Objectivity's Prophet: Adolph S. Ochs and the New York Times, 1896-1935

By Porwancher, Andrew | Journalism History, Winter 2011 | Go to article overview

Objectivity's Prophet: Adolph S. Ochs and the New York Times, 1896-1935


Porwancher, Andrew, Journalism History


Historians of American journalism have shown considerable interest in the ideal of objectivity. Although scholars disagree on the precise meaning of it and the timing of its rise, the standard historiographical assumption is that objectivity emerged as a dominant professional ethic at some point between the 1890s and the 1920s. This article argues against the notion of objectivity as a guiding ideal that dictated institutional norms in this era. Instead, this study contends that objectivity was a contemporaneous legitimation of journalistic practices, a set of ideal interests used to camouflage or even further the press' material interests: increased revenue, advertising, and circulation as well as protection from legal sanctions. Such practice did not inhere tacitly within the machinery of journalism-it was conscious, deliberate, and explicit.

Beginning in the latter half of the nineteenth century, American journalism experienced a revolution. Once an integral component of political party machinery, the newspaper increasingly staked out independence from partisan allegiances and claimed a new role as an impartial medium of information. ' Advertisers replaced parties as die main sources of newspaper revenue, and content expanded from a political emphasis to a varied smorgasbord of sport, fashion, culture, and gossip.2 Whereas papers were minor operations before the Civil War with sometimes only one employee, they expanded into massive bureaucracies that actively gathered news and delivered it to hundreds of thousands of readers.3 Lastly, journalists of the late-nineteenth and earlytwentieth centuries developed a corporate identity as members of a profession, characterized by an increasingly articulate vision of an occupational ethic: objectivity.4

The ideal of objectivity has sparked considerable interest among journalism historians. Although scholars disagree on the precise meaning of it and the timing of its rise, the standard historiographical assumption is that objectivity emerged as a dominant professional ethic at some point between the 1890s and 1920s. Drawing on recently released materials from the internal archives of the New York Times, this article argues against the notion of objectivity as a guiding ideal that dictated institutional norms in this era. Instead, this study contends that objectivity was a contemporaneous legitimation of journalistic practices, a set of ideal interests used to camouflage or even further the press' material interests: increased profit, advertising, and circulation as well as protection from legal sanctions.5 Such practice did not inhere tacitly within the machinery of journalism - it was conscious, deliberate, and explicit.

Any study of objectivity that seeks to situate its findings in a historiographical context must parse through the divergent definitions of the term employed by journalism historians. The lack of uniformity has caused debates on semantics to masquerade as substantive disagreements. Michael Schudson defined objectivity in 1 978 as "the belief that one can and should separate facts from values."6 Twenty years later, David Mindich conceded that "it's difficult to discuss an ethic that is defined by its practitioners' lack of perspective, bias, and even action." Nevertheless, he posited that objectivity consisted of five components: detachment, nonpartisanship, the inverted pyramid, naive empiricism (i.e., "reliance on 'facts'"), and balance.7 Meanwhile, in 2002 Richard Kaplan conceived of naive empiricism as a predecessor to, rather than component of, objectivity: the former sees "facts and events" as "merely waiting to be uncovered and harvested by the working reporter" whereas the latter envisions the journalist as "a technical functionary who knows how to weigh competing versions of events in order to achieve a balanced news report."8 Finally, Stephen Ward acknowledged in 2004 that "traditional objectivity . . . never received a precise definition and never developed into a detailed, explicit theory. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Objectivity's Prophet: Adolph S. Ochs and the New York Times, 1896-1935
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.