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?
Stephen J. A. Ward
For millennia, the idea that rituals create a shared and conventional world of human sociality has been commonplace. From common rites of passage that exist around the world in various forms (weddings, funerals, coming-of-age ceremonies) to patterned actions that seem familiar only to members of the in-group (secret initiations, organizational routines), the voluntary performance of ritual encourages people to participate and engage meaningfully in different spheres of society. While attention to the concept was originally the purview of anthropology, sociology, and history, many other academic disciplines have since turned to ritual as a “window” on the cultural dynamics by which people make and remake their worlds. In terms of journalism studies in particular, the concept of ritual has been harnessed by scholars looking to understand the symbolic power of media to direct public attention, define issues and groups, and cause social cohesion or dissolution. Media rituals performed in and through news coverage indicate social norms, common and conflicting values, and different ways of being “in the world.” The idea of ritual in journalism is accordingly related to discussions around the societal power of journalism as an institution, the ceremonial aspects of news coverage (especially around elite persons and extraordinary “media events”), and the different techniques journalists use to “make the news” and “construct reality.” Journalism does more than merely cover events or chronicle history—it provides a mediated space for audiences and publics that both allows and extends rituals that can unite, challenge, and affect society.
Lucas Graves and Michelle A. Amazeen
Fact-checking has a traditional meaning in journalism that relates to internal procedures for verifying facts prior to publication, as well as a newer sense denoting stories that publicly evaluate the truth of statements from politicians, journalists, or other public figures. Internal fact-checking first emerged as a distinct role in U.S. newsmagazines in the 1920s and 1930s, decades in which the objectivity norm became established among American journalists. While newspapers have not typically employed dedicated fact-checkers, the term also refers more broadly to verification routines and the professional concern with factual accuracy. Both scholars and journalists have been concerned with a decline of internal fact-checking resources and routines in the face of accelerated publishing cycles and the economic crisis faced by news organizations in many parts of the world. External fact-checking consists of publishing an evidence-based analysis of the accuracy of a political claim, news report, or other public text. Organizations specializing in such “political” fact-checking have been established in scores of countries around the world since the first sites appeared in the United States in the early 2000s. These outlets may be based in established news organizations but also “good government” groups, universities, and other areas of civil society; practitioners generally share the broad goals of helping people become better informed and promoting fact-based public discourse. A burgeoning area of research has tried to measure the effectiveness of various kinds of external fact-checking interventions in countering misinformation and promoting accurate beliefs. This literature generally finds that fact-checking can be effective in experimental settings, though the influence of corrections is limited by the familiar mechanisms of motivated reasoning.
Research on emotion and intimacy has been slow to develop in journalism studies. This is due to an allegiance to the model of liberal democracy and the associated ideal of objectivity. However, a growing body of work has shown that despite the historical allegiance to the ideal of objectivity, journalistic texts are—and always have been—profoundly infused with emotion. Emotion and intimacy serve crucial roles in the public discourse of journalism. They are used deliberately and strategically by journalists because they facilitate audience engagement and understanding. Audiences appear to connect with concrete stories of lived experience that dramatize the large and often abstract events that make up the news. Such connection can facilitate the cultivation of compassion—or feeling with others—and thereby engender cosmopolitan sensibilities. Growing scholarly attention to emotion and intimacy in journalism has occurred within the context of a rapidly changing media ecology. Technological changes associated with the digital era, including the rise of user-generated content and the emergence of social media, have ushered in a greater role for “ordinary people” in news production and participation. This has brought about the privileging of more emotional and embodied forms of storytelling. At the same time, these transformations, alongside broader existential threats to journalism, have rendered attention to the emotional impact of journalistic labor particularly urgent.
The core of the journalistic style is the newswriting style. Writing news leans upon the objectivity paradigm that has triggered wide academic debate about the biases in defining journalism. The majority of the scholarship regarding the journalistic style and writing gathers around newspapers and news; however, many traditions of writing transgress the traditional newswriting tradition and are supported by literary and cultural production, and the boundaries are becoming increasingly porous. The history of journalistic styles is closely connected to different genres: genres of journalism, such as news journalism and literary journalism, and textual genres, such as feature, column, and essay. Furthermore, style is a contextual term that emerges as a result of a variety of different choices, can be examined at different levels ranging from words to structures of production, and has to be studied in connection with other factors influencing the communication process such as medium, content, form, genre, discourses, and audience. It may thus be hard to separate the way of knowing from the way of presenting knowledge, “the way of using language” as style typically is defined. Indeed, journalism research is characterized by very diverse conceptualizations and operationalizations of style with regard to journalism. Relevant research is typically located in the intersection of language and journalism, literature and journalism, and the socially constructed reality and journalism, drawing on the different subareas of linguistics, literary theory and criticism, sociology, and interdisciplinary approaches. During the history of journalism studies, the scholarly inquiry has made struggles for symbolic power and alternative ways of knowing and presenting visible. The notions of the journalistic style in newspapers, magazines, and online have become more diverse.
