Primer: Objectivity & Fairness: A Thing of the Past?

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In an era marked by an avalanche of information and rapidly evolving media landscapes, the age-old concept of journalistic objectivity has found itself at the center of a spirited debate. As an essential element of journalism’s ethical core, objectivity has faced scrutiny from various angles, from implicit biases to the rise of fake news. 

Recent studies, including one by Arizona State University, have unequivocally signaled that traditional journalistic objectivity faces mounting challenges. This study emphasized the multifaceted nature of these attacks, ranging from implicit reporting biases to disseminating outright fake news. Americans, more than ever, find themselves pondering the truthfulness of their news coverage and questioning whether the very concept of objectivity remains an attainable standard in contemporary journalism.

Next week, The Overby Center will delve deeper into this complex issue with a discussion on objectivity and fairness in the media, featuring two distinguished experts: Walter Hussman, Jr., publisher of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, and Overby Center chairman Charles Overby. The event starts at 5:30 p.m. in the Overby Auditorium and is open to the public. A generous reception and open bar will follow. 

Hussman, Jr. served as the chairman of WEHCO Media, a privately owned media company with 10 daily newspapers, including the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette and the Chattanooga Times-Free Press, seven weekly newspapers, and seven cable TV systems, from 1981 to 2016. He is also the president of the Hussman Family Foundation, which supports charter schools in Arkansas and made a significant philanthropic contribution of $25 million in 2019 to the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill journalism school, where Hussman graduated in 1968.

Overby’s extensive career includes serving as the former chairman and CEO of the Freedom Forum, Newseum, and Diversity Institute. He is currently the chairman of the Overby Center for Southern Journalism and Politics and teaches journalism as an adjunct instructor at Ole Miss. For 22 years, he led the Freedom Forum, a non-partisan foundation focused on press and First Amendment education. During his tenure as CEO of the Newseum from 1997 to 2011, he oversaw the construction of the Newseum in Washington, D.C. Overby is a prominent speaker on media issues and the First Amendment, having traveled to six continents. Prior to joining the Freedom Forum, he had a 17-year career as a reporter and editor, covering significant national and political events. Notably, he played a pivotal role in The Clarion-Ledger, winning the Pulitzer Prize Gold Medal for Distinguished Public Service in 1983 during his time as the executive editor. Overby also held leadership positions at Gannett and USA TODAY.

The traditional concept of journalistic objectivity is indeed under attack, but this does not render it unattainable. It challenges us to adapt and evolve, to recognize and confront bias, and to promote transparency and accountability in news reporting. The panel promises to shed light on these issues, offering insights into how journalism can better serve the public in an era of shifting paradigms and constant change.