Contemporary journalism can be characterized by many attributes, which appear, modify or become obsolete with time, for example, reporting the news, reliable and vivid sources of information, neutrality or subjectivity in writing. However, objectivity is the feature prescribed to this phenomenon since its initial conception and evolution. To be more precious, it was shaped under the influence of the scientific positivism in the 19th century and ‘interpreted as fairness, accuracy, balance, or transparency’ in representation of the daily events. Moreover, this journalist rule is among the most controversial ones, provoking global disputes between practitioners and theorists in this field.
This aspect of journalist work ‘located in the very centre of journalism’s self-image’ is debated throughout current academic literature. Traditionalist approach to journalism is grounded on ‘stoic professional objectivity and self-abstraction’. Nonetheless, numerous current sources emphasize that this concept is ‘not an impossible ideal, but rather an ill-conceived question, based upon the mistaken assumptions of positivism’.
Regardless objectivity itself is criticized all the time, Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance Code of Ethics, which is considered to be the Holly Bible for journalists, alludes to this term as the major responsibility of journalists.
Therefore, the paper will analyze the concept of objectivity within journalism and clarify whether it is a positive or negative factor with respect to the current media storytelling.
Discussion of the Issue
Boundana (2011) asserts that professional journalism emerged ‘alongside the notion of objectivity’. The phenomenon evolved in various parts of the world differently. For instance, Esser and Umbricht distinguish few influential factors that have contributed to this process:
· The Anglo-American journalists’ views and approaches affected journalism worldwide;
· The Polarised Mediterranean model, with France and Italy as leading forces that tried to direct European journalism in unison with theirs;
· The Corporatist model, which is based on the German-speaking, Benelux and Scandinavian countries.
While developing and transforming under the needs and demands of a particular time, journalism as a profession has required the creation of the specified scientific methodologies and background to be researched and understood for others. Therefore, many studies have tried to explore this seemingly core concept of journalism in order to understand it as deep as possible.
The definition of this term itself has been constantly argued over as well. Vos has talked about it is an ‘articulate professional value’ or a ‘great law’, whereas Hellmueller, Vos and Poepsel (2013) have referred to it as truthfulness, or ‘factually accurate information’ . Furthermore, Blaagaard (2013) underlined that practical objectivity should be referred to a balanced reporting and strictly distinguished from the scientific one. Additionally, the researcher stressed that it is either a professional rule or ‘an object of “struggle within the larger struggle of professional jurisdiction”’. Soffer (2009) emphasized that objectivity can be demonstrated best through the dialogue of thoughts.
Singh and Gordon, Kittross, Merrill, Babcock and Dorsher (2011) have related the level of objectivity to the intra-country political and cultural conditions. For example, when researching journalist activities in Iraq, scientists praised these professionals ‘for exposing corruption and upholding human rights’. However, their highlighting topics on religion, race, politics and land concerns were considered less objective. Skovsgaard, Alb?k, Bro and de Vreese (2013) have traced connections between objectivity perception by journalists and its interpretation and implementation in their practice. What is more, the area/topic which journalists cover matters to the level of their objectivity in writing. For instance, when peace journalism is considered, fairness and accuracy as components of objectivity are vital:
Fairness because, peace journalism scholars argue, media conventions generally predispose the news, in most places, most of time, to a predominance of war journalism, thus depriving peace of its chance. Accuracy because while peace initiatives broadly defined, are present in all conflicts, they are usually excluded from the representations of those conflicts furnished by the news. Adopting a deliberate creative strategy, to seek them out and remit them into the public sphere, restores an important missing element
A number of scholars have paid their attention to the limitations of objectivity in the scopes of journalism. For instance, Carpentier and Trioen (2010) have underlined significance of distinguishing the theory and practice, which are an ideal and reality respectively. Also, Broersma (2010) advocates to public’s distrust and disappointment in media because of their low quality of news presentation and, as a result, regression in terms of content. In this regard, Blaagaard (2013) refers to citizen journalism as an obstacle provoking distrust in the profession in general since journalist amateurs often do not provide enough reliable information.
In her research, Wahl-Jorgensen demonstrates an interesting approach to investigating objectivity issue. Of course, this notion is promoted as a central pillar in journalism. However, the author provides examples of Pulitzer-winning journalists are, in fact, extremely subjective.
Consequently, objectivity remains a theoretical ideal in this field. The point is that there are too many pressures within the modern world that distort journalists from being objective in reporting news.
Current Approach to Objectivity in Journalism
Today’s news reporting is mostly target audience orientated rather than good stories, which are worth reading. The central focus of storytelling is to ‘tempt potential readers to buy the magazine or newspaper’ (Frost 2007, p. 34). Moreover, the initial sense and meaning of media as a means of reporting the news is distorted because of ‘homogenization’. In other words, the latter refers to a chain of media companies within one huge corporation owned by the same owners. Besides, journalists search and obtain necessary material through the same sources when telling the same stories. With respect to the afore-listed issues, the conclusion can be made that most news read, viewed, and observed throughout various media are biased and subjective from the beginning. Therefore, journalism tends to become the means of implementation the policies and views of large media corporations among other issues.
Being not objective in its roots, the question arises whether the contemporary journalism can be neutral in highlighting the events that happen around. Philips, Couldry and Freedman support the position that journalists’ ‘truthfulness, accuracy, sincerity, and hostility’ are main virtues to be presented throughout the media. However, through the prism of current content, the objectivity looks like one-sided subjectivity rather than neutral depiction of what has happened.
Overall, if to sum up all findings of the paper, it becomes evident that objectivity is so the right thing for journalism. Particularly, the task of the journalist is to collect information regarding the issue from all sources/stakeholders that may be affected by its consequences. Afterward, all these perspectives are to be highlighted by the author. In this regard, the right article should consist of the credible information from reliable sources, framed by aptly chosen and well-organized words and phrases, but nothing more. Professionalism of journalists is to be measured by their writing or oral skillfulness as well as their ability to reflect the views of all parties involved into the issue. It is the right of viewers and readers to make conclusions and express their subjective opinions.
Therefore, the paper has analyzed the concept of objectivity within journalism and the findings made it possible to conclude that it is a positive factor that should be present within the current media storytelling.
In order to clarify all characteristics and problem areas of this phenomenon, a review of the current academic sources has been made. It has been found that understanding objectivity as ‘truthfulness’ in reporting news has transformed with time. Many scholars, like Carpentier and Trioen (2010) argue that scientific and practical implementation of this concept should be distinguished.
What is more, there are numerous barriers that prevent journalists from being objective to the fullest. For instance, cultural, political, religious factors within a particular country can be listed among such aspects. People get distrusted in journalism because of not professional approach of citizen journalists, as well as media’s all-embracing orientation on what will catch the audience attention rather than on quality and importance of the news highlighted. Current media are also homogenized: they are large global corporations, selling the same stories from the same initial sources worldwide.
Although most scholars, as well as journalists’ code of ethics, underline that objectivity is to be an integral component of journalist profession, this claim seems arguable. With respect to this fact, it is necessary to emphasize the findings by Wahl-Jorgensen: major part of Pulitzer-winning authors have been rewarded for their subjective texts.
In any case, I believe that journalists perceive objectivity in a wrong way. Namely, this concept should involve an inspired reflection of various views that are or may be affected by the item discussed. Consequently, professionalism of journalists ought to be measured by balanced reporting in all aspects. In other words, it is about their ability to create masterly pieces and reflect the views of all stakeholders involved into the issue discussed. Moreover, journalists should allow viewers and readers to make conclusions and express their subjective opinions.