Why did WTTW fire me? Because I believe journalists can never really be objective — only transparent

I don’t hide behind the handicap of objectivity, as if journalists can check their humanity at the door.

SHARE Why did WTTW fire me? Because I believe journalists can never really be objective — only transparent
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Hugo Balta

As a journalist, I have pursued a commitment to transparency over the antiquated practices of objectivity throughout my career. I have done everything in my power to combat inadequacy in representation and systemic racism, which often cripple newsrooms.

When WTTW hired me a year ago, the television station knew of my mission and beliefs as a journalist, as a proud Latino and a passionate advocate for diversity, equity and inclusion. Working in the public eye made me an attractive candidate and, ultimately, news director at WTTW. Sandra Micek, the station’s CEO and president, wanted to change the news department’s culture and hired an experienced, successful change agent to accomplish that goal.

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A year’s worth of celebrated transformative initiatives is a testament to the success of an unconventional approach. Among them were the “In Your Neighborhood” series covering COVID-19 and the launching of “Chicago Tonight: Latino Voices” and “Chicago Tonight: Black Voices.”

It is clear to me now that WTTW leadership and veterans were not ready for real change nor impact.

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I was wrongfully terminated last week because I don’t hide behind the handicap of objectivity as if journalists can check their humanity at the door. I subscribe to transparency in the pursuit of truth. By acknowledging my own biases, I surround myself with people who don’t often share the same experience, background and ideologies. It is by engaging with them in discourse about story coverage, those who tell the stories, and those who have the chance to be heard that we ensure fair and accurate coverage.

In an interview with Sun-Times columnist Laura Washington, Phil Ponce, longtime host of “Chicago Tonight” defended journalistic objectivity. “Objectivity is, you know, it’s at the core of ‘Chicago Tonight’s’ DNA,” he said. “If we become partisan and political, or people think we are, I mean, at that point, we’ve lost our credibility and relevance.”

Objectivity proposes that there are two sides to every story. But in fact, there are many perspectives, and the ones most often left out are from marginalized communities whose representation is absent from newsrooms.

It is objectivity that dilutes the coverage of systemic racism in government, health care, education, employment, victimizing communities that are not looking for handouts to survive but a fair chance to thrive.

Ponce sent posts from my personal Instagram account to WTTW’s news department that he deemed as “overtly political.” Among them was a post celebrating Kamala Harris on Inauguration Day.

Kamala Harris. The first woman to be elected vice president. The first woman of color to be elected vice president.

That post was not political; it was about a historic moment.

Laura Washington wrote: “Like every legacy news operation, it (WTTW) can always do more to cover and reflect communities of color.”

But how long do people of color have to wait?

For decades, these communities have demanded fair treatment from homogeneous leaders in the media, which all too often shape the prejudiced negative narrative that the general population considers truth. And what Ms. Washington described as creative and potent in this past year’s storytelling at WTTW was a deliberate strategy demonstrating the benefits of building a newsroom on a foundation of diversity and inclusion.

As journalists, transparency — not objectivity — delivers news and information empowering viewers, readers, and listeners.

Hugo Balta, Chicago

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