On Staying Partial, not Impartial: A Reflection
BY REBECCA ZHANG '22
I tiptoed into The Spectrum as a wee little frosh, terrified of news—and the EICs. Four years later, I’m proud to announce: I no longer tremble at the sight of a stray Jasmine. News writing, on the other hand, required much more convincing.
Though professional journalism often leans left or right, democrat or republican, liberal or conservative, The Spectrum’s take on news counters media bias by emphasizing reporter impartiality. From day one at The Spectrum, “impartiality” joined hands with “news” and galloped into the sunset.
Fourteen-year-old me absolutely abhorred that.
No ~quirky~ hooks? Horrifying. Bland verbs? Disgusting. Impartiality? Get away from me! But above all, I hated the lack of voice in news: I believed it to strip a writer of their own identity.
Now don’t get me wrong, I’m all for unbiased reporting! Impartiality is a powerful tool to wield against today’s fake news and information warfare, and it’s inspiring to see reporters that maintain this rigor. Some journalists even sacrifice their voting rights to uphold objectivity—an awe-striking dedication to their craft. So, even while I love my funky hooks and colorful verbs, I begrudgingly forsook them as I finally dabbled in news, believing the best and most accurate reporting must lack voice and the bias it carries.
Admittedly, I likely annoyed the previous Bits Editor with my first Bits article, “AB Reacts to the Atlanta Shootings.”
“But, what if I just add in a paragraph at the end about how I feel?”
“Okay, a sentence?”
My struggle to locate the ever-elusive line between identity and bias only deepened when I became editor-in-chief. Frankly, I did not know how to balance my commitment to activism with my role as a supposedly impartial EIC. As a leader of two other clubs, I worried that covering their events would unfairly advantage them; I fretted that I only chose articles that promoted my beliefs for the front page; and, I agonized over bias in even the smallest edits. Though once unconscious choices, simple style decisions materialized as I edited.
Some decisions felt more trivial. The Associated Press capitalizes the word after a colon: should we? Nah. Should we add spaces around em dashes like them? Too ugly. Continue italicizing newspapers? Sure, why not!
Meanwhile, other choices left me Googling and frantically sifting through tabs, as we debated over capitalizing “white,” de-hyphenating “Asian American,” and choosing “BIPOC” over “POC.” Uncertainty dominated every decision as I discovered that each lacked a grammatical right or wrong but rather depended on personal belief and bias. And as we chose the more inclusive and representative terms, my own voice crept in—and shattered every previous notion I had about impartiality in news.
It is perhaps impossible to remove voice from writing. From the questions interviewers ask to the most minuscule style choices, bias prevails. Any attempts to separate my identity from my role as EIC would similarly fall short, and I realized that previous efforts to view writing through an impartial lens only yielded inaccuracies.
Shortly after, I began interning at a local paper, covering local refugee resettlement. Though I had once believed news to be cold and unwelcoming, my interviews with these families unveiled a new side of journalism: it is founded on human connection.
Storytelling fosters connection; our individual stories build relationships and communities. More inconspicuously, though, connection also fuels storytelling. Indeed, the most provocative stories in journalism often stem from trust and genuine friendship between reporter and source. I called my editor after a particularly moving interview, gushing over the family’s sheer resistance and optimism, and asked how I’d ever be able to write an article without my own emotional reaction and relationship to them. His answer? Tell their story exactly how you told it to me—with color. Don’t be afraid to keep yourself in.
I am no longer afraid of news reporting. Though I had previously believed the best reporting to lack voice, in reality, identity dictates every story, and it is our voices that fuel storytelling’s power and ability to connect. After all, storytelling forges human connection. And so, as I twist my tassel to the left with the class of 2022, I look back at the connections I’ve made at The Spectrum and ABRHS as a whole, beaming at the role they’ve played in shaping my own story.