Earlier this month, James Geary, an editor at Nieman Reports, published a letter calling into question the role of objectivity in journalism. He referenced two stories: In the first, a Black teenager in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, was named as a kidnapping suspect in local media even though police never charged him with the crime. And in the second, a video went viral of a Black local community leader in Kansas City warning that Black women seemed to be disappearing from a specific intersection in the city. Many Kansas City news outlets published information from the police, describing the concerns as “rumors” or “completely unfounded.”
A white man is now awaiting trial for the kidnapping, rape, and murder of the woman in Myrtle Beach. A few weeks after the Kansas City video went viral, a Black woman escaped from the basement in the home of a white man, who is charged with rape, kidnapping, and assault after abducting her from that same intersection.
Geary contended that “these two stories are connected by journalism’s inconsistent definitions — and selective applications — of objectivity.”
He claimed that journalists’ personal connections to individual stories does not always negatively impact the quality of the reporting and would actually lead to more transparent engagement with readers. “Empathy doesn’t blind us. It allows us to see more clearly just what’s at stake for the individuals and communities on whom we report, insight that can and should bring more depth and nuance to stories.”