Press "Enter" to skip to content

Two Journalists Started an Argument in Boston in 1979. It’s Not Over Yet.

A diverse new generation of reporters has sought to dismantle the old order, and much of the conflict was playing out, in recent years, at The Washington Post, whose top editor at the time, Martin Baron, had won Pulitzers and challenged presidents by making use of the traditional tools of newspaper journalism. But Mr. Baron also bridled at his employees expressing opinions on Twitter about the subjects they covered.

His former protégé, the national correspondent Wesley Lowery, argued in a widely circulated New York Times opinion essay that objectivity mirrored the worldview of white reporters and editors, whose “selective truths have been calibrated to avoid offending the sensibilities of white readers.” Mr. Lowery, who ended up leaving The Post for CBS News, suggested that news organizations “abandon the appearance of objectivity as the aspirational journalistic standard, and for reporters instead to focus on being fair and telling the truth, as best as one can, based on the given context and available facts.”

That same argument has found an embrace at some of America’s leading journalism schools, as well.

“We focus on fairness and fact-checking and accuracy, and we don’t try to suggest to our students that opinions they have should be hidden ,” said Sarah Bartlett, the dean of the City University of New York Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism. “We embrace transparency.”

Steve Coll, her counterpart at Columbia, who announced on Thursday that he was stepping down in June after nine years as dean, said that Columbia Journalism School tries to teach fairness and intellectual honesty — adding that the old way of thinking has morphed into something new. “The church is gone, and there’s no orthodoxy left,” he said. “There’s many journalisms, and that’s kind of liberating.”

Much of the shift has to do with the changing nature of the news business, and the decline of local newspapers, whose business often depended on taking an establishment position. The internet has also blurred for readers the lines between news and opinion, which were clear in a print newspaper.