Marvin Olasky

Sometimes philosophical debates are just word-flinging. At other times, though, material change allows innovators to put new ideas into practice quickly. This is such a time for journalism.

For nearly two decades, I've been writing now and then about the shortcomings of the conventional journalistic definition of "objectivity" as purportedly value-free neutrality. I've noted its philosophical and practical limitations, and proposed a counter-standard, biblical objectivity: Since God knows the real nature of things and we do not, we should as much as possible -- given our position as fallen sinners -- to try to see everything through the lens of the Bible.

Two books of mine from the '80s and '90s that are now online, "Prodigal Press" and "Telling the Truth", lay out that analysis. Some Christian journalists subscribe to it, but others remain wedded to conventional objectivity, arguing that the 20th century doctrine is our best bet for getting mostly factual information to the most people. Now, though, the Internet is chopping away at that rationale.

Think of how we get news and views. Say a half-dozen people watch the State of the Union Address. They all agree on the who, what, when and where, but they differ on the significance and meaning of what they've heard. You don't expect each to offer, in carefully tailored tones, a "balanced" account. You expect each to tell you what he thinks is important. You'll evaluate the perspectives, taking into account both the specific detail offered and the reliability of each analyst, and then arrive at your own conclusions.

Conventional doctrines of objectivity gained traction because newspaper readers could not hear directly those half-dozen accounts. Few people subscribed to more than one newspaper (now, few cities have more than one), so it made sense to argue that the newspaper should report two or more different viewpoints neutrally. The odds of getting at the truth would be lessened if we heard only one subjective account and not the other five, so it made sense to give the reporter the role of evaluator and presenter, and demand that he not take sides.


Marvin Olasky

Marvin Olasky is editor-in-chief of the national news magazine World. For additional commentary by Marvin Olasky, visit www.worldmag.com.
 
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