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Essay on Journalism and Society

In: Sociology free essays

Essay on Journalism and Society

Journalism is defined as being “the profession of collecting, writing and publishing news through newspapers and magazines or by radio and television” (Collins Paperback English dictionary, Major New Edition; 1997; pg. 426), while a journalist is described as “A person who writes or edits news items for a newspaper and magazine or for radio and television” (Collins Paperback English dictionary, Major New Edition; 1997; pg. 426).

In this essay I will discuss why the journalists have to be objective, are able to give facts rather then their own opinions, and are able to give a balanced account of debate. The validation of journalistic statements, why are these conventions important in terms of the role of journalism in society and in what ways might they be problematic. I will deliberate all these points in this essay.

Objectivity is the “key legitimating professional ethic of liberal journalism” (McNair, Brian; 1998; The professional cultural and organisational determinants of journalism; The Sociology of Journalism; London; pg. 65). It is a guarantee that the reader will believe and accept that the journalist's story is valid. It is absolutely essential that journalists are objective. We as the reader expect objectivity from the journalist, as it is a way of gaining our trust, so we will not see the newspaper or magazine as bias or opinionated. There are three forms of Objectivity: Philosophy; Technology; and Economics.

The Philosophy of objectivity is based on a “period of rapid scientific and technical progress - the age of the industrial revolution” (McNair, Brian; 1998; The professional cultural and organisational determinants of journalism; The Sociology of Journalism; London; pg. 66). In this period `Positivism' was discovered, it is a “certain approach to the production of knowledge”, It based on “Observation, experimentation and deduction” (McNair, Brian; 1998; The professional cultural and organisational determinants of journalism; The Sociology of Journalism; London; pg. 66). Journalists of the nineteenth century used this philosophy because they wanted to “stand apart from the real world, observe it dispassionately and report back with the truth” (McNair, Brian; 1998; The professional cultural and organisational determinants of journalism; The Sociology of Journalism; London; pg. 67). The Technology of Objectivism is helped by the use of photography, which is the perfect medium to ensure the truth by taking a photo of real life and events. This technology maintained the philosophy of objectivity as it was able to document the truth in an unmediated way. News photography seems to be true but can be as subjective as normal or art photography as it all depends on what perspective you are looking at or how much lighting and what angle or lens you use. As soon as film came about in the early twentieth century and created filmed news, television news is seen as the most trustworthy and objective because of the fact they “demonstrate accuracy with which it records events” (McNair, Brian; 1998; The professional cultural and organisational determinants of journalism; The Sociology of Journalism; London; pg. 67). Through the process of the commodification of journalism, the economics has made the objectivity an absolute necessity as if there is a lack of objectivity in its articles and the public complain, the newspaper or magazine stand to lose a lot of money. So the need for objectivity is economically important. “Objectivity became ` a cornerstone of the professional ideology for journalists in liberal democracies' ” (McNair, Brian; 1998; The professional cultural and organisational determinants of journalism; The Sociology of Journalism; London; Tuchman, 1972, p. 661; pg. 68).

There are three characteristics of objective journalism: Separation of fact from opinion; A balance account of debate; and the validation of journalistic statements by reference to authoritative others. Objective journalist's opinions are normally what the public readers want to hear. But there is a distinction between fact and opinion. Facts are the truth, the objective, no bias, this is what happened… While opinion can be distort the truth from which side the journalist agrees or disagrees with, Who does the journalist place his bias. For example, the news in the United States when the Iraqi War was being fought will generally place their bias and opinion towards America when they come into the frame, or if their allies are involved. This to the rest of the world is seen as bias and opinionated news, which is not seen as objective journalism.

There are two primary requirements, when involving objectivity. First is Depersonalisation means “that reports refrain from inserting into the news their own ideological or substantive evaluations of officials, ideas or groups” (McNair, Brian; 1998; The professional cultural and organisational determinants of journalism; The Sociology of Journalism; London; pg. 69). Second is a balance aims for neutrality, “It requires that the reporters present views of legitimate spokesperson of the conflicting sides in any significant dispute, and provide both sides with roughly equivalent attention”. (McNair, Brian; 1998; The professional cultural and organisational determinants of journalism; The Sociology of Journalism; London; pg. 69). The very last rule of objectivity is for journalists to be able to convince the reader of the truth, validity, and credibility of their words they use in their articles. The article must be “founded on facts which can be seen to be independent of the journalists. The journalist has a license to interpret the facts but cannot be seen to invent them.” (McNair, Brian; 1998; The professional cultural and organisational determinants of journalism; The Sociology of Journalism; London; pg. 70). There is a pyramidical method which most objective journalist use: First there is the event, then it is divided up in to sides, first is the Validation of the facts then the event gets reported. On the other side there is the balance of interpretation and then the analysis and commentary of the event.

Objectivity may be seen as problematic as it is seen, as the first rule of journalism, therefore will be the first to be criticised. Lenin, the leader of the Communist Party in Russian in the early twentieth century saw that there can never be absolute truth in journalism. Because of the class distinction in those times, he felt that Upper class journalist wrote upper class truth and not the real truth. “All perspectives reflecting the world-view of a class: the only important question was on which side, which class, was the journalist” (McNair, Brian; 1998; The professional cultural and organisational determinants of journalism; The Sociology of Journalism; London; pg. 70). Therefore the criticism is that objectivism will be seen in the eye of the journalist and not the publics. Another criticism is that objectivity was an ideology of capitalism and only a money making scheme. Also objectivity is seen as “selective in nature of news and journalism and its deeply pro-systematic bias.” (McNair, Brian; 1998; The professional cultural and organisational determinants of journalism; The Sociology of Journalism; London; pg. 70).

As a journalist there are many things you must be careful of, which if you are not can place you in trouble with the law. There is defamation, which is described as “The publication of words or behaviour concerning a person that tends to injure the good name of that person, with the intention of injuring that person without rounds of justification” (Ansell, Gwen; Basic Journalism; extracts from Chapter 7: Laws and Ethics M&G Books; South Africa; 2002; pg. 185). There is hate speech, which is against a certain type of people, race, gender, colour, culture, belief etc. It is considered hate speech if it is hurtful, be harmful or to incite harm and to promote or propagate hatred. These are a destruction of the South African constitution, it is destroying Freedom of Speech and Expression. As a journalist one should be aware of copyrighting, as it is illegal to take a quote or a line from a song without acknowledging the author or publisher. It is considered as plagiarism. Another thing is obscenity and blasphemy, as it can really hurt your readership.

In conclusion to be seen, as an objective journalist one should follow the rules of objectivity, which are to take all steps to be as factual as possible, and always exclude bias, and opinion. To give a balanced account of debate of the news in which you are reporting to your readers. And the validation of journalistic statements with references to authoritative sources. “Philosophically, there are an infinite number of ways of representing something: only this infinity would produce a total composite, so each representation is but a part of the larger whole.” (Media Writing Lecture Notes, http//www.connect.uct.ac.za/ELL115S; 4th and 5th of August 2003)

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