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In Their Own Words

February 23, 1947

Ralph McGill: Truth vs. Objectivity

In this day’s column in the Atlanta Constitution, writer and future editor Ralph McGill offered his opinion on whether truth or objectivity is the better goal for a newspaper:

“For a long time now I have been a voice crying in the wilderness of journalistic teaching. I think that as newspapers generally we have not done the mass job of informing the people of the United States on matters about which they should have been informed, for the simple reason that we have been taught to worship a word – Objectivity. Truth, I want. But not objectivity. I want truth and not objectivity, for the simple reason there isn’t any such thing as objectivity, and cannot be any such thing. Not only that, there shouldn’t be. Objectivity is a phantom. In chasing it we have dulled our stories. We too often made them frightfully boring, plodding unfolding of events, in which the words, like plowmen plodding their weary way, were strung together like mud balls when they might as well have been pearls. No story worth reading seeks to be ‘objective.’ It seeks, or should seek, two things – to tell the truth and to be read. If it tells the truth so dully that it is not read, then it has failed utterly, no matter how ‘objective’ it may be rated. If it is to be read it must inform. To inform it must carry with it the weight of the reporter’s experience, his background, his ability to use words, and his feeling for the story – all this along with the facts. Any well-written story, which readers find ‘good,’ must of necessity carry with it some of the reporter’s opinion. I do not mean an editorial opinion. But, in writing it he cannot fail to give certain weight and importance to the various phases of the story. He has an opinion as to what is the most important factor in it. This is all the more true if it be a good, well-trained, experienced reporter who is at work on the story. He, or she, uses his or her experience, or opinion, to judge and evaluate the story in putting it together. Therefore, it appears, it represents an opinion, or an evaluation developed out of the reporter’s experience, training, and ability to write. We simply have been making a fetish of a word. And, in semantic confusion, we have given to that fetish-word a meaning it doesn’t really possess. We have been sending young reporters out with an admonishment that their first duty is to be dull – and unread. So, I have been going about the country for years, crying in the wilderness, saying that we needed good writing that would inform people, and not dull, ‘objective’ assembling of facts… .”

Source: Michael Strickland, Harry Davis, and Jeff Strickland (comp.), The Best of Ralph McGill, Selected Columns (Atlanta: Cherokee Publishing Company, 1980), pp. 206-207.