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Ran Wei and Larry Zhiming Xu
The ongoing revolution in information and communication technologies (ICTs) has fundamentally transformed the landscape of democracy and the way people engage in politics. From the configuration of media systems to the decision-making of the voting public, the changes have permeated through almost every level of society, affecting political institutions, political actors, citizen groups, and mass media. For each aspect, a synopsis of classical and emergent political communication theories, contemporary and contentious political issues, and cutting-edge research adds to the discussion of new media. The discussion is unfolded with an account of research of new media effects on politics in international setting and cross-cultural contexts with insights of how Western theories and research apply (or fail to) in international contexts.
Daniel Angus and Cindy Gallois
Intergroup communication, given its interdisciplinary roots in communication and social psychology, has been eclectic in methodology. Earlier approaches tended to be quantitative and experimental. In the early 21st century, the full range of qualitative approaches—thematic analysis and grounded theory, discourse analysis, conversation analysis, and others—have come to prominence. A key issue has been how to reconcile the broad-brush aspects of surveys, tightly-controlled contexts in experiments, and very limited numbers of participants in qualitative research.
In the past decade or so, rapid improvements to the capabilities of computational technologies have brought forth a new generation of computational methods for communication research. Broadly known as visual text analytics, these methods provide communication scholars new ways to model, visualize, and analyze intergroup communication processes. They also allow larger scale in the detailed analysis of texts and discourse.
In spite of their great interest to intergroup communication, these new visual text analytic methods also present challenges. In presenting several newer visual text analytic methods, we articulate some ways to approach the tools to achieve maximum research benefit.
Many national news agencies (press associations) are facing significant transformations and some of these longstanding institutions, which we once thought would last forever, may even cease to operate. Most academic research concentrates on the biggest Western agencies, with very little research done on agencies outside the West. News agencies have also been studied either without a theoretical lens, or with a theoretical lens that does not necessarily help us to understand the essentially transnational character of news agencies, many of them operating both nationally and internationally.
Jacob Ørmen and Andreas Gregersen
In recent years, academics and pundits have taken great interest in the role of storytelling in journalism. The spread of rumors, misinformation, and disinformation in public discourse has intensified, as has the need to decipher the ways in which stories—fake or factual—work. Narratives play a key role in this process. Since time immemorial, stories have been structured in similar styles and around common themes to captivate audiences around the world. Scholars of the arts have for millennia debated what characterizes prototypical and universal stories. They have emphasized narrative elements, such as the organization of events into causal accounts, the choice of narrative perspective, the description of events as intentional actions, the casting of actors into character roles, and the fitting of those roles to types of story plots involving heroes and villains in conflict. News as a form of storytelling also follows conventional structures and organizing principles. As a result, narratives have also played a role in how journalism scholars and practitioners alike understand the particular genre of public communication that is news. The discussion of news as narratives can be approached from at least three perspectives: one emphasizes narratives as a set of conventions for telling any story; another approaches narratives as a particular genre of news reporting—that is, narrative journalism; and a third sees narratives as the core myths that circulate in our society through news, among other forms of communication. Increasingly, scholars also take an interest in how narrative elements affect the ways in which audiences perceive and engage with news.
Jannie Møller Hartley
The focus of news-audience research has shifted from investigating news audiences of single platforms—such as newspapers, television, or radio news—to audiences in an inherently cross-media context; and from examining the audience as passive, choosing between content made available for them; to investigating what audiences do with the news more actively, often coined by the term “news engagement.”
News-audience studies can be divided into five approaches: (1) media-effect studies of news consumption; (2) studies of news-media use and motives; (3) cultural audience studies of news practices; (4) news audiences’ comprehension and recall of news; and (5) news engagement in the digital age.
Due to changes in the media landscape, both technological and commercial, traditional analytical models in news-audience research have been challenged. The final discussion addresses how a tendency to focus on either reducing audiences to quantifiable aggregates in big-data research or labeling news audiences as a thing of the past can be observed—in both cases removing news-audience research from actual empirical audiences.
