Truth and Objectivity

Authored by: Stephen J. A. Ward

The Routledge Handbook of Mass Media Ethics

Print publication date:  March  2020
Online publication date:  March  2020

Print ISBN: 9781138681323
eBook ISBN: 9781315545929
Adobe ISBN:


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This chapter traces the evolution of the principles of truth and objectivity in journalism, and how these central norms came under serious attack, beginning in the previous century. The chapter begins by defending truth and objectivity as general, regulative ideals against a corrosive post-modern skepticism. The history of truth and objectivity is traced across five epistemological eras from the emergence of a news press in 17th century Europe to the articulation of a modern professional ethic of neutral reporting. The chapter shows how this positivistic conception of objectivity as “just the facts” crumbled as new approaches to inquiry, such as social constructionism, grew in importance. Major forms of criticism of professional objectivity are noted and explained. The chapter concludes that a more nuanced conception of objectivity is necessary for ethical guidance in a world of digital, global media.

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