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The Nation 2018 Student Journalism Conference: Don’t Just Be Objective

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As a young aspiring journalist, I’ve always heard that being objective is the most important thing to keep in mind when covering events and writing stories. Be objective. Don’t let your opinions show through in your writing. However, in the age of “fake news,” words become twisted, and with so much social angst occurring, it is sometimes hard to know how to fairly cover a topic. When I received an e-mail informing me that I had been accepted into The Nation 2018 Student Journalism Conference, which was primarily focused on how to better cover social movements and protests in the Trump era, I was ecstatic.

After waiting for months, my mom and I drove to Columbus, Ohio, where we boarded a plane to New York City. I was extremely nervous; all I knew about the conference was a little about each speaker, the facility it was occurring in, The New School, and the fact that The Nation was the oldest published magazine in the United States.

The conference began at 8:30 a.m. the next day, and after picking up my name badge and eating a quick breakfast, the event began with a welcome from The Nation’s editor, Katrina vanden Heuvel. The day went on with conversations and panels from Melissa Harris-Perry and Dr. Sherri Williams, Sarah Jaffe, Collier Meyerson, Lizzy Ratner and Richard Kim.

Although the entire conference seemed like a whirl-wind of knowledge that I tried so hard to consume, one of the conversations that truly stuck with me was during a panel with Kai Wright, a writer, editor and Nation contributor. Wright said that the work of a journalist is not to be simply “objective,” but it is to be fair, thorough, and transparent. He said that simply being objective, which is defined as not being influenced by personal feelings or opinions in considering and representing facts, makes for lazy journalism. This really hit me hard. Was he right? The more I thought about it, I started to agree with him. Of course, as a journalist, I don’t want to be influenced by opinions in my writing. But I think so often we believe that is our only duty. However, being thorough and noticing and reporting every detail is important. Being fair and appropriate and in accordance to ethical standards is important. And being transparent is important.

In neglecting the details and focusing solely on being objective, which is what we’re told time after time is the most important thing, our stories lack substance. They lack facts. In a world where journalists are mocked and tormented every day, it is true, we need to step up our game. The Nation 2018 Student Journalism Conference not only sent me home from New York with some great advice on how to cover movements and protests, but it left me with some hard facts and a new informed outlook on my future profession.

Hanna Pennington can be contacted at [email protected]

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