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A Reexamination of the Canon of Objectivity in American Journalism

by Lane, Les L.

Abstract (Summary)
Journalistic objectivity is the definitive canon of American mainstream journalism. Yet American journalists cannot agree on what it is, how it is measured, or on how it is done. The source of the confusion is the assumption that objectivity is an ideal, absolute, impossible, incomprehensible, value-free state of being, outside of all physical, cognitive, psychological, and social contexts, where reality is perceived without distortions of any kind. This assumption is logically invalid and historically inaccurate. Journalistic objectivity evolved from the American cultural premises of egalitarianism and positive scientific empiricism through four historical stages: Nonpartisanship, Neutrality, Focus-On-Facts, and Detachment. It is possible, comprehensible, and reflects specific values. Within the context of journalism, there is no absolute truth. A "truth" is an interpretation of reality that passes three tests-coherence, correspondence and pragmatism--within a specific context. There are as many potential "truths" as there are contexts from which to determine those truths. With so many potential truths, chaos is unavoidable unless an added dimension of truth is identified. That added dimension is "objectivity." "Objective" truths are interpretations of reality that pass the three tests of truth within the largest, most information-rich contexts. An "objective" journalist is one who gathers interpretations of reality (true or not) from the smaller contexts of news participants, and presents them faithfully and accurately to the larger context of news consumers, so that the most objective truth (the one that everyone in the large context can agree on) can be determined. In order to do this, an objective journalist has to be able to surf contexts. Therefore, "journalistic objectivity" is the ability to surf contexts, or Contextual Independence.
Bibliographical Information:

Advisor:Louis A. Day; Richard A. Nelson; Alan D. Fletcher

School:Louisiana State University in Shreveport

School Location:USA - Louisiana

Source Type:Master's Thesis

Keywords:mass communication

ISBN:

Date of Publication:11/15/2001

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