Good News, Bad News: Journalism Ethics and the Public Interest

By Jeremy Iggers | Go to book overview

5

Objectivity's Legacy

Is Objectivity Dead?

Objectivity may be dead, but it isn't dead enough.

Even though few journalists still defend the idea of objectivity, it remains one of the greatest obstacles to their playing a more responsible and constructive role in public life. Although the idea itself may be widely discredited, its legacy is a professional ideology that shapes journalists' daily practices.

The traditional philosophical conception of objectivity holds that "our beliefs are objectively valid when they are or would be endorsed from a perspective . . . which transcends the particularities, biases and contingencies of our own egocentric perspectives.''1 This perspective, notes philosopher Fred D'Agostino, has variously been described as the Archimedean point, "the God's-eye view," or the "view from nowhere."

Everette Dennis, former director of the Freedom Forum Center for Media Studies, wrote in 1989 that

The upheavals of the 1960s and a reassessment of journalism's role in society, not to mention a journalistic revolution, shelved the concept [of objectivity] pretty dramatically. In time, editors and others shied away from claims of objectivity which anyone who had ever taken a psychology course knew was impossible, and opted instead for something we came to call fairness. For many, fairness was just a convenient euphemism for objectivity, but to others it represented a more thoughtful articulation of disinterested reporting that covered all the bases rather than simply "balancing" two sides.2

This obituary for objectivity may be premature. Objectivity is one of the central ethical principles articulated by Stephen Klaidman and TomBeauchamp

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