Title page for ETD etd-1114101-191429

Type of Document Master's Thesis
Author Lane, Les L.
URN etd-1114101-191429
Title A Reexamination of the Canon of Objectivity in American Journalism
Degree Master of Mass Communication (M.M.C.)
Department Mass Communication
Advisory Committee
Advisor Name Title
Louis A. Day Committee Chair
Alan D. Fletcher Committee Member
Richard A. Nelson Committee Member
  • history of objectivity
Date of Defense 2001-10-15
Availability unrestricted
Journalistic objectivity is the definitive canon of American mainstream journalism. Yet American journalists cannot agree on what it is, how it is measured, or on how it is done. The source of the confusion is the assumption that objectivity is an ideal, absolute, impossible, incomprehensible, value-free state of being, outside of all physical, cognitive, psychological, and social contexts, where reality is perceived without distortions of any kind. This assumption is logically invalid and historically inaccurate. Journalistic objectivity evolved from the American cultural premises of egalitarianism and positive scientific empiricism through four historical stages: Nonpartisanship, Neutrality, Focus-On-Facts, and Detachment. It is possible, comprehensible, and reflects specific values.

Within the context of journalism, there is no absolute truth. A "truth" is an interpretation

of reality that passes three tests-coherence, correspondence and pragmatism--within a specific

context. There are as many potential "truths" as there are contexts from which to determine

those truths. With so many potential truths, chaos is unavoidable unless an added dimension of

truth is identified. That added dimension is "objectivity." "Objective" truths are interpretations

of reality that pass the three tests of truth within the largest, most information-rich contexts.

An "objective" journalist is one who gathers interpretations of reality (true or not) from

the smaller contexts of news participants, and presents them faithfully and accurately to the larger

context of news consumers, so that the most objective truth (the one that everyone in the large

context can agree on) can be determined. In order to do this, an objective journalist has to be

able to surf contexts. Therefore, "journalistic objectivity" is the ability to surf contexts, or

Contextual Independence.

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