Student Voice – Objectivity and Fairness Reflection – Hagan Hord

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On Nov. 2, 2023, the Overby Center for Southern Journalism and Politics hosted an event to discuss impartiality in our news today. “Objectivity and Fairness: A Thing of the Past?” was a panel-style discussion that included many educated professionals in the journalism realm.

Walter Hussman, Jr. was the special guest for the event. Hussman currently serves as the chairman of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. As an Arkansan myself, I was very interested in hearing what Hussman had to say about the newspaper that I have grown up around. I feel like I had a unique perspective of the panel because I have a personal connection to the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.

Hussman mentioned a survey that involved 20,000 Americans from all 50 states. The participants were asked if they had any confidence in news reporting today, and 86% said they had “not much confidence” or “no confidence” in their news sources. I thought these numbers were quite disappointing yet fascinating at the same time.

Andrea Hickerson, Dean of the School of Journalism and New Media, made a point that I have never
thought about in terms of society’s distrust in news.

“[Journalists] don’t explain what [they] do very well,” Hickerson said. “We need to show how we got the sources and how we did the fact-checking.”

I think Hickerson is spot on in her response to the nation’s distrust in news media. That was a new way for me to look at journalism, and I appreciate her mentioning this issue.

Tony Pederson, Senior National Fellow for the Overby Center, briefly mentioned three great journalism pieces during the panel. John Hersey’s Hiroshima, Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, and Watergate examples of “landmark journalism,” Pederson said. He stressed that these pieces left a lasting mark on society because they were objective, influencing me to learn more about them. Hussman ends his spiel regarding political bias in journalism with a quote from journalist Marty Baron: “We’re not at war, we’re at work.”

I think this was a simple yet very powerful sentence to include. Politics is a very tense subject, and people often ignore the fact that there are two sides to every story. Switching the narrative of disagreement in the press from something bad to something fair is crucial, especially in today’s political climate.

The panel also included Violet Jira, editor-in-chief of the Daily Mississippian, and Charles Overby, chairman of the Overby Center.

These five passionate and brilliant panel leaders did a great job in expressing their comments and concerns on objectivity and fairness in today’s news. I learned a lot of valuable information from this event that I will use in my future.