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Why Journalism Matters: Objectivity

This is the fifth in a weekly series by NCTE member Alana Rome.  

Alana RomeSometimes I wonder if I’m the only teacher who encounters this problem, but no matter how many times I tell my students that essays must be written in third-person point of view, I still see “I,” “us,” and “you” in their writing; and I’m not only talking about my English classes.

Maybe it’s because they grow up in an age where social media provides a perpetual soapbox, but my students constantly want to make sure their ideas are labeled as such. To counteract this informal use of language in their writing, I review first-, second- and third-person points of view and model ways to turn a weak statement written in first person (which is clearly an opinion) into a stronger, third-person statement that makes opinion look like fact.

Journalism classes and newspapers require the same degree of third-person objectivity, albeit the approach to obtaining said objectivity differs. A thesis statement is always arguable, but the information disseminated through a news story shouldn’t be. Only the facts should be given, and if opinions are present, they are the opinions of quoted sources.

The Trailblazer staff has always struggled with remaining completely objective in their news stories. I really think it’s because they’re so passionate about what they’re writing about. The students want to be in support of our new transgender policy or cheer for the wonderful season the football team had. They have to understand, though, that the facts and quotes, if utilized correctly, speak for themselves. A well-written news story gives the reader everything he needs to form his own opinion, because the goal of journalism is to inform, not persuade.

The same is true for an informative/explanatory essay: the goal is to inform the reader, not persuade them to think or feel a certain way. Therefore, the textual evidence presented in the essay must speak for itself and allow the reader to either accept or refute the thesis presented.

Writing news articles, whether in a journalism or English class (perhaps on a current event that relates to the core text of a unit), helps to teach students to write objectively, formally, and with varied evidence to support their main idea.

Need more evidence that journalism’s focus on objectivity fits the needs of English classes? Just take a look at some of the Common Core State Standards for English, grades 9–10:

  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.W.9-10.1 – Write arguments to support claims in an analysis of substantive topics or texts, using valid reasoning and relevant and sufficient evidence.
  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.W.9-10.1.D – Establish and maintain a formal style and objective tone while attending to the norms and conventions of the discipline in which they are writing.
  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.W.9-10.8- Gather relevant information from multiple authoritative print and digital sources, using advanced searches effectively; assess the usefulness of each source in answering the research question; integrate information into the text selectively to maintain the flow of ideas, avoiding plagiarism and following a standard format for citation.

Alana Rome is an English teacher, newspaper adviser for Trailblazer, and soon-to-be journalism teacher at Pascack Hills High School in Montvale, NJ. She has a bachelor’s degree in journalism and a master’s degree in English education, grades 7-12, both from Iona College. Alana is a contributor of English Leadership Quarterly and has provided professional development sessions at EdScape, Global Education Conference, and Columbia Scholastic Press Association on a variety of topics, including global awareness, authentic assessment, classroom technology integration and student goal-setting.