Toward a Pragmatist Ethical Theory for Journalism
Journalism only makes sense in relation to the public and public life. Therefore, the fundamental problem in journalism is to reconstitute the public, to bring it back into existence.1
What philosophical foundations can the ethics of journalism rest on, if not on the doctrines of objectivity, neutrality, and the centrality of information? The answer may lie in the American philosophical tradition of pragmatism and in the work of John Dewey on problems of truth, communications, and society. John Dewey was one of Walter Lippmann's chief intellectual adversaries during the 1920s, when Lippmann was propounding his theory of democracy. Dewey did not disagree that individual citizens were on the whole poorly prepared to play an active role in democratic life, but he was far more optimistic than Lippmann about the potential of the public. Moreover, he argued, the government by experts that Lippmann proposed, with the public relegated to ratifying expert opinions, could never "be anything but an oligarchy managed in the interests of the few."2 Only the public can truly say what the public good is, and that can only be discovered through public participation in an ongoing conversation.
Because communication was so central to Dewey's theory of democracy, he was keenly interested in the role of the press. When Dewey speaks of a public, he means a group of people who are affected by the indirect