By Sebastian Grace 
In 2019 book, Wallace offers a critique of journalistic objectivity he does not quite understand. 
Lewis Raven Wallace is a journalist and co-founder of Press On. His new book, “The View from Somewhere: Undoing the Myth of Journalistic Objectivity,” presents the current state of journalistic objectivity as an unwieldy, backwards barrier to “fierce journalists who pursue the truth.” He proposes that the emphasis on neutrality and both sides-ism in today’s editorial suites is misplaced and misunderstands some of the ideals fundamental to the profession: transparency, individuality, and subjectivity. 
Interspersed among these critiques, Wallace includes historical reviews of the life, work and careers of journalists he deems to have been marginalized from mainstream news organizations throughout history. He discusses writers such as Ida B. Wells, John Scagliotti, a key figure in coverage of the gay rights movement since the 1980s, and himself. 
Ramona Martinez, radio producer and Wallace’s friend, is credited in “The View from Somewhere'' with the phrase “Objectivity is the ideology of the status quo." Wallace makes a series of important points around this corrupted ideal of objectivity and its application in newsrooms, saying, for example, "I saw a troubling double standard in which cisgender white men are treated as inherently objective even when they're openly biased." 
Wallace, long a crusader against the ill-equipped nature of today’s journalistic institutions for reporting all of the truth, passionately argues that they should do so “without engaging in a battle against the subjective or the activist.” A key thrust of the book is this ever-difficult relationship between activism and journalism. 
Is there a "clear line" between the two, as Deborah Clark, VP of “Marketplace,” the radio show from which Wallace had been fired for expressing his views on objectivity in a blog post, suggested? No, Wallace concludes in the final pages of his book, sharing his belief that "defining our values as journalists when journalism is under attack means admitting that we are activists and becoming clear about what we are activists for." 
I think many of the issues Wallace identifies throughout “The View from Somewhere” are convincing. Still, I found his prescriptions lacking clarity and substance and his propensity to wallow in self-regard increasingly frustrating. For example, while he clarifies that "it is this idea of a detached, impartial journalist that I take the strongest issue with," Wallace admits that "one problem that plagues this book throughout is the many uses of the word objectivity." 
Some solutions he includes, however, do stand up as potentially valuable. The news organization City Bureau, based in Chicago, is a powerful example. It is a model "of how journalists can resist the objectifying, extractive model of journalism while holding to our role as purveyors of truth in the world." 
I also agreed with Wallace’s takedown of twosides-ism in today’s press. He says, “The attempt to balance left with right has often led … (to) giving platforms to white supremacists, climate deniers and transphobes," and evoked journalism scholar Jay Rosen, detailing how "Journalists often parrot the words of … self-made experts in order to seem ‘fair’... sometimes even at the expense of accuracy.” 
However, halfway through the book, Wallace appears to lay out a worryingly convincing and legitimate argument in favor of journalistic objectivity "as is.” Discussing journalistic ethics and the possibility that conflicts of interest can seriously damage the credibility and reputation of an already beleaguered industry, he notes, "The argument against conflicting entanglements is nonetheless broadly persuasive … (they all could) interfere with fact-finding and truth-telling." 
“Objectivity,” Wallace proposes, “asks that we accept our current structures of dominance as inevitable." This is how he defines it. But, in his ideal of an effective marriage between activism and personal ideology and journalism, why does objectivity feature so prominently? The two seem fundamentally opposed, at least as Wallace defines them throughout the book. 
Perhaps I am being unfair in my criticism of this confusion. Perhaps Wallace might say that he only recommends journalists "stay vigilant about the role of power and oppression in our search for stories that are true." As he rightly suggests, "Objectivity also excludes certain people by suggesting that a detached observer is a better one, even as many of the most important stories of our times have been told by people close to the issue, not detached outsiders.” 
Regardless, confusion exists in “The View from Somewhere'' and detracts from some of its key messages. This is a real shame because much of Wallace's assessment of the journalism industry, including his belief in widening the parameters of acceptable objectivity to recognize its inherent support for the status quo, is more important and timelier than ever. 
Tagged as: Book Review, Journalism
Share this post:

Leave a comment: 

Our site uses cookies. For more information, see our cookie policy. Accept cookies and close
Reject cookies Manage settings