Take a moment to consider a quick thought experiment. No heavy lifting, I promise. No math, no physics, advanced theorems or upside-down ideas.
Just what you can see with your own eyes.
Look at the space you are in now, whether it's your home, office or perhaps outside.
Notice the whole space; check the details. If inside, note the type of furniture, its placement, the color and texture of the fabric, the relationship between the various items. Is everything neat and tidy? Or did your children just rumble through like wildebeest who’ve finally found a waterhole after three days of drought?
Now, imagine a friend calls and asks you to describe the space. Where do you start? With the item you most recently purchased? The condition of the room? Or your landlord’s inability to get you enough heat?
Those are the kinds of decisions journalists make every day. It's why being a good journalist requires careful thought. You have a sea of details. And you must decide which are most important, which to include, what order they go in and how to express those details.
It's also why stories that have a narrow focus are so much easier to tell and absorb -- stories with a clear villain, an obvious conflict, a dire situation. It provides focus and helps to narrow the selection of details and facts you have to consider.
I’m sure some will look at the preceding paragraph and say, “Look, they admit it. There is no such thing as objectivity in journalism! It’s all subjective. They pick and choose and decide what to tell us and what to leave out.”
OK, wait a minute. I’m not done yet. The experiment isn’t over.
A lot of elements go into being a good journalist: perceptiveness, attentiveness, craftsmanship, meeting deadlines. The list is long.
So let’s just look at the question our thought experiment raised. Journalism’s response to the above proclamation is intent.
Intent is the foundation of objectivity. Sound journalism requires reporters to cover a story with the intent to report as full and accurate a picture as they can.
Granted, intent is not a guarantee. We all have blind spots. That is why good reporting requires good editors, too. Sometimes circumstances keep you from literally seeing the situation from a different angle. But as human beings, it is likely the best we can do.
Back to the experiment. If your intent is to persuade your friend to let you move in with him or her, you might start with the fact that your apartment is freezing.
If your intent is to demonstrate your refined taste in decor, you might start with the new item you just bought. If your intent is to lean on your friend as a sympathetic ear, you might start with the wildebeest who have taken up residence in your home.
You get where I am going with this.
Intent can lead to leaving out facts, presenting a situation as simple when it is not, because the primary intent isn’t to inform, it is to persuade. If your intent is to persuade, you are building a case, like a lawyer. Did you leave out the part that you are behind on your rent? That the new stylish item has a chip, so the back must always face the wall? Or that the children just finished the last of their Halloween candy?
Now, we’re getting a more complete picture.
If your intent is to forthrightly report the situation as best you can, you include all the relevant, confirmed facts you can. It is that simple.
It is why opinion is different from reporting. The former is to persuade, the latter to inform.
It is why biased news organizations say, “Hey, we were just reporting the facts,” neglecting to mention they didn’t report all the relevant facts or so shifted the weighting as to affect your perspective.
It's also why it's always a good idea to get reporting on a story that matters to you from different news organizations, if possible, and think critically about those reports.
It's easy to see that even in a small room there can be a mountain of information. Scale that to the level of a community and the importance of intent is magnified countless times.
Our intent every day at WCPO 9 News is to bring you the most complete and accurate portrayal of our community that we can, in both our individual stories and our overall coverage.
We don't fill our newscasts and website with tons of crime, because our community isn't a crime-ridden dystopia.
We work to bring you stories about people making a positive difference in our community because there is a great amount of good that happens in our community and those local heroes should be celebrated.
We work to hold our public leaders accountable because they are supposed to be working for all of us.
It's our intent to make this a better place to live, raise families and run a business through our journalism.
As I mentioned, intent isn't a guarantee. We won't always get it right. But all of us here hope you know we are doing everything we can to give you news as it should be: honest and authentic.
Ted Wilson is the PM News Content Manager at WCPO 9 News. He oversees WCPO 9 News' 7 and 11 p.m. newscasts and evening news coverage.