Joshua A. Braun
Media distribution plays a key role in defining publics by determining which groups are able to access and share news. Put more broadly, decisions about how content circulates, whether they are made by corporations, platforms, street vendors, or file sharers, are central to the question of who has access to cultural resources and on what terms. This is significant for scholars of journalism insofar as a central concern of journalism studies is the role that news media play in public life. As media distribution has become increasingly dependent on digital intermediaries like search engines and social media, responsibility for media circulation has become an increasingly significant aspect of news work, shifting journalistic routines in the process. Though journalism studies researchers have typically paid less attention to distribution than to news production, news content, and audience reception, the disruptive changes wrought by the widespread adoption of digital media have begun to inspire renewed interest in distribution across media industry studies. And while various industries and regulatory regimes define distribution differently, it is important for scholarship on distribution to forge its own conception of the subject matter, both to avoid industry capture and to grapple with a changing media landscape in which formerly distinct professional boundaries between distribution and other media practices like production and marketing are rapidly blurring and shifting.
A variety of scholars have argued that news distribution plays an important role in creating the imaginaries that sustain public life by enabling the conceit that media are addressed to the same audience over an extended period of time. It is true, too, that distribution networks can sow social divisions by extending the reach of messages and images beyond their intended contexts. The impact of the Internet on these dynamics has drawn a great deal of attention.
Distribution platforms—even digital ones—should also be understood as having material underpinnings that can constrain their form and functionality, and arguably favor particular organizational forms. The resulting dynamics can dramatically impact news providers’ access to distribution networks and, by extension, audiences. This is true for physical distribution networks and also, mutatis mutandis, in online space, where news providers have become highly dependent on a small set of companies—Google, Facebook, and their ilk—for access to audiences. At the same time, many media organizations pay substantial amounts to vendors for access to white-label technologies and infrastructures to maintain their own distribution channels.
The changing distribution landscape has led to changes in production dynamics at news organizations. In particular, the online advertising industry has now built its own distribution systems for ads, fundamentally changing the relationship between advertisers and the commercial news organizations on which they once relied for access to consumers. This, in turn, has led to changes in editorial logics at many news organizations aimed at preserving rapidly diminishing advertising revenues. Simultaneously, news distribution has become an increasing part of the work that goes on in news rooms, as optimizing the news for circulation via search and social media has become an editorial responsibility. These changes across media industries have generated a surge of interest in media distribution within academia.
“News ecology” and “news ecosystems” are two terms often used in journalism studies. They are, however, different concepts that draw from different lines of research and are used by different groups of scholars rarely connected to one another.
The notion of “news ecology” stems from media ecology, a branch of media theory that aims at understanding the effects that mediated technologies have on communication and social interactions. Media ecology has challenged traditional media research by focusing on how communicative technologies impact media consumption on a daily basis. Specifically it argues that communicative technologies encompass a set of implicit rules that affect how humans see, understand, and think about the contents that are being mediated. Building on these principles, “news ecology” is a relevant notion to reflect on how citizens get acquainted with the news as well as the diversity of technologies involved in news use. The notion aims at capturing the fact that news products exist in a diversity of formats, are consumed in diverse manners, and take place on different sites and platforms. Out of all the economic, social and technological changes of the last decades, the popularization of the Internet is often seen as the keystone of this change. However, most recent reception studies mention the terms “news ecology” without relating it to media ecology.
The use of the “news ecosystem” metaphor in journalism studies is more recent and focuses on the diversity of actors involved in news production and diffusion. If some scholars use a restricted definition of ecosystems (i.e., the ecosystems of blogs, websites, or social networking sites), others give it a more organic and composite meaning (i.e., the ecosystems of actors, technologies, and contents produced in a specific area or regarding a specific topic). Using the first definition, one can analyze the configuration of news ecosystems online, the diversity of actors involved in news production and their relationships, as well as how news circulates through diverse technologies. Using the second definition forces researchers to consider news as a complex social practice in which a diversity of actors competes to influence the news narrative through mediated and unmediated practices.
