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The Concise Encyclopedia of Communication by Wolfgang Donsbach

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Objectivity in Reporting

Robert A. Hackett

Simon Fraser University

The concept of ‘objectivity’ connotes a set of practices and ideas, such as a stance of neutrality or balance in relation to the people and events being reported. It is a central ethos in journalism, especially in the Anglo American liberal democracies (→ Ethics in Journalism). It is also acquiring global significance as journalists seek new roles and institutional supports within non-western ‘transition societies.’ What objectivity means in practice, however, and whether it is a desirable and achievable goal are contentious questions (Donsbach & Klett 1993; → Journalists’ Role Perception).

Hackett and Zhao (1998) suggest that in North American journalism, objectivity has constituted a discursive “regime” with five general dimensions: (1) a normative ideal, including such goals as completeness, detachment, neutrality, and independence; (2) epistemological assumptions about knowledge and reality, rooted in positivism’s confidence in the possibility of accurate description but with some concessions to conventionalism (→ Construction of Reality through the News); (3) newsgathering and presentational practices, such as ‘documentary reporting’ by which journalists transmit only facts that they can observe or that ‘credible’ sources have confirmed (Bennett 2005, 184; → News Sources); (4) an institutional framework, including journalistic professionalism and media independence from the state; (5) an active ingredient ...

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