone are inferior but whatever his answer is that leads to another question. But I maintain that it's not proper reporting simply to take his initial statement at its face value and hand that out to the public without trying to get any explanation from anyone as to the reason for the situation existing. But if a reporter adds an explanation of the facts to his new story can he report objectively. We posed this question to Kenneth McDuff executive editor of The Des Moines Register trivial. I don't like sort of my own who wants to remain objective has any great difficulty in doing so if he's a skilled reporter began.
What if he doesn't want to become a mouthpiece of anyone. Part of you know there's no reason why he has to in order to cover the news I think it's largely a matter of those two signings and a professional skill the very fact that a reporter selects one I don't not I. Situation to mention first in his lead I suppose. Lends more emphasis to that. I don't know if he mentioned it second or third in a story so in that sense. Pure objectivity may be on an unobtainable unattainable. However I think that it is possible. For a reporter. Editor of a newspaper to be objective in the sense that it does report. To the best of its ability. All sides of a controversial situation. I think it's possible to
interpret without editorializing which gets to the heart of this problem of objectivity. I think it's very difficult to do. And I think it takes not only the desire to do it but the conviction that it's necessary to avoid editorializing in the news columns but I think it takes a great amount of skill also. But I think that. Interpretation is necessary. I think that. If you don't have. What. He or particularly on a subject as complex as governmental news. Frequently is if you if you lean over backwards to avoid any interpretation I see a news story diver to be completely objective. I think you run the danger of being so star all that news has no meaning.
Bob my of the Sylvania settle here already in Sylvania Ohio adds his voice to the subject of interpretation in the news. Well I think objective reporting demands some interpretation. I don't think you can in many cases you can write a news story coldly. For instance. Many times you quote people. And your background knowledge of the story you know something that should be inserted. Which to me is interpretation. But. I think most people with a complicated society that we have today after they read a story they say what does that mean. They're not sure what they read and they appreciate some some interpretation of the implications of the story. The readers get most of their interpretive reporting from the newspapers. I think they get more interpretation on radio and television and. Then they do. Generally in the newspaper. I think a
minority read editorials and that's where most of the interpretation is done but I noticed on television interviews. Most of its interpretively statement of radio and television policy regarding news coverage. We tend to signal said Vice President in charge of the Columbia Broadcasting System. We asked him for his views on objective reporting. I've heard it said that it's possible to maintain fairness and balance by maintaining a spectrum say or a by a spectrum of different opinions. This we do not believe really maintains fairness and balance because there's no guarantee that the same audience will follow the man on the left wing as small as the man of the right wing and vice versa. We believe that fairness and balance can be maintained only by a responsible attitude toward the public using our news broadcasters our correspondents and reporters as persons to do is honest and mature intelligent job as they can in delivering the news to the public
to bring that news to a certain extent to the public by elucidating the news by making it as clear as possible and then leading the public to make up its own mind. Not everyone who asks the next question of course can a person be completely. Can his copy be completely sterile can it be devoid of opinion. The answer is probably that certainly his background does have an effect upon his presentation of ideas. The principal test which we apply is the test of a will and intent to be objective. We ask our correspondents and demand of them that they maintain this will and intent to be objective in their news broadcasting. If they measure up to that test then we believe we're doing the best job we can of maintaining fairness and balance in our presentation of news and information. Does the will and intent to be objective as just stated by Mr. Nicholson of CBS apply in the same way to say a community newspaper
for a reply to this question we went to Robert Barton editor of the Lima citizen in Lima Ohio. A reporter can strive his very best to write objectively. And the people on the copy desk can do their level best to take. Here's his personal feelings or best man's personal feelings out of a story. But there there again what what you would call objective reporting someone else would would say was biased reporting. I know one of our. One of the achievements of which we were the proudest came came local way just a while back it was quite a hassle here about. The incorporation of a rural community just outside of Lima whether they should incorporate or should be annexed into the city of Lima or should remain just a township a rural community. And we tried our
level best to report that objectively by. Going to people in both factions and asking them question. And when we felt that the both factions were only giving us the information favorable to their own beliefs we would go to all the public officials at the courthouse to check and double check on their statements concerning tax rates and such things. We thought that was objective reporting. And we wound up by antagonizing the leaders of both factions. We double checked on the information of the incorporation group and of the and I incorporation group. And perhaps. Between the lines indicated that they had not. Either either had not laid the full facts before the public or were not aware of the full facts. That is. That is objective reporting but at the same time it
is. It is scratching beneath the surface I suppose you could you could say that that was also interpretive reporting. To answer you in a nutshell yes there is such a thing as objective reporting and. And I think that more and more. Good reporters. Our. Are learning how to do that. Some reporters feel strongly that objective reporting is primarily a matter of attitude but are a newsman. H our book Age comments we can cultivate the habit of objectivity. And. My training on the Associated Press. Was To that end. I haven't you know can be good habits can be formed well it's badly broken. William James has some very valuable suggestions on that subject. Every writer I've read.
