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Schudson chapter 5 – objectivity, news management, the critical culture

Posted by: | December 8, 2009 | No Comment |

In the fifth chapter of Schudson’s book, Discovering the News, he writes of the roles of objectivity, news management, and the critical culture that arose in journalism around World War I and beyond.


Schudson details that around the 1930s, many journalists began to find fault with the ideals of objectivity and instead wanted to dig more into their stories, to find what they believed to be the real truth.  This caused some conflict among the more “Old Guard” reporters who felt that objectivity was still something to reach for, not something that should be thrown aside.

What the younger reporters who fought against the ideals of objectivity did not realize, as Schudson writes, is that, in not being objective, they themselves often “were “political” unwittingly or even unwillingly.” (Schudson 162)  Essentially, in not striving to be at least somewhat objective, they opened themselves up to being affected by their own biases.

News Management

U-2 plane

In a bit of a connection to objectivity is the management of news by the government that Schudson writes of.  Schudson details a number of cases where journalists knew that the government at the time was telling a lie, such as the involvement of the U-2 flights over the former USSR.  They simply accepted what the government handed them and printed it.  This is especially obvious in the case with Senator McCarthy.  There were some that actually questioned what McCarthy said, did some honest-to-god research and investigation, but they were in the minority and not often read.

The reason for this, as Schudson writes that Douglass Cater said, is that many thought of this interpretative reporting as “the writer’s private property.”  (Schudson 168)  Essentially, even though it may be telling the truth, people did not wholly buy what these investigative reporters were putting out, thinking that they may be biased or otherwise misinterpreting the information.

It is amusing to note what brought the journalism industry to put a foot down to being controlled by the government.  In brief, the government acted as gatekeepers to information and only released what they wanted to be known, as has been previously said.  Most journalists went along with this act, knowing the truth but putting out what the government wanted.  To these journalists, this was fine and dandy, so long as they (the journalists) knew the truth, even if it was hidden from the reading public.

What brought a major shock to journalists whas what Arthur Sylvester, a spokesman for the Pentagon under both presidents Kennedy and Johnson, said.  He said that “I think the inherent right of the government to lie…is basic.”  (Schudson 171-172)  Journalists felt threatened, realizing that they were simply a tool of the government at that time, not what they likely thought of to be an equal partnership (or if not equal, then semi-equal).  This, coupled with the exposure of lies and all the hubbub surrounding Vietnam, lead to the third part of the chapter.

Critical Culture

As was often the trend of the younger set around the time of the war in Vietnam, people began to question everything, be critical of everything.  It led to journalists delving into stories more, trying to find the truth behind the lie.  And as journalists did just that, it led to an upsurge in people watching.  No longer was it simply a visual radio, reciting what was said.  Now it had a face, now it had a story to tell all its own.

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