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OPINION: Journalistic objectivity is an impossibility

It’s time the industry, including journalism students and professors on campus, recognize that the search for non-biased reporting is a fruitless one

A gathering of students at the Pro-Palestine encampment on Western's Old Main lawn on May 14, 2024, in Bellingham, Wash. A sign reads "Popular University for Gaza," a slogan which has appeared at encampments across the nation. // Photo by Riley Nachtrieb

Disclaimer: The current opinions editor was involved in the demonstrations and was not part of the production or editing of this piece.

Author's Note: My name is Riley Weeks (she/her) and I am an environmental journalist, student and editor-in-chief of The Planet magazine at Western Washington University. The views I express here do not necessarily reflect those of The Planet, nor am I writing in any official capacity as editor-in-chief.  

It's been more than two weeks since a Western Washington University campus advisory alerted students to a peaceful on-campus encampment on May 14. On Wednesday, after 10-hour deliberations with Western administration, encampment members agreed to peacefully depart campus at 5 p.m. Thursday.

The agreement between the WWU Divest Apartheid Coalition and Western administration came after a rally and die-in— a form of protest in which participants lie on the ground and act lifeless — on Tuesday in Old Main. The coalition has stated that the end of the encampment does not mark the end of their larger movement toward divestment and Palestinian liberation. 

Students were protesting Western’s complacency in the genocide being committed against Palestinians in Gaza by Israel. 

There have been more than 36,000 people killed by Israel in Gaza since the war began.

The encampment started after university President Sabah Randhawa failed to meet a list of demands presented to him by Western’s Arab Student Association and Jewish Voice for Peace on May 3. 

Western has no direct investments in companies on the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions list created by the Palestinian BDS National Committee, according to Randhawa. 

However, he also said that he did not know where all university money was invested during a May 4 meeting with Western students, according to the WWU Divest Apartheid Coalition. 

This is because Western’s endowment, or money given to the university that is then invested to generate income, is managed by Russell Investments. The Seattle-based company has not made any immediate changes to its outlook or portfolio positioning in response to the conflict, according to its website.

Students advocating for divesting from fossil fuels have consistently run into the same lack of investment transparency, and Western has consistently refused to allow students to see what companies the endowment is invested in. 

In addition to concerns about financial transparency, student demands note Western’s ties to Boeing Co. which manufactures weapons used by the Israeli government in Gaza. 

Boeing has been in partnership with the Israeli government for more than 75 years and has provided the Israeli government with nine different Boeing products that are currently being used by the Israeli Defense Force, including at least 3,000 GBU-39 small-diameter bombs. 

The company is also a longtime supporter of Western and has annually funded a College of the Environment scholarship since 2008. 

The genocide in Gaza that Western is complacent in is a social justice issue and is inextricably tied in climate justice. I believe, as an environmental journalist and environmental justice advocate, that I have a responsibility to not only report on local protests but to advocate for positive environmental and social change.

The Impossibility of objectivity 

Journalists have often been taught to be objective bystanders. To report on communities but not be a part of them, to bear witness to atrocities and to stand as sentinels for the general public without getting emotionally invested. 

Seeking the truth and reporting on it is and should be an important tenet of good journalism. But I also wonder just how high on the pedestal the objectivity conversation should be put. I know some journalism professors on campus that don’t participate in protests and others that will never disclose their political leanings all in the name of their journalistic integrity and neutrality. 

As a part of The Planet class, we ask our reporters to read Wesley Lowery’s op-ed from The New York Times, “A Reckoning Over Objectivity, Led by Black Journalists.” He argues that objectivity is impossible for reporters to achieve. 

“The views and inclinations of whiteness are accepted as the objective neutral,” Lowery wrote in 2020. “When black and brown reporters and editors challenge those conventions, it’s not uncommon for them to be pushed out, reprimanded or robbed of new opportunities.”

I echo the voices of Lowery and others who are calling for a shift in focus from objective neutrality to instead just be fair and tell the truth, without dismissing the biases and opinions that all humans, even journalists, carry with them. I am calling for a style of journalism that honors the experiences and intersectional identities of reporters in the field, without sacrificing the need for news that tells the truth. 

Scenes from the first week of Western’s Pro-Palestine encampment in Old Main Lawn at Western Washington University in Bellingham, Wash. The encampment began on Tuesday, May 14, 2024. // Photo by Peyton Perdue

The Front’s protest policy explicitly states that reporters cannot advocate for a cause and simultaneously report on it. This is worrisome. 

Am I as a woman not allowed to advocate for reproductive rights and simultaneously cover a protest regarding the same issue? Am I as an environmentalist not allowed to advocate for clean water and air and report on threats or changes to those human rights? 

Are members of the ASA and JVP not allowed to cover the encampment on Old Main lawn? What about Palestinian students in general? Does advocating for or supporting student demands from these organizations mean that I as a journalist suddenly no longer have the capacity to follow the facts? 

There are thin, malleable lines between journalists and their sources, and many news organizations have policies in place to prevent conflicts of interest. I understand that a business reporter shouldn’t be reporting on their mom’s new business. But I worry that the search for conflict-free, bias-free journalism is a fruitless one. 

Instead of hiding or not participating in advocacy in order to uphold an appearance of objectivity, which we’ve already established is impossible to achieve, I believe journalists should provide transparency to their readers through a statement of their positionality. 

This has become common in feminist academic papers as a way to signify to readers how the author identifies. Additionally, The Front should allow reporters from all backgrounds, regardless of their advocacy, to cover the encampment on campus and other issues surrounding the genocide in Gaza. I am confident that The Front’s talented team of editors can ensure that facts are at the forefront of all articles published.  

I ache for Palestinian journalists who must watch and report on their communities being ravaged by war. I stand with them, and all other Palestinians and allies, as both a fellow human and journalist.

Riley Weeks

Riley Weeks was a city news beat reporter for The Front. She is a senior in the environmental studies/journalism program and is working to complete minors in American Indian Studies and Law, Diversity and Justice. When she's not reporting, Riley loves to hike, bake and read. 

You can reach her at 

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