Michael Schudson on objectivity as a norm
‘Objectivity’ is the chief occupational value of American journalism and the norm that historically and still today distinguishes US journalism from the dominant model of continental European journalism (Donsbach, 1995: 17–30).1 ‘Objectivity’ is at once a moral ideal, a set of reporting and editing practices, and an observable pattern of news writing. Its presence can therefore be identified by several measures:
- (a) journalists’ express allegiance to the norm – in speeches, conferences, formal codes of professional ethics, textbooks in journalism education, debates and discussions in professional journals, and scientific surveys of journalists’ opinions;
- (b) ethnographers’ observations of journalists at work and the occupational routines to which they adhere;
- (c) content analysis of the texts of newspapers and news broadcasts that measure the degree of impersonality and non-partisanship in news stories; and
- (d) resistance displayed by adherents to the norm when it is openly challenged or criticized (Tuchman, 1972: 660–79).
The objectivity norm guides journalists to separate facts from values and to report only the facts. Objective reporting is supposed to be cool, rather than emotional, in tone. Objective reporting takes pains to represent fairly each leading side in a political controversy. According to the objectivity norm, the journalist’s job consists of reporting something called ‘news’ without commenting on it, slanting it, or shaping its formulation in any way. The value of objectivity is upheld specifically against partisan journalism in which newspapers are the declared allies or agents of political parties and their reporting of news is an element of partisan struggle. Partisan journalists, like objective journalists, typically reject inaccuracy, lying and misinformation, but partisan journalists do not hesitate to present information from the perspective of a particular party or faction.
From Michael Schudson, "The objectivity norm in American
journalism" Journalism Vol. 2(2): 149–170