A Comparative Analysis: Objective & Public Journalism Techniques

Article excerpt

Labels of elitism and egalitarianism are useless because there are elements of each in both objective and public journalism. Each advocates a different level of constraint on the press.

The past 50 years have witnessed much scholarship and debate regarding the practice of objective journalism.(1) This discussion has been intensified with the advent of public journalism, whose advocates boldly assert that objective journalism is fundamentally flawed.(2) Not surprisingly, much heated debate has emerged in which proponents of either journalistic practice accuse the other of being negligent, misleading or culpable in the erosion of democracy. Of key concern to this paper is the propensity for participants in this debate to talk past one another - to be too quick to judge and dismiss the other practice as intrinsically broken, and thus, something to be immediately recanted and forsaken.

The debate concerning objective and public journalism is flawed because it focuses almost exclusively on the final products of each approach, usually demonstrating how each fail to achieve desired goals.(3) This is because there is no fair and standardized way to compare and contrast the processes of each approach. The study of journalistic practices as techniques overcomes this problem. Analyzing objective and public journalism as techniques affords the opportunity to focus on the means, not simply the end results, of each approach. This is a necessary step in enriching the debate over objective and public journalism. Without this focus, debate will continue to produce more derision than deliberation.

Focus on process

In discussing the impossibility of true objectivity, Denis McQuail asserts that objective journalism is more of "an approach ... than an

Achievement."(4) Jorgen Westerstahl states that "maintaining objectivity in the dissemination of news can ... most easily be defined as adherence to certain norms and standards. It is not a question of basing conclusions on some definition of the inherent nature of objectivity."(5) Each of these scholars has emphasized the need to focus on objective reporting as a process rather than becoming distracted by the philosophical debate over the possibility of true objectivity.

Because public journalism is still very young, there is no single set of procedures which the approach advocates. However, using a series of case studies, some scholars have outlined how different organizations approach the practice of public journalism.(6) Other researchers have gone so far as to outline some common practices (i.e., public forums, public opinion polling, etc.) typical of public journalism projects and some urge the creation of a systematic approach for public journalism.(7) Thus, while each public journalism project is unique, there remain some common practices which are consistently espoused. As a result, public journalism also yields itself to the study of technique.

Study of technique

The study of technique is the study of process. Jacques Ellul states that the study of technique incorporates an examination of means, values and resources.(8) First and foremost, the study of technique allows scholars to focus on the actual practices of any activity.(9) Second, technique examines how value structures dictate the practices of an activity. Finally, although Harold Lasswell alludes to the fact that the study of technique should involve the topic of resources, this study focuses exclusively on means and values.(10)

Focus on means

Ellul asserts that "our civilization is first and foremost a civilization of means ... the means, it would seem, are more important than the end."(11) The means or practices of any activity are nothing more than steps taken to achieve a desired goal. Importantly, focusing on the means of an activity requires an examination of the efficiency of the means. Ellul claims that "technique is the totality of methods rationally arrived at and having absolute efficiency" and that techniques are designed to "search for the greatest efficiency. …