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Objectivity (journalism)

Parent article: Journalism ethics and standards

Objectivity is a significant principle of journalistic professionalism. Journalistic objectivity can refer to fairness, disinterestedness, factuality, and nonpartisanship, but most often encompasses all of these qualities.

Contents

[edit] Definitions

In the context of journalism, objectivity may be understood as synonymous with neutrality.[citation needed] This must be distinguished from the goal of objectivity in philosophy, which would describe mind-independent facts which are true irrespective of human feelings, beliefs, or judgments.

Sociologist Michael Schudson argues that "the belief in objectivity is a faith in 'facts,' a distrust in 'values,' and a commitment to their segregation."[1] It refers to the prevailing ideology of newsgathering and reporting that emphasizes eyewitness accounts of events, corroboration of facts with multiple sources and balance of viewpoints. It also implies an institutional role for journalists as a fourth estate, a body that exists apart from government and large interest groups.[citation needed]

[edit] Criticisms

Advocacy journalists and civic journalists criticize the understanding of objectivity as neutrality or nonpartisanship, arguing that it does a disservice to the public because it fails to attempt to find the truth.[citation needed] They also argue that such objectivity is nearly impossible to apply in practice — newspapers inevitably take a point of view in deciding what stories to cover, which to feature on the front page, and what sources they quote. Media critics such as Edward Herman and Noam Chomsky (1988) have described a propaganda model that they use to show how in practice such a notion of objectivity ends up heavily favoring the viewpoint of government and powerful corporations.

Another example of an objection to objectivity, according to communication scholar David Mindich, was the coverage that the major papers (most notably the New York Times) gave to the lynching of thousands of African Americans during the 1890s. News stories of the period often described with detachment the hanging, immolation and mutilation of people by mobs. Under the regimen of objectivity, news writers often attempted to balance these accounts by recounting the alleged transgressions of the victims that provoked the lynch mobs to fury. Mindich argues that this may have had the effect of normalizing the practice of lynching.[2]

[edit] Online journalism

Online journalism enables highly accelerated news reporting and delivery, which sometimes is at tension with standards of objectivity. Some[who?] have proposed a certification system where web-based news would be granted a .news top-level domain.[3]

Tim Berners-Lee, credited with the creation of the World Wide Web, has stated that he is worried that the Web is being used to spread misinformation:

"On the web the thinking of cults can spread very rapidly and suddenly a cult which was 12 people who had some deep personal issues suddenly find a formula which is very believable. A sort of conspiracy theory of sorts and which you can imagine spreading to thousands of people and being deeply damaging."[citation needed]

Objectivity in on-line journalism can suffer as a direct result of these 'cults of thinking'. Berners-Lee refers to the false rumours of the harmful effects of the MMR vaccine which spread across the Web in the United Kingdom, which led to many children remaining unvaccinated.[4]

[edit] Alternatives

Some argue that a more appropriate standard should be fairness and accuracy (as enshrined in the names of groups like Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting). Under this standard, taking sides on an issue would be permitted as long as the side taken was accurate and the other side was given a fair chance to respond. Many professionals believe that true objectivity in journalism is not possible and reporters must seek balance in their stories (giving all sides their respective points of view), which fosters fairness.

Notable departures from objective news work include the muckraking of Ida Tarbell and Lincoln Steffens, the New Journalism of Tom Wolfe and Hunter S. Thompson, the underground press of the 1960s, and public journalism.

[edit] History

" ..."balanced" coverage that plagues American journalism and which leads to utterly spineless reporting with no edge. The idea seems to be that journalists are allowed to go out to report, but when it comes time to write, we are expected to turn our brains off and repeat the spin from both sides. God forbid we should attempt fairly assess what we see with our own eyes. "Balanced" is not fair, it's just an easy way of avoiding real reporting...and shirking our responsibility to inform readers. "

- Ken Silverstein, 2008[5]

The term objectivity was not applied to journalistic work until the 20th century, but it had fully emerged as a guiding principle by the 1890s.[citation needed] A number of communication scholars and historians[who?][citation needed] agree that the idea of "objectivity" has prevailed as a dominant discourse among journalists in the United States since the appearance of modern newspapers in the Jacksonian Era of the 1830s. The rise of objectivity in journalistic method is also rooted in the scientific positivism of the 19th century, as professional journalism of the late 19th century borrowed parts of its worldview from various scientific disciplines of the day.[citation needed]

Some historians, like Gerald Baldasty, have observed that "objectivity" went hand in hand with the need to make profits in the newspaper business by selling advertising.[citation needed] Publishers did not want to offend any potential advertising customers and therefore encouraged news editors and reporters to strive to present all sides of an issue. In a similar vein, the rise of wire services and other cooperative arrangements forced journalists to produce more "middle of the road" stories that would be acceptable to newspapers of a variety of political persuasions.[citation needed]

Ben H. Bagdikian writes critically about the consequences of the rise of "objective journalism."[6]

Others have proposed a political explanation for the rise of objectivity, which occurred earlier in the United States than most other countries; scholars like Richard Kaplan have argued that political parties needed to lose their hold over the loyalties of voters and the institutions of government before the press could feel free to offer a nonpartisan, "impartial" account of news events. This change occurred following the critical election of 1896 and the subsequent Progressive reform era.[7]

[edit] See also

[edit] References

  1. ^ Schudson, Michael (1978). Discovering the News: A social history of American newspapers. ISBN 978-0465016662. 
  2. ^ Just the Facts: How "Objectivity" Came to Define American Journalism, 1998
  3. ^ http://bradleyosborn.com/ethics_and_credibility_in_online_journalism.pdf
  4. ^ "Warning sounded on web's future". BBC News. 2008-09-15. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/technology/7613201.stm. Retrieved 2010-05-20. 
  5. ^ Silverstein, Ken, "Turkmeniscam: How Washington Lobbyists Fought to Flack for a Stalinist Dictatorship", 2008
  6. ^ Bagdikian, Ben H. (1983). The Media Monopoly. http://www.thirdworldtraveler.com/Media/DemoMedia_Bagdikian.html. 
  7. ^ Kaplan, Richard L. (2002). Politics and the American Press: The Rise of Objectivity, 1865-1920. 

[edit] Further reading

  • Herman, Edward and Noam Chomsky. 1988. Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media. New York: Pantheon.
  • Kaplan, Richard. 2002. Politics and the American Press: The Rise of Objectivity, 1865-1920. New York: Cambridge University Press.
  • Mindich, David T. Z. 1998. Just the Facts: How “Objectivity” Came to Define American Journalism. New York: New York University Press.
  • Schudson, Michael. 1978. Discovering the News: A Social History of American Newspapers. New York: Basic Books.
  • Schudson, Michael. 1997. "The Sociology of News Production." In Social Meaning of News: A Text-Reader. Dan Berkowitz, ed. Pp. 7–22. Thousand Oaks: Sage.
  • Chomsky, Noam (2002). Media control. Seven Stories Press. 

[edit] External links



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