by Zach Neal
Community journalists have always faced the challenge of objectivity.
There’s no real litmus test for it and we should probably always assume that we ourselves have some kind of bias or prejudice towards one point of view or another.
There are two sides to every question. It’s an unfortunate truism because there is a third side, an uncommitted side.
On the question of global climate change, there are believers and disbelievers. There are also the uncommitted.
This helps to explain all the time, money and effort in the quest to sway public opinion, always the surest guide to changes in the political, social, and economic landscape.
It is nothing less than a battle for the hearts and minds of the people.
We all have a stake in its outcome.
I, personally, do not have a string of thermometers all over the globe, reporting back in real-time to some heavy duty algorithm-crunching hardware, in order to determine if global warming is real or not. And I’m smart enough to know that I can never really find out the truth for myself. And there is no good reason for any other person to take my word for it, even if I could do so.
Unless I was prepared to present my evidence, one way or another and they were prepared to accept the data.
That works both ways.
I don’t necessarily have to take someone else’s word for it, either. I don’t have to accept someone else’s data.
I could just shrug my shoulders and roll my eyes and say I don’t know.
I can remain uncommitted.
Interestingly, the uncommitted hold the balance of power. This is why both sides court, educate, attempt to persuade, or even just intimidate the uncommitted into a state of apathy.
Sometimes just muddying the waters helps, especially if one side or the other isn’t clearly winning the battle.
If the water is muddy, it must also be deep, or something.
No matter who you are talking to, no matter what the subject matter, no matter what the time and place, you will never, ever be getting more than half the story.
If the person doing the talking is lying or mistaken, then you are not even getting that much—you’re getting a lot less than half a story.
That’s why a good journalist listens to both sides—and this requires a certain amount of objectivity. It’s a good skill to have, because it works as a full-time bull-shit meter.
Little warning bells go off when things don’t add up and you recognize that maybe someone has an interest.
And when you figure out whose interest is best served by facts and truth, and whose interest is best served by lies, half-truths, uncertainties and smoke-screens, then basically you just need to ask more questions.
The more specific the questions, the more specific the answers should be, and if a speech full of rhetoric ensues then you are onto something.
One side has facts, figures, measurable statistics, long-term studies and the other side has a smoke-screen and a lot of rhetoric.
What you do next is your call as a journalist, but if you’re any kind of a writer at all, you’ll get your point across in a professional manner.
Other than that, brevity is king.