The two research traditions rarely intersect, as media and news ecology focus more on the reception side of news (i.e., the impact of mediums on people) and the study of news ecosystems has so far paid more attention to the production and diffusion of news. However, they share similarities—such as the facts that they both analyze media as dynamic processes are not normative in nature, or focus on complexity and change more than structure and stability—and could inspire one another in an effort to break the production/reception dichotomy in journalism studies.
In the past 50 years, there has been a burgeoning literature on the role of journalism in promoting governance and supporting anti-corruption efforts. Much of this comes from the work of economists and political scientists, and there is a lot for journalism studies scholars to learn from. The three disciplines grapple with many of the same questions; including the effects of journalism on society and journalists’ role as watchdogs and scarecrows. Economists are the boldest about establishing causality between journalism and governance, arguing that a free and open press can curb corruption and promote accountability. However, this is not always borne out in practice as modern technological and political developments have threatened journalism’s business model, especially in regions without a historically robust free press. Media capture continues to be a growing problem in places where government and business interests are aligned and seek to instrumentalize the media.
Further quantitative research and exploration of the impediments to the functioning of a free media will help our understanding of the contemporary problems facing journalists and how they can be solved in order to improve governance across the world. There is much more to be learned about the impact of journalism on governance and studies on this topic should not only cross disciplines but must also be decolonialized so that the field has more information on how the media contributes, or not, to governance in the Global South and in the different media systems outlined by Hallin and Mancini as well as the updated analysis of Efrat Nechushtai.
Masato Kajimoto and Jennifer Fleming
News literacy is an emerging field within the disciplines of media literacy, journalism education, information technology, and other related areas, although there is no unified definition or consensus among researchers as to what exactly the news literacy curriculum should entail. Its core mission is broadly recognized as “citizen empowerment” in that the critical-thinking skills necessary to the evaluation of news reports and the ability to identify fact-based, quality information encourage active participation and engagement among well-informed citizens. One dominant instructional paradigm, which some researchers refer to as the “journalism school approach,” emerged in the mid-2000s and distinguished “news literacy” from its longer-recognized counterpart, media literacy. Lessons in news literacy classrooms focus exclusively on the deconstruction of news content. While news literacy often shares many of its analytical goals and theoretical frameworks with media literacy education, it also contains specialized pedagogical methods specific to the process of news production, which are not applicable to other types of media content.
Despite some heated discussions among scholars, particularly in the United States, with different standpoints on whether this pedagogy is more or less effective than the approaches taken by media literacy educators, the difference between the two and other related fields, such as digital literacy and web literacy, is often ambiguous because in practice, neither discipline is particularly standardized and each instructor’s understanding of the field, as well as their academic training, has a significant impact on students’ learning experiences. Globally, the debate over the—often subtle—nuances that differentiate these various approaches have even less significance, as educators around the world translate and adapt news literacy concepts to fit the unique circumstances and environments found in their own country’s news media, political, and technological environments.
Perhaps the most pressing issue in the current state of news literacy is a lack of a cohesive body of peer-reviewed research, or in particular, a research design that appropriately measures the efficacy of educational models. News literacy studies grounded in social science methods are limited. Scholarship on critical news instruction and skill development, which has been traditionally conducted under the umbrella of media literacy, is mostly comprised of descriptive accounts of educational interventions or self-reported surveys on media attitudes, content consumption behaviors, or analytical skills. In the United States, a body of quantitative work based on an assessment instrument called a “news media literacy scale” has influenced how researchers can contextualize and measure news literacy, and some qualitative analyses shed light on specific pedagogical models. Interest in educational intervention and related research has increased rather dramatically since 2016 as global concerns over “post-truth” media consumption and the “fake news” phenomena have become part of academic discourse in different disciplines. Collaborative works among scholars and practitioners in the areas that could potentially inform the design of effective news literacy curriculum development, such as cognitive science, social psychology, and social media data analysis, have started to emerge as well.
