As journalists, we’re taught to strive for objectivity. When you step into the job, you don’t have a religion, or a family history, or hobbies, you only have eyes and ears for your subject. This goal is bullshit. You can’t get rid of your biases, no matter how hard you try. You can change your biases, they can and do evolve with education, but you’ll always have them. And yes, they do stand in the way of telling honest stories, and often can stand in the way of making a connection and establishing rapport with others.
I learned recently just how powerful my own biases were in preventing me from being a good journalist. I spent a week living with and reporting on a group of Canadian military reservists, basically living in a tent with a group of guys who already didn’t really want me there because of my little tape recorder and notebook. I didn’t have to say anything for them to get a sense of who I was – a left-wing, university educated feminist with thick framed glasses and a hard on for skim soy lattes. They’re the guys who played sports in high school and called me weird. That’s the relationship I walked into anyway. A relationship like that doesn’t go anywhere past the initial awkward glances, and let me tell you, it’s hard to write a story on awkward glances.
I knew I had to get over it if I was going to tell these guy’s stories. They like things like poop jokes and Family Guy and chewing tobacco. If I were in a group of my own peers, we wouldn’t laugh at this stuff. I’d go on some ramble in the Carillon about how dirty humour shows a societal lack of respect for women, minorities, whatever. And the guys would shirk away from me, because nobody wants to be judged.
So yeah, I laughed at shit jokes. And I talked about getting super drunk. Basically I went back to grade 10, and while you’re probably rolling your eyes and calling me a “sell out”, I have one defence: You don’t gain trust by believing you stand above others.
If we live in a world where we choose judgement instead of getting over ourselves, we make walls and barriers and if you’re a journalist, trying to stand outside of the circle because it’s first off, not who you are, and secondly, not objective behaviour is stupid. It’s worse than bringing your own biases.
If I didn’t laugh at their jokes because that’s not “objective”, they’d shut up, wondering if I am judging them, or making notes about them like animals in a zoo. If it’s a zoo you think you’re observing when you step outside of your comfort zones as a journalist, you won’t get the story until you throw the notepad away and jump over the fence.
Photo courtesy of true-wildlife.blogspot.com