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To be or not to be, objectivity is the question

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

“American Journalism has been regularly criticized for failing to be ‘objective.'”  The opening lines of Michael Schudson’s “Discovering the News.”  If Lt. Colonel Slade heard those words, he would surely reply with, “This is such a crock of shit,” like he did in “Scent of a Woman” to the idea of objectivity. 

Michael Schudson. UCSD.edu
Michael Schudson. UCSD.edu


The idea, or rather ideal, of objectivity is presented in the intro to Discovering the News.”  In this publication, Michael Schudson, goes out into the great unknown in search of the second greatest question of all time.  The first is, “What is the meaning of life?” The second, the one Schudson searches for is, “Why the questions of ‘are newspapers objective’ so familiar?

What is objectivity though?  Merriam-Webster’sonline dictionary defines it as: “1 a : relating to or existing as an object of thought without consideration of independent existence —used chiefly in medieval philosophy b : of, relating to, or being an object, phenomenon, or condition in the realm of sensible experience independent of individual thought and perceptible by all observers : having reality independent of the mind <objective reality> <our reveries…are significantly and repeatedly shaped by our transactions with the objective world — Marvin Reznikoff> — compare subjective 3a c of a symptom of disease : perceptible to persons other than the affected individual — compare subjective 4c d : involving or deriving from sense perception or experience with actual objects, conditions, or phenomena <objective awareness> <objective data>
2 : relating to, characteristic of, or constituting the case of words that follow prepositions or transitive verbs
3 a : expressing or dealing with facts or conditions as perceived without distortion by personal feelings, prejudices, or interpretations <objective art> <an objective history of the war> <an objective judgment> b of a test : limited to choices of fixed alternatives and reducing subjective factors to a minimum” 

We can also look at Michael Schudson‘s shorter definition on page 7.  “Objectivity, in this sense, means that a person’s statements about the world can be trusted if they are submitted to established rules deemed legitimate by a professional community.”  The person, would be journalists.  The professional community, would be the readers of the news or the public.  The established rules, as “deemed legitimate by” the public would be objectivity.  Journalist don’t want to present obective news, but the public wants just that.

To be a good journalist and to give the people what they want, essencially giving you a reason to have a job, one thing needs to be rememebered.  “The belief in objectivity is a faith in ‘facts,’ a distrust of ‘values,’ and a commitment to their segregation.”  The facts are what they are and will always be so.  Values on the other hand, well they change with personality.  People hold different values at different levels.  The level of values is directly proportional to the level of objectivity in any piece of journalism.  The higher the values, the less objective and vise versa. 

Don’t forget to check out the rest of the Schudson blogs.  If you enjoyed this blog, you may also enjoy this

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