The relationship between journalists and their sources is central to journalism practice. It is a relationship based on a power struggle over the presentation of information to the public. The nature of that relationship continues to change in response to cultural, social, political, and technological circumstances. Historically, the relationship between journalists and sources has been predominantly characterized as interdependent, oscillating between cooperation and conflict over the control of information. However, the arrival of digital publishing platforms has significantly disrupted this mutually dependent exchange. It has blurred the boundaries between the two roles and released sources from their traditional reliance on journalists to disseminate their messages to citizens. Using digital platforms, sources have the option to bypass the traditional media and communicate directly with the public if it meets their strategic communication goals. Depending on whether the source is trying to reach a specific audience via social media or a wider audience via mass media, he or she can “opt-in” or “opt-out” of a traditional journalist-source relationship. The shift in power between reporters and sources poses a challenge to the authority and control of journalists who have lost their stranglehold over the means of publication. This change points to issues of accountability and scrutiny and raises questions about the ongoing relevance of journalism’s “fourth estate” role in democracy.
Nikki Usher and Aske Kammer
The rise of news startups in their modern incarnation has taken place on a global scale, and needs consideration as a phenomenon. First, a brief history of news startups is provided, followed by a theoretical framing that explores how they both differ from and normalize existing aspects of professional journalism. News startups stretch the boundaries of the profession through discursive claims about iteration and innovation, but nonetheless draw on the longstanding aspirations of legacy journalists for inspiration. The types of funding models are overviewed (philanthropic/nonprofit, government-funded, venture-backed for-profit, for-profit, and ideological-advocacy) and are posited against a matrix of types of news startups (original-content creators, aggregators/curators, platforms, and business-to-business). News startups face future challenges to their survival and a discussion is needed on their fragility in the context of flexible and venture labor.
How events become news has always been a fundamental question for both journalism practitioners and scholars. For journalism practitioners, news judgments are wrapped up in the moral obligation to hold the powerful to account and to provide the public with the means to participate in democratic governance. For journalism scholars, news selection and construction are wrapped up in investigations of news values and newsworthiness. Scholarship systematically analyzing the processes behind these judgments and selections emerged in the 1960s, and since then, news values research has made a significant contribution to the journalism literature. Assertions have been made regarding the status of news values, including whether they are culture bound or universal, core or standard. Some hold that news values exist in the minds of journalists or are even metaphorically speaking “part of the furniture,” while others see them as being inherent or infused in the events that happen or as discursively constructed through the verbal and visual resources deployed in news storytelling. Like in many other areas of journalism research, systematic analysis of the role that visuals play in the construction of newsworthiness has been neglected. However, recent additions to the scholarship on visual news values analysis have begun to address this shortfall. The convergence and digitization of news production, rolling deadlines, new media platforms, and increasingly active audiences have also impacted on how news values research is conducted and theorized, making this a vibrant and ever-evolving research paradigm.
Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) are not-for-profit groups, which are independent of commercial businesses and government agencies. They claim to serve various notions of the public good, including advocacy and service delivery. So the definition of an “NGO” is broad, including many different kinds of organizations, such as aid agencies, human rights, indigenous, feminist and environmental lobby groups.
Throughout the 19th and early 20th century, the predecessors of NGOs—pressure groups—tried to advance their cause by cultivating close relations with the mainstream press, and/or publishing their own periodicals. But from the late 20th century onward, many NGOs started routinely producing their own news content, including written text but also photojournalism, video, and sophisticated interactive projects. Some of this material is disseminated through “alternative” outlets, social media and activist hubs. But it is difficult for NGOs to gain a mass audience in these ways, so most major NGOs recruit or commission experienced journalists to carry out this work for them.
