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Objectivity in Journalism

In: Social Issues

Submitted By lizjamaica
Words 1604
Pages 7
The ratio objectivity/subjectivity varies.
Journalists present the facts as they are, while the public relations practitioners as they want the facts to be.

Defining Objectivity
Objectivity is the reporting of reality, of facts, as nearly as they can be obtained without the injection of prejudice and personal opinion.
(Walter Cronkite, 2005b: 227)

Objectivity is a standard that promotes truth, defined as a ‘correspondence, grounded in correctness, between thought and reality’
(Heidegger, 1943:1)

Objectivity is not the same as impartiality or fairness or balance although all these words are often used as if they were interchangeable.
Impartiality means acting fairly because you are not personally involved or have put to one side your personal views or feelings. The elimination of bias.
Fairness means acting in a reasonable, just or right way.
Balance means arranging things in equal or correct proportions to one another.
But objectivity is different. Objectivity means based on facts or evidence, not feelings or opinion. Objectivity requires evidence and verification. It's more than just attempting to be neutral.
(Richard Sambrook, 2004)

Key Words: Objectivity, Journalism, Facts, Truths, Journalistic Values
Putting facts and truths together

One of the most troublesome aspects of the debates around objectivity and facts in the way that the concept of object is given a dual role: that of a view of the world, but also a way of representing and communicating truths. This gesture treats the word “objectivity” as short-hand for “objective reality” as well as a mode or method of perception of this reality. This fusion of reality and perception narrows the space between facts and truths. It closes down a very important philosophical area that has been explored by many movement and theorists. Facts, truth and objective reality are thus merged or melded into constructs such as “objective truths”
(Windschattle 1998:8)

But there is a distinction between facts and truths derived from them, as well as an issue of the method used to approach truth and facticity, and present them in the form of news. Walter Lippmann addresses this issue by being skeptical of the idea that the news presents objective truths. In a famous passage, he challenges the idea of treating the news and truth as two words for the same thing. “The hypothesis, which seems to me the most fertile, is that the news and truth is not the same thing, and must be clearly distinguished. The function of news is to signalize an event, the function of truth is to bring light to the hidden facts, to set them into relation with each other, and make a picture of reality on which men can act. Only at these points, where social conditions take recognizable and measurable shape, do the body of truth and the body of the news coincide. “
(Steve Maras, 2013)

In sociology, positivism is the view that social phenomena (such as human social behavior and how societies are structured) ought to be studied using only the methods of the natural sciences. So, positivism is a view about the appropriate methodology of social science, emphasizing empirical observation. It is also associated with empiricism (the view that knowledge is primarily based on experience via the five senses). Positivism impacts on discussions of journalistic objectivity because of the specific way it puts facts and truths together, usually focusing on quantifiable facts that can be “counted, measured and weighed “
(Shi 1995: 71) It informs the separation of facts and values associated with objective journalism as well as its emphasis on verification and checking. Especially significant here in logical positivism, associated with the Vienna Circle of philosophers of 1920s, which went furthest in laying out conditions for objective knowledge :namely in elementary or clear language.
(Hjorland 2005: 139) Any experiences “not translatable into or verifiable by experience “, were considered “literally meaningless = they were neither true nor false. At best they expressed subjective emotions or attitudes”. This is not dissimilar to the way in which absence of appropriate verifiable sources disqualifies certain kinds of facts in journalism.
(Ward 2004: 84)

Objectivity is changing in an era of 24/7 news

Objectivity is changing in an era of 24/7 news and on-line journalism in numerous ways, leading to restatements of the concept, disputes around the concept and new articulations of the concept. Meanwhile, news blogs and citizen journalism are prompting a re-evaluation of objectivity as a method for handling information, and as a theory of truth in a shifting environment of usage and consumption. These developments are revealing tensions around our historical conceptions of objectivity and result in changing paradigms and patterns of media practice. These developments raise important questions of media power and media ethics; questions which go to basic issues to do with how judgment is exercised; and furthermore, how accessible the relevant information is for users to form their own judgments. This is leading to a new set of demands around transparency, participation, and involvement that are beginning to be incorporated into user expectations around media performance, and indeed new attitudes around information and core values such as truth and trust.
(Steve Maras, 2013)

