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Modern Journalism paying a high price for failing to reconcile “objectivity” with “changing the world” 10/29/07

Posted by Steve Boriss in ChangingTheWorld.

Editor John Robinson writes that every newspaper journalist he has ever met got into the business because they wanted to “change the world” (Hat tip: Adrian Monck). But, who other than journalists thinks that “changing the world” is a legitimate pursuit for journalists? Not Thomas Jefferson, who wanted journalists to serve as a “fence” to protect the people from government encroachment on their natural rights, thereby preserving, not changing, the fragile American experiment. Not Modern Journalism founder Walter Lippmann, who believed that a scientific, objective journalism should generate “truths,” not necessarily calls for change. And, not a general public that has been led to believe by Modern Journalism that they are receiving objective truths, not the agendas of activists.

The fact is, there are plenty of vocations in which “changing the world” is a legitimate pursuit (e.g. politician, missionary, social activist), but “journalist” is not one of them, at least under Modern Journalism’s own concept of objectivity. In fact, it is a breach of the public trust and a selfish power grab — taking advantage of their unique access to mass communication technology, while at the same time making arguably false claims that they are providing singular, objective “truths.” Ironically, the world finally is changing, albeit not in ways journalists might want. Alternative views appearing on the Internet are exposing journalists’ attempts to “change the world” and undermining claims of “objectivity,” giving bloggers an unexpected advantage for credibility. So now Modern Journalism finds itself with an even tougher task than changing the world – changing the hearts of those who feel betrayed.


1. Adrian Monck - 10/30/07

In the UK, on the other hand, we’ve always had a partisan newspaper press which prides itself on delivering the news, parti pris.

2. Walter Abbott - 10/30/07


Here in the US our newspaper and broadcast press has taken sides also. They’ve just never admitted it and speciously claim objectivity.

3. Steve Boriss - 10/30/07

Adrian, Yes, I agree — as I’ve posted before, London newspapers provide an excellent example of transparent partisanship, which gives them license to attempt to change or not change the world. It’s a good model for journalists and readers, and one I believe America is moving to on the Internet. On the other hand, the situation in the UK is similar to the U.S. on broadcast, where the BBC purports to be objective, but has been cheerleading for left causes, as they have recently had to admit based on an internal report.

4. jesme - 11/6/07

Thanks for the pointer to John Robinson’s blog. I’m a professional newspaper guy, and I think the desire to “change the world” is bloody well killing our industry. People don’t want to be changed by their newspapers–just informed. If we could settle for that, we’d do a lot better.

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