Journalism & humility

"Journalism & humility" Continued...

Issue: "Lavelle's wonderful life," Dec. 25, 2004

Biblical objectivity

The "fly on the wall" school of humility emphasized the role of the journalist in giving the opinions of others rather than presenting his own. What WORLD calls "biblical objectivity" attempts to do the same: Biblical objectivity's goal is to proclaim God's opinion, as clearly communicated in Scripture, rather than our own subjective preferences.

In theory, if we value the sola scriptura principle with its emphasis on scriptural clarity concerning essential matters, biblical objectivity makes sense and other approaches have logical flaws. After all, if the Bible is God's Word, can any other words trump His? Since only God knows the true, objective nature of things, doesn't His book, the Bible, present the only completely objective and accurate view of the world? Shouldn't our goal be to see the world as much in biblical terms as our fallen and sinful natures allow?

That understanding underlies WORLD's mission statement: "To report, interpret, and illustrate the news in a timely, accurate, enjoyable, and arresting fashion from a perspective committed to the Bible as the inerrant Word of God." We know that, given our human limitations, along with our fallenness and sinfulness, we can never achieve that perspective-but by following the Bible's teachings we try to come closer than we otherwise would, showing humility before God.

That's what we mean by biblical objectivity. We don't merely cover all the sound and fury in the world, and then present people's lives as tales told by idiots, signifying nothing. Nor do we cover only the good and uplifting parts of life so as to provide sugary stories. Biblical objectivity emphasizes, like Stephen's historical speech in Acts 7, God's holiness and man's sinfulness. WORLD stories over a typical month try to show how terrible man is, yet how wonderful, created in God's image. Our articles, we hope, accurately describe the world God has made and reflect His view of how His creatures mess up and sometimes get things right.

In practice, the pursuit of biblical objectivity is filled with hazards. If we merely take our own opinions and ascribe them to God, we are moving not toward humility but toward extreme arrogance. At WORLD we have a regular process that we hope helps us avoid that: We classify issues that arise using a shorthand derived from classification of whitewater rapids, which are rated on a scale of one to six. (A class one rapids is easy, a class six potentially fatal.)

A class one issue is one-say, adultery or homosexuality-on which the Bible takes an explicit position, so we do too. A class two involves an implicit biblical position-for example, the importance of God-centered education-so we know we're reflecting God's opinion, not our own, when we call for that. Certainty decreases, though, as we move through classes three, four, and five, so on such issues we are increasingly laid back, until by the time we arrive at a class six issue we are likely to report multiple sides without indicating a biblical preference. (This and other methodological aspects are explained more in Telling the Truth, available at www.worldmag.com/world/olasky /truth1.html. For more on the history of objectivity and biblical alternatives, see chapters 4, 10, and 11 of Prodigal Press, available at www.worldmag.com/world/olasky/Prodigal/index.html.)

Our goal of journalistic humility also pushes us to admit errors rapidly and work on ways to decrease them. When we goof we print corrections or let our readers take us to the woodshed, and we don't talk back. We print in our Mailbag pro and con letters in about the ratio we receive them. We read all the letters sent to us.

We try to think through techniques to make what we do transparent. For example, we try to avoid journalistic ventriloquism, where a reporter instead of honestly presenting his own view picks an expert interviewee to say it for him. We also try to avoid sourcery, where unnamed sources spin the news their way. If we use an unnamed source, we explain why we're doing that.

At the same time, our hope is to continue to hit hard on issues concerning which the Bible is clear. Good journalism emphasizes truth-telling, even when it hurts, and our goal is to tell the whole truth of how the heavens declare the glory of God but the streets proclaim the sinfulness of man. We don't grasp God's full glory in condescending to save us unless we understand how sinful those streets are. We thank God for His tender mercies, and plan to report in 2005 both mercy and sin.


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