Objectivity and Fairness Panel Focuses on Objectivity’s Role in the Past and Present News Media.

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Written by Jordan Isbell

Objectivity and fairness, two essential cores in news coverage, became the center discussion on Thursday, Nov. 2, in the Overby Center Auditorium as panelists debated if truthfulness is a dying standard in the field of journalism.

The event featured panelists Walter Hussman Jr., publisher of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, Charles Overby, Chairman of the Overby Center, Dr. Andrea Hickerson, Dean of the School of Journalism and New Media, Tony Pederson, Senior National Fellow of the Overby Center, and Violet Jira, Editor-in-Chief of The Daily Mississippian.

While each panelist brought a different and unique position in the field of journalism, all were in agreement that objectivity, one of the main foundations of journalism, has been discussed by the public as an out-of-date standard that has worsened today’s idea of news coverage.

Walter Hussman Jr. shared his thoughts on the matter, believing truthfulness is what allows journalism to prosper.

“All of the discussion about objectivity being out of date, I don’t agree with that, of course,” Hussman Jr. said. “I also think that at the heart of it, journalism is about comprehensive, relentless reporting and fact checking, and that is what I hope we can continue to teach in schools. And if we do that, we’re going to be able to continue to produce journalists who could produce journalism that really matters.”

Despite the priority of objectivity held in journalism, many believe that there is too much news coverage centered around inherited bias, leading to misrepresentations or outright lies about public news. Along with thousands of potential outlets people can search, many are skeptical of which ones are deemed reliable and trustworthy.

As Dean of the School of Journalism and New Media, Dr. Hickerson believes the potential disconnect between the public and journalism outlets comes from a lack of clarity in where journalists get their sources.

“I think that one of the biggest problems I see in journalism is that we don’t explain what we do very well,” Hickerson said. “When it comes to communicating with the audience about how we got the story, we shied away from doing that maybe so much. We need to kind of show the proof a little bit of how we got the sources or how we did the fact checking.”

Compared to only a few decades ago, social media has expanded exponentially to the point where billions of people can have readily access to news feed at the touch of their smartphones. Thanks to this, people have other ways to find news outlets other than through mainstream media, resulting in differing opinions.

Violet Jira discussed how the conveniences of social media leads to several people forming opinions on surface-level stories that they don’t bother to read more into.

“Whether it’s on Twitter, or if you follow The Washington Post on Instagram, the thing about it is that all you see in that post is the headline, and then maybe the caption,” Jira said. “Not a lot of people are clicking the story and actually reading what was written behind the actual posts. If they’re not reading the actual story, I think that’s one of the biggest issues with people getting their news from social media.”

The panel was the last public program at the center for the fall semester. 

The Overby Center’s mission is to promote the highest standards in journalism and news media, support First Amendment principles, and further the understanding of the essential relationship between democracy and a free press. The center was funded by a $5 million grant from the Freedom Forum and operates in state-of-the-art facilities adjacent to the School of Journalism and New Media at the University of Mississippi.

“Complex subjects escape easy explanation,” Pederson said. “And too often, we want to make easy explanations for complex occurrences in government and business, and that is why that type of detailed reporting and that type of effort is needed. And if we somehow lose sight of that type of work, and that type of effort that needs to be involved in journalism, we’re gonna suffer as a society.”