Objective news was intended to give people information they could trust in order for them to make decisions about their lives and in some way control their futures. Where to live, what jobs to take, where to invest, health, education and so on. To give them an accurate picture of the world which allowed them to live their lives and face the future with greater confidence. Through the last 150 years, communications have developed at an extraordinary rate - from the invention of the telegraph by Samuel Morse in 1850 which allowed messages to be sent without someone physically taking them for the first time (and the news agencies found that neutral objective news travelled better to other countries and had a higher price than opinion) to satellites in the 1960s which meant everyone could have instant visual communications around the world, to the internet, mobile phones and so on. As a result we have 24-hour markets, a globalised economy and instant communication. There have been many benefits. Communications and the media can change history. There are three times more democracies in the world than there were 30 years ago. But there are hidden downsides. There is also an impact on the individual. Instead of information making the future clearer and making decisions easier, many societies are in culture shock.
There is so much information, and individuals feel so powerless in the face of it, that there is a big rise in anxiety and fear. Terrorism, global warming, nuclear proliferation, outsourcing, a wavering economy… the future is opaque or dark and the more information people are given, the more difficult their lives seem, the more anxious they become, the more powerless they feel. As people, in the face of this culture shock, this information deluge, become more anxious, feel powerless and less clear about the future, they seek refuge in what they are comfortable with. For them, objective news may be part of the problem, providing more threats and questions rather than answers. Belief and seeing are both often wrong. That's why there is a passionate feel about the importance of objectivity - facts and evidence, the journalism of verification. Clearly, the stakes can be very high when journalists attempt to hold governments to account. Some may be deterred from trying. It's essential they are not. Asking the difficult questions and pursuing them remains a core responsibility of the media. But it's only through an objective approach - facts, evidence, and verification - that it can be sure of getting it right. The importance of an objective approach to journalism and how to achieve it came down to three things: Evidence, independence, transparency.
Reporting based on evidence - preferably first-hand, eyewitness reporting.
Independence, which allows them to broadcast a diversity of views - from across the full spectrum - which means they are not allied with any political or commercial interest. And transparency - an open and accountable relationship with their audience and other stakeholders. The need for accurate, trusted news and information and for open dialogue and communication is probably greater now than it was then. Accurate, objective news and information, which all sides can trust, provides a foundation stone of rational debate in a world that is too easily dominated by intolerance and hatred. Objectivity is crucial to providing news people can trust - and that's what the public still expects from journalists.
(Richard Sambrook, 2004)


o Sambrook, R. (2004) America – Holding onto Objectivity, presented at The Poliak Lecture, Columbia University, 27 April, accessed 2 February 2014 at: o Fray, P. (2011) Editors, Journalists and Audiences: Toward a New Compact, The Sydney Morning Herald , 17 November 2011 , accessed 02 February 2014 at: < > o Shi, D. E. (1995) Facing Facts: Realism in American Thought and Culture, 1850-1920. Oxford University Press, New York o Hjorland, B. (2005) Empiricism , Rationalism and Positivism in Library and Information Science, Journal of Documentation 61(1), 130-55 o Ward, S.J.A (2004) The invention of Journalism Ethics: The Path to Objectivity, Montreal and Kingston o Knowlton, S.R (2005b) Into the 1960s and Into the Crusible. In : Knowlton, S.R & Freeman, K.L. (eds.) Fair and Balanced: A History of Journalistic Objectivity. Vision Press, Northport, AL, pp 221-35 o Windschuttle, K. (1998) Journalism versus Cultural Studies. Australian Studies in Journalism 7, 3-31 o Lippmann W. (1922) Public Opinion. Harcourt, Brace & Company, New York o Maras S. (2013) Objectivity in Journalism , Polity Press

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