A while I might say. In connection with that that the Associated Press always posted and I remember especially during election year of course we had a number of complaints and the editor of the Washington bureau here had two baskets and his desk and went to the pile of papers and from Democrats hired a new one. Even ganna get a little nervous. As long as both sides being unfair. During a pretty state flight we were attacked the Associated Press attacked one time because liberals are perhaps labor leaders. They said it may be true that you are objective immune system. Yes but unfortunately most of your manic college graduates and therefore you reflect
the views of a. Certain grade of society and you are prejudiced. And can't give a fair break to the people. And in a different environment under different influences and you've at the unconscious comes in there and it might be valid. However the discipline of the organisation is such as I think it made us examine very carefully. Copied to see whether we're getting our own view. You know merely reporting things. We were interested in this idea of the discipline of the organization as expounded by Mr blockage. However we found some disagreement on the subject when we spoke with columnist Drew Pearson. Well the Associated Press or United Press endeavored to put across objective reporting. They have so many customers. That they try to please all those customers by giving a sort of
neutral line on political subjects. But even when you consider them the AP and the UPI and the fact that 90 percent of their clients are Republican. You will find that they're not too objective to cite an example. The AP described some time ago George Allen as the crony of President Truman and the occasional golfing partner of President Eisenhower. And the fact is that George Allen is his partner in his Gettysburg pharmas been his partner in some way. Howard Johnson's restaurants and is up every weekend playing golf or bridge with Eisenhower. And when the fact is that Truman kicked him out of the White House. Yet the AP was so unobjective that they described him as the occasional golfing partner vies an IRA and the crony of Truman. You find that goes on from time to time I would say that there isn't a newspaper men are human they either make mistakes
and they write what they think the boss wants them to write. They don't intentionally make mistakes but they the boss is looking over their shoulder. Though they may not realize it. It would seem from many of the remarks made on this program that objectivity in reporting is not an easy thing to achieve and further that there are considerable differences of opinion on the Ways and Means for reporters to surmount the difficulties involved. We've just heard some critical comments from Drew Pearson leveled at the wire services and their handling of news. We spoke also with Frank Stossel general manager of the Associated Press who described for us the way in which they operate. The Associated Press is governed by a board of directors which is elected by its members. This man appoints and general manager. Who is charged with operating a news service in accordance with the basic policies laid down.
Before the turn of the century. And even earlier. He has the complete authority and complete responsibility. The directors. Are of course is. Responsible for his maintaining the policies but the directors do not interfere. With the day to day operations. Nor has there in the long history of the Associated Press ever been an attempt. By a minority majority or a minority. Of its board to dictate what shall be carried in the news report. That is to impose their views. Upon the news. It is so thoroughly alien to the concepts of the organization that it would never even be considered. Mr. Starr's agreed with the majority of newsman that selection and emphasis played a major role in the handling of news on a daily basis. But that that did not
prevent a good journalist from making an eminently fair report. He then went on to say there are a number of their writers periodical a number of curious misconceptions. For example the politician. It measures. The number of column inches or counts the number of words given his side and contrasts that. With. The space or time given to the essay. The quantitative. Evaluation. Is of no basic importance. Certainly anyone who has had experience dealing with words knows that many times. Is there a single paragraph can answer the thousands of words. If a question were. That
there is absolute objectivity. I would have to. Agree that it cannot be achieved any more than absolute perfection can be achieved in any profession or any human activity. Perhaps when we achieve perpetual motion. We can achieve. Absolute objectivity. We began this program with the question as stated by Sigma Cosin of CBS News man's copy be completely sterile cannot be devoid of opinion. We have heard varying accounts in reply could appear that responsible journalists in all the media newspapers radio television are concerned about the problem of objective reporting where they seem to differ is in their attitudes towards reaching that IDEO towards achieving the ultimate true objectivity. Kenneth MacDonald spoke for many of his colleagues when he said reporting the news also means interpret ing the news that at
the heart of this problem of objectivity is the desire the skill and the integrity on the part of journalists to interpret without editorializing. Next week we will consider the area of editorializing what it is how it operates and its growing impact on modern journalism. You've been listening to objective reporting. One of a series of programs on news in 20th century America and this series we explore all facets of the gathering writing and dissemination of news in this country today by means of record interviews with leading news men and women interviewers for the series are Glenn Phillips at Edinburgh's consulted on today's program was Professor Kenneth Stewart of the University of Michigan Department of journalism news in 20th century America is produced by the University of Michigan broadcasting service under a grant and aid from the Educational Television and Radio Center and is distributed by the National Association of educational broadcasters. Bill is taken to speaking this is the NEA B Radio
- News in 20th Century America
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- Objective Report
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- News in 20th Century America is a radio series on the gathering, writing, and dissemination of news. Each episode addresses a specific topic in the news industry, and features interviews with men and women who make news their business. This program is produced by the University of Michigan Broadcasting Service in cooperation with the National Association of Educational Broadcasters.
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Identifier: 59-48-24 (National Association of Educational Broadcasters)
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