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Objectivity and Advocacy

This resolution encourages students to explore the ethical principles that underlie media practice and our information ecosystem. At first blush it may seem self-evident that the media should prioritize objectivity. Values like truth, impartiality, conformity to reality and others all provide solid affirmative ground. Who doesn’t want to learn the truth about issues? Furthermore, most codes of journalistic practice affirm objectivity and confirmation of facts as essential elements of the discourse. However, when we examine news consumption from the perspective of people’s expressed preferences via polling and revenue streams, a different picture emerges. The rise of cable television, talk radio, and the internet have allowed news consumers to tailor their information streams to outlets that they trust, including partisan outlets. The line between news and commentary has become increasingly indistinguishable and the online advertising model of revenue generation creates powerful incentives for legacy media to shift coverage in the directions tailored to audience tastes and sensibilities e.g. think birkenstock ads in the New York Times and AR-15 ads on talk radio. Values including freedom, preference gratification, community formation, solidarity, etc. all militate in favor of the negative side.

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