What is a journalist? What is objectivity? And how will these two go together in the future? Professor Philip Seib of the University of Southern California’s Center on Public Diplomacy answered these questions and more during a speech on Thursday afternoon.
Seib’s recent study involved mainly terrorism and conflict reporting in relation to public diplomacy.
“Public diplomacy is communicating with people, instead of just governments,” he said.
Across the United States, newspapers are cutting back on their foreign correspondence and abandoning bureaus abroad due to the ultimate leveling factor- money.
“The concern is that poll after poll shows the public is terribly unaware of the world,” he said.
In the climate of globalization, where every developed country is connected economically and politically with others, connectivity of news media is critical. But, according to Seib, “the U.S. is entering into an age of neo-isolationism.”
When information, disease and terrorism can cross borders in a matter of hours or days, the seclusion of the U.S. is unhealthy, he explained.
The question of the ethics of technology was also raised. The need to search for balance in news coverage and using multiple sources to garner information is essential and must be taught at a young age, he said.
Objectivity also must be defined.
“A rough definition is objectivity means not caring about the outcome,” Seib said.
A truly objective reporter, he illustrated, would have covered the 2008 election season without a true care whether John McCain or Barack Obama won.
“I’m not sure that’s possible,” he said.
But Seib also described objectivity as a kind of flexible matrix. Giving both sides equal air time, he said, was objective. Favoring one side over the other after giving both equal weight does not break down objectivity.
Seib pointed to Edward R. Murrow of CBS in the 1950’s. Murrow doggedly pursued Sen. Joseph McCarthy and what he viewed as unethical practices during the Red Scare, and openly editorialized on air.
Seib sees this kind of journalistic action as positive.
“Murrow saw as part of his responsibility to wake up Americans,” Seib said.
Journalists like Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times have a moral responsibility to shift the public’s attention to international disasters, such as Kristof’s work in Darfur and now in the Congo.
Also mentioning citizen journalists overseas, such as during the Iranian anti-government riots of this summer, Seib discussed how the traditional bureaus are disappearing.
Following his speech, Seib asserted that the future of journalism isn’t going to die and urged future journalist to take heart.
“There are new niche medias sprouting up online,” he said. “People will always need information,” he said.