Much of the research in this area has focused on either journalists’ increased dependence on NGOs, or on the restructuring of NGOs’ resources, priorities and working cultures in accordance with news norms. Most scholars have also focused on the work of international aid agencies and/or human rights organizations, as well as particular kinds of crises, such as famines, hurricanes and conflicts. The extant literature is heavily weighted toward organizations which are based in North America or Europe. However, a small but growing number of scholars are challenging this, exploring the news work of other NGOs and/or news outlets, in other countries, and during other kinds of news-making periods, including conferences, summits and “quiet” news weeks.
These more diverse approaches to studying NGOs as news organizations have led to the theorization of NGO journalism becoming more nuanced. Researchers have shifted away from polarized, and somewhat over-generalized, assessments of the effects of NGO news-making, toward a greater awareness of complexity and heterogeneity. This has involved them using theory about organizations, institutions, fields and moral economies. However, the kinds of power which NGO workers are able to acquire by becoming news reporters is still under-theorized, and scholars still tend to avoid examining the frameworks they use as a basis for normative evaluation. Finally, changing media practices (including social media practices) and NGOs’ adoption of new communication technology (including satellite and drone imagery) means that this area of news work is still evolving very rapidly.
People can adjust their communication in a variety of ways for different contexts, audiences, and purposes. Although these adjustments often improve or facilitate interaction—that is, make it smoother, better, or easier—sometimes they do not. “Nonaccommodation” is a concept drawn from communication accommodation theory (CAT) and refers to adjustments in communication behavior associated with disaffiliation, expressing dissimilarity and/or obscuring information. Nonaccommodation can be defined and described in terms of either speakers’ or listeners’ experiences; it may also be intentional or unintentional on the part of a speaker. Researchers have studied nonaccommodation in terms of both its objective behavioral manifestations (e.g., linguistic divergence) and the subjective perceptions that relate to those behavioral manifestations (e.g., psychological divergence; over- and underaccommodation). Responding to nonaccommodation effectively can be challenging, and what constitutes the “best” or “most appropriate” response often depends on contextual factors and interactants’ goals. In line with the functions of accommodation described in CAT, nonaccommodation can influence communication effectiveness as well as the nature of interpersonal and intergroup relations. Generally, nonaccommodation hinders shared understanding and increases perceptions of social distance between individuals and their social groups. Often it is also associated with less positive evaluations of the people and groups involved, as well as lower levels of relational solidarity. Nonaccommodation occurs frequently across a wide variety of societally significant contexts, including intergenerational, medical/healthcare, police–civilian, family, and educational interactions. As such, it represents an important area for both theoretical and applied research.
Nonverbal communication is ever present in face-to-face interactions. In interpersonal interactions, individuals are simultaneously sending information with their appearance and nonverbal behavior and receiving comparable information from their partners. Typically, this sending and receiving of nonverbal communication happens automatically and outside of awareness. Consequently, nonverbal communication is a remarkably effective means of managing contact with others, signaling information about social goals, and providing feedback to partners. Although some patterns of nonverbal communication are biologically hardwired, culture, gender, and personality introduce important differences in the subtle give-and-take of nonverbal communication. Finally, because nonverbal communication typically occurs automatically and outside of awareness, people often have little insight into its critical role in interactions.
Norms are regularized patterns of attitudes and behavior that characterize a group of individuals, separate the group from other groups of individuals, and prescribe and describe attitudes and behaviors for group members. Relying on social identity theory and self-categorization theory, the role played by group norms within groups and the processes by which such norms are promulgated within groups are discussed. Norm talk or the communication of normative information within groups is explored, as a major proportion of communication within groups is dedicated to clarifying ingroup identities and group attributes such as attitudes and behaviors that characterize the group. Group members can glean normative information by attending to norm talk for instance, by listening to the content of fellow group members’ communications, from their behavior, and from influential or prototypical sources within the group.
