Saturday, August 23, 2014

What was the original definition of objective journalism? Where did it originate from?

Back in 1990, Richard Streckfuss, an Associate Professor of Journalism at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln wrote a paper titled "Objectivity in Journalism", in which he makes finding the answer to this question remarkably easy. Before the phrase "Objective Journalism" was born, science and news gathering were fused together in thought by Walter Lippmann, the Father of Modern Journalism. Realistically speaking, this one single thing is what earns Lippmann that title. Lippmann's ideal of the objective journalist can be found here, in his book titled "Liberty and the News", on page 82:
With this increase of prestige must go a professional training in journalism in which the ideal of objective testimony is cardinal. The cynicism of the trade needs to be abandoned, for the true patterns of the journalistic apprentice are not the slick persons who scoop the news, but the patient and fearless men of science who have labored to see what the world really is. It does not matter that the news is not susceptible of mathematical statement. In fact, just because news is complex and slippery, good reporting requires the exercise of the highest of the scientific virtues. They are the habits of ascribing no more credibility to a statement than it warrants, a nice sense of the probabilities, and a keen understanding of the quantitative importance of particular facts.

From there, an entire industry is born. Prior to Walter Lippmann, newspapers were either wildly sensationalist or they bore the name of a political party. Generally, the name of the political party in their title reflected the paper's partisan view. Such papers do still exist today, one such paper can be found Florida's Capital - the Tallahassee Democrat - but they are far and few inbetween compared to what they once were.

Lippmann's paragraph-long explanation is easily summed up in the book "The Elements of Journalism", on page 74:

in other words, the method is objective, not the journalist.

Of course, all of this is undermined by the dark side of modern journalism: its foundation of using strategically placed words to manipulate the readers.(Lippmann writes at length about how to manipulate the reading audience, here)

In addition to showing us where the ideal for so-called "objective journalism" comes from - the spirit of objective journalism; professor Streckfuss also puts on display where objectivity really gets fused together with journalism. In 1924, Nelson Antrim Crawford wrote a book titled "The Ethics of Journalism", in which he wrote the following:

"Aside from integrity, intelligence and objective-mindedness are the qualities most needed."

That's how these things get started. Note that Crawford did not come up with this idea all on his own by just plucking it out of thin air. A page search of Crawford's book reveals references to Walter Lippmann 20+ times.

Walter Lippmann really is the Father of Modern Journalism.

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