Building a Wall Between Impartiality and Personal Opinion: Background information when reading The Boat Rocker

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The Boat Rocker

by Ha Jin

The Boat Rocker by Ha Jin X
The Boat Rocker by Ha Jin
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  • First Published:
    Oct 2016, 240 pages
    Paperback:
    Oct 2017, 240 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Donna Chavez

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About this Book

Beyond the Book:
Building a Wall Between Impartiality and Personal Opinion

Print Review

Ethics ScaleThe protagonist in The Boat Rocker, Feng Danlin, is a journalist who prides himself on being impartial in his reporting and principled about expressing his opinion. Throughout the book he wrestles with the importance of maintaining objectivity. He researches facts and scrupulously reports his findings, calling out fraud where he sees it.

It is a perennial battle fought out in every newsroom the world over. Some reporters offer opinion with the facts. Others bend over backward to assure only verifiable facts get reported, allowing readers to draw their own conclusions. But are all facts equal? Are all ideas built upon solid ground? Do readers even care? Questions like these have especially dominated more newsrooms in the take-no-prisoners business of reporting on the 2016 American presidential campaign.

According to The News Manual, "a fact can be defined as something said to have happened or supposed to be true. However as a journalist, you need to know how reliable statements are before you can report them as facts. This determines how you present them to your readers or listeners...There are three kinds of facts which you have to deal with as a journalist. There are facts which have been proved to be true; facts which are probably true though they have not been proved; and facts which could be true, although they appear to be lies."

Seems pretty cut and dried. But not so fast. In a 2013 New York Times article, New York University journalism professor Jay Rosen states that he believes there is wiggle room. "The grounds for trust are slowly shifting…The View from Nowhere is slowly getting harder to trust, and 'Here's where I'm coming from' is more likely to be trusted."

Hillary Clinton and Donald TrumpIn that same article a Times associate managing editor for standards notes, "I flatly reject the notion that there is no such thing as impartial, objective journalism — that it's some kind of pretense or charade, and we should just give it up, come clean and lay out our biases," he said. "We expect professionals in all sorts of fields to put their personal opinions aside, or keep them to themselves, when they do their work — judges, police officers, scientists, teachers. Why would we expect less of journalists?...Transparency is the new objectivity." So long as readers know where the journalist is coming from – and barring any kind of overt partisanship – the reporting can be trusted.

In conclusion, according to EthicNet on journalism ethics, "respecting the right of society to objective information, the journalist must convey truthful information and a whole spectrum of opinions on certain issues. The news should be based on facts and information where truthfulness can be checked." And, "bias in commentary is a violation of the principles of journalistic ethics."

Ethics Scale
Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump

Article by Donna Chavez

This article was originally published in November 2016, and has been updated for the October 2017 paperback release. Click here to go to this issue.

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