According to self-categorization theory, once individuals categorize themselves as members of a salient group or category, they represent normative information cognitively as ingroup prototypes. Prototypes are a fuzzy set of group attributes (such as attitudes and behaviors that characterize the group) and simultaneously minimize differences within groups while maximizing differences between groups. Thus, clear group prototypes help create distinct identities that are clearly demarcated from other groups. Group members should be especially attentive to information that flows from prototypical sources within groups—such as leaders and ingroup media sources—while efforts should be made to differentiate from marginal or deviant members who deviate from the prototype and reduce clarity of ingroup prototypes. The processes through which attending to information communicated by different sources within groups—both prototypical and non-prototypical—help group members seek normative information and clarification of ingroup prototypes are discussed.
Priscila G. Brust-Renck, Julia Nolte, and Valerie F. Reyna
The complexity of numerical information about health risks and benefits places demands on people that many are not prepared to meet. For example, much information about health is communicated numerically, such as treatment risks and effectiveness, lifestyle benefits, and the chances of side effects from medication. However, many people—especially the old, the poor, and the less educated—have difficulty understanding numerical information that would enable them to make informed health decisions. Some evidence also suggests cultural and gender differences (although their causes have been disputed). The ability to use and understand numbers (i.e., numeracy) plays an important role in how information should be displayed and communicated.
Measuring differences in numeracy provides a standard to guide one’s approach when communicating risk. Several surveys have been developed to allow for a descriptive assessment of basic and analytical mathematical skills in nationally representative samples (e.g., NAEP, NAAL, PISA, PIACC). Other measures assess specific skills, such as perception of numbers (e.g., number line, approximation, dots tasks), individual perception of one’s own ability (i.e., Subjective Numeracy Scale), and arithmetic computation ability (i.e., Objective Numeracy Scales, Abbreviated Numeracy Scale, and Berlin Numeracy Test).
Difficulties associated with low numeracy extend well beyond the inability to understand place value or perform computations. Understanding and remediating low numeracy requires getting below the surface of errors in judgment and decision making to the deeper level of scientific theory. Despite the relevance of numbers in decision making, there is a certain level of disagreement regarding the psychological mechanisms involved in numeracy. Studies show that people have a basic mental representation of numbers in which the discriminability of two magnitudes is a function of their ratio rather than their difference (psychophysical approaches). Numerical reasoning has been identified with quantitative and analytical processes, and such computation is often seen as an accurate and objective way to process information (traditional dual-process approaches as applied to numeracy). However, these approaches do not account for the contradictory evidence that reliance on analysis is not sufficient for many decisions and has been associated with worse performance for some decisions. Studies supporting a more recent dual-process approach—one that accounts for standard and paradoxical effects of numeracy on risk communication—emphasize the role of intuition: this is a kind of advanced thinking that operates on gist representations, which capture qualitative understanding of the meaning of numbers that is relevant in decision making (Fuzzy Trace Theory). According to Fuzzy Trace Theory, people encode both actual numbers (verbatim representations) and qualitative interpretations of their bottom-line meaning (gist representations) but prefer to rely on the qualitative gist representations when possible. Thus, potential difficulties in decision making arising from deficits in numeracy can be resolved through meaningful communication of risk. Creating narratives that emphasize the contextually relevant underlying gist of risk and using methods that convey the meaning behind numeric presentations (e.g., use of appropriate arrays to communicate linear trends, meaningful relations among magnitudes, and inclusion relations among classes) improve understanding and decision making for both numerate and innumerate individuals.
