Why I Sometimes Don’t Take Sides

Arriving home after a short trip to Florida, I found a letter from Hannah. The Colorado high school student recently did a research project and used my book, The Debate Over Genetically Engineered Foods: Healthy or Harmful? Hannah found the book to be very helpful. However, she wrote:

I noticed in the book that you never took a stand on the subject and gave great points to both sides, but do you really have an opinion that you are not sharing? Do you always sound unbiased in your work because I read a couple unrelated articles, and of the ones I read, you never chose a side.

GMfoodsMy two-page response to Hannah is en route via U.S. Mail. Because she raises a good point about objectivity, I want to share part of my response here.

Yes, my letter explained, I deliberately did not take sides in the book. The book was for the educational market, and its goal was to help students and other readers develop their own informed opinions. Beyond this, the book is journalistic. In other words, it reports on its subject. As I explained to Hannah:

More generally, my book about genetically engineered foods and many of my other books and articles fall into the category of journalistic writing. Good journalists aim to report the news fairly. While they definitely have views, they also recognize that objective, independent reporting makes their writing more credible and reliable. For more on this topic, check out “Principles of Journalism” at Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism website.

Other writing styles take a specific position on issues. Newspaper editorials and many online blog posts state their authors’ positions in an attempt to sway public opinion. I do this in some of my Summa Cum Latte blog posts. Legal briefs in court cases also take definite positions. Those court filings aim to persuade judges to rule in favor of one side instead of another.

In my personal view, there’s a place for both reporting and commentary. Unfortunately, the lines often blur in our current media. Yes, many people want to know Fox News or Salon’s take on hot items in the news. But if all our news sources are slanted, it’s harder for Hannah and others to arrive at their own informed opinions.

When you read an article or watch any news show, consider whether it’s objective or biased one way or the other. Take this into account when you judge how reliable the information is.

And when you have a question about a position an author does or doesn’t take, write in and ask!

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