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Review of chapter 4 from “Discovering the News”

Posted by: | December 3, 2009 | No Comment |

In reviewing chapter 4 of Michael Schudson, several prominent themes are addressed: ranging from from the downfall of the democratic market society, the decline of facts in journalism, and the issue of subjectivity and objectivity in the press. But the overriding theme is the shift in journalism to a more “objective” style as felt to be necessitated by journalists themselves.

Schudson begins his chapter with a brief explanation of the various ideals floating around by early 19th century intellectuals and attempts to relate them in a manner that explains how the news shifted from “public relations” to “objectivity”. In my opinion, his book addresses very well the intellectual thought processes going on in America after World War I. However, his first section concerning the downfall of the market economy focuses more on the rise of public relations and the reasoning behind it.

From the establishment of public relations as a rising profession Schudson argues this to be a counterpoint, or more accurately, a threat to journalists. He points out several instances where journalists felt threatened by the ability of a public relations specialist to speak out for companies, politicians, or other large influence groups. If the public relations specialists could make a statement about an accident at an auto plant, or about an extra-marital affair then journalists could be edged out of particular pieces of news.

The second section on the¬†decline of facts in journalism addresses an even more important issue as Schudson states, “The press itself was partly responsible for the growth of publicity or propaganda.” It was this propaganda, more specifically wartime propaganda, in addition to the public relations outgrowth that had journalists questioning facts and, “ready to doubt the naive empiricism of the 1890’s.” Schudson is putting forth this notion rather well in this section as well. His ability to tie in the first theme of threatening public relations, with the growing propaganda that was self inflicted by journalists leads right up to his main point of the entire chapter.

Schduson states in his book, “Journalists came to believe in objectivity, to the extent that they did, because they wanted to, needed to, were forced to by ordinary human aspiration to seek escape from their own deep convictions of doubt and drift.” This is the main idea he is driving at in chapter 4 of “Discovering the News”. The insecurity of journalists after World War I led them as a whole to develop a style of writing that both validated and attempted to give them an edge by not skewing the truth. At least in theory this is what journalists, Schudson argues, were attempting to do. But as he points out many times in the same chapter, complete Objectivity is impossible to attain.

As a whole this chapter is great in revealing to the reader the roots of the objectivity movement in journalism. Schudson masterfully gives an accurate historical background in which the ideal of objectivity was created. He also does a¬†magnificent job in explaining why it was created or more accurately, why it was “self-necessitated.” This chapter now leaves me with a question I wish to put out there for the rest of the class to address: First of all, do you agree with Schudson? If so, how do you feel about the way he portrays journalists as being so full of self-doubt and insecurity that they had to invent a way to validate themselves? Does this sit well with you as a journalist, or does it invoke feelings of distaste against Schudson?

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