Nutrition Labeling in the United States and the Role of Consumer Processing, Message Structure, and Moderating Conditions
J. Craig Andrews, Scot Burton, and Laurel Aynne Cook
It has been since 1990 that the landmark Nutritional Labeling Education Act (NLEA) was passed in the United States, and since 1969 that the first White House Conference on Food, Nutrition and Health occurred. In the time since these important events, considerable research has been conducted on how U.S. consumers process and use nutritional labeling. An up-to-date review of nutritional labeling research must address key findings on the processing and use of nutrition facts panels (NFPs), restaurant labeling, front-of-pack (FOP) symbols, health and nutrient content claims, new labeling efforts (e.g., for meat products), and claims not regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Message structure mediates the ways in which consumers process nutritional labeling while moderating conditions affect research outcomes associated with labeling efforts.
The most recent policy issues and problems to be considered (e.g., by the FDA) include nutritional labeling as well as identifying opportunities for consumer research in helping to promote healthy lifestyles and reducing obesity in the United States and throughout the world. For example, several unanswered research questions remain regarding how the proposed changes to the NFPs—beef, poultry, and seafood labeling; restaurant chain calorie labeling; alternative FOP formats; and regulated and unregulated health and nutrient content claims—will affect consumers. Researchers have yet to examine not only these different labeling and nutrition information formats, but also how they might interact with one another and the role of key moderating conditions (e.g., one’s motivation, ability opportunity to process nutrition information) in affecting consumer processing and behavior.
May O. Lwin, Jerrald Lau, Andrew Z. H. Yee, and Cyndy Au
Populated by a diverse spread of cultures, Southeast Asia is represented by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), a regional organization comprising some 622 million people in ten countries. While food and beverage labeling policies differ across ASEAN member states, organizations such as the ASEAN Food and Beverage Alliance (AFBA) have pushed for standardization in the interest of facilitating interregional trade. Set against this backdrop of economic growth, nutrition labeling as a means of influencing consumer choices has become a significant area of focus for health authorities and researchers over the past two decades due to rising chronic disease levels within the region’s increasingly urbanized communities.
Food retail trends facing Southeast Asia challenge the state of existing regulations governing, as well as research on food labeling practices in the region. Two main points stand out. First, legislation has remained disparate among the ASEAN nations despite repeated calls for standardization by academics as well as other relevant bodies, with only Malaysia adopting mandatory regulations on food labeling and nutritional claims. Second, existing nutrition labeling research in ASEAN is sorely lacking. In addition, there is a lack of theoretical and methodological diversity in existing studies, leading to an incomplete understanding of nutritional label use in Asia and a crucial research gap that remains to be filled.
Stephen J. A. Ward
Journalism objectivity or news objectivity had its origins in Western media cultures, especially in the United States, in the early 20th century. The principle, however, has found its way into codes of ethics and journalism education in Asia, Africa, and Latin America.
In 2018, objectivity is a controversial norm. Within the field of journalism ethics, the issue is whether objectivity as traditionally understood—a neutral reporting of “just the facts”—remains a valid ideal. In society, the debate swirls around the future of democratic public spheres and the need for reliable news sources. Misinformation and partisan voices threaten to swamp public channels of information. How can citizens distinguish truth from falsity in journalism? Objective from subjective reports? Informed analysis from biased opinion?
The prehistory of objectivity is, in large part, the history of objectivity, truth, and fact in the culture. This is because journalists defined their notion of objectivity by adapting notions from philosophy, science, and the ambient culture.
The central notion of news objectivity is that reporters should be neutral stenographers of fact, eliminating their opinions and interpretations from their reports. By the middle of the 1900s onward, this idea of objectivity as just the facts was subjected to a withering critique by journalists who sought a more engaged journalism and academics who rejected the idea of neutral facts. Also, the early 21st-century digital revolution created online communication that favored an interpretive journalism skeptical of neutrality and objectivity.
The study and advancement of truth and objectivity in journalism is thus left in a difficult position. Should journalists go back to a 19th-century libertarian view of truth and democracy as requiring only a free clash of opinion? Should they revive or redefine news objectivity? Or should they rethink journalism ethics from the ground up, leaving news objectivity behind?