Ingrid Bachmann Cáceres
A contested term with defenders and critics, advocacy journalism refers to a genre of journalism that combines reporting with a point of view. With roots as far as the origins of journalism itself, as a contemporary practice it can be found—to varying degrees—in all kinds of media outlets across the globe. Its key premise is that journalists participate in the mass-mediated public sphere and that their work deliberately and transparently stands for specific perspectives, with stories actively championing for certain ideas and values. While some authors have labeled advocacy as the binary opposite of objective (factual) reporting, in recent decades several journalism scholars and practitioners have argued that this is not the case, and that advocacy and informing are not necessarily mutually exclusive. At the core of this discussion are normative considerations of how journalism should be, the role of objectivity in news reporting, and professional models shaping news cultures and news content in different regions. Ethical concerns are also common arguments in this debate. Advocate journalists do not necessarily dismiss objectivity—although some do—and insist they adhere to professional standards nonetheless, since they still do journalism rather than propaganda. Promoters of advocacy also argue that having a situated viewpoint is more transparent, whereas critics argue against what they deem news reporting with an agenda or promoting an ideological campaign. More recently, advocacy journalism has been adopted—and adapted—by nongovernmental organizations and civic movements, which highlights the constant redefinitions of journalism practice outside of legacy media and traditional contexts.
Accuracy is a central norm in journalism and at the heart of the journalistic practice. As a norm, accuracy developed out of objectivity, and has therefore an Anglo-American origin. Nevertheless, the commitment to the rule of getting it right is shared among journalists across different journalistic cultures. The history of accuracy is closely related to other central concepts in journalism like truthfulness, factuality and credibility, because it raises epistemological questions of whether and how journalism is capable of depicting reality accurately, truthfully and based on fact. Accuracy plays a particularly important role with regard to the factuality of the journalistic discourse, as it forces journalists not only to ground their reporting on facts, but to check whether presented facts are true or not—which is reflected both in the description of the journalistic profession as the discipline of verification as well as the central relevance of accuracy for instruments of media self-regulation like press councils and codes of ethics. Accuracy is an important standard to determine the quality of the news reporting. In fact, many studies, most of them carried out Western democracies, have investigated the accuracy of journalistic reporting based on the number of errors that sources mentioned in the articles perceived. As journalism moved online and the immediacy of the news cycle requested a faster pace of publication, news outlets often adopted the strategy to publish first and to verify second, although research has shown that the accuracy of journalistic reporting and trustfulness are related. Especially in the current debate on disinformation, many online fact-checking and verification services have thus seen a global rise of attention and importance.
Laura Loeb and Steven E. Clayman
The news interview is a prominent interactional arena for broadcast news production, and its investigation provides a window into journalistic norms, press-state relations, and sociopolitical culture. It is a relatively formal type of interaction, with a restrictive turn-taking system normatively organized around questions and answers exchanged for the benefit of an audience. Questions to politicians are sensitive to the journalistic norms of neutralism and adversarialness. The neutralism norm is relatively robust, implemented by interviewers adhering to the activity of questioning, and avoiding declarative assertions except as prefaces to a question or as attributed to a third party. The adversarialism norm is more contextually variable, implemented through agenda setting, presupposition, and response preference, each of which can be enhanced through question prefaces. Adversarial questioning has increased significantly in the United States over time, and in some other national contexts. Adversarial questioning creates an incentive for resistant responses from politicians, which are managed with overt forms of damage control and covert forms of concealment. News interviews with nonpartisan experts and ordinary people are generally less adversarial and more cooperative. Various hybrid interview genres have emerged in recent years, which incorporate practices from other forms of broadcast talk (e.g., celebrity talk shows, confrontational debates) within a more loosely organized interview framework. These hybrid forms have become increasingly prominent in contemporary political campaigns and current affairs discussions.
Siebert, Peterson, and Schramm’s Four Theories of the Press has been a powerful influence on scholarship on comparative press systems and normative press theories in the years since its publication in 1956. Its appeal comes from the way it combined a history of Western development with a normative schema that is simple and teachable. Critics have pointed out the shortcomings of both its historical accounts and its theoretical structure, charging that the book expressed a Cold War mentality, elided non-Western and nonliberal theories and practices, and neglected the complicating dimensions of race, class, gender, and ethnicity. Critics also note that actual press systems are usually governed by hybrid norms, and that press systems are increasingly interconnected, overlapping, and global. Yet, Four Theories of the Press retains significant influence despite these criticisms. One reason is that no real replacement has appeared and it is unlikely that a new map of normative theories will win acceptance. The work emerged at a unique moment of Western liberal global hegemony and a successor would require a similar hegemonic moment.