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 Presentations of Objectivity



in Blogs and Online Journalism





'A fundamental ethics in journalism is 

the goal of writing a neutral or 

balanced news story in which both 

sides are equally well covered. '

(Chai/Watt/Lynch 2006). 




II. Content 




     1. Introduction


     2. The status of objectivity in the history of journalism


     3. The role of blogs in New Journalism


     4. Where to dram the line?


          4.1 The New York Times 'press ethics'


                 4.1.1 How do journalists keep their neutrality?


          4.2 Are journalists allowed to blog?


                 4.2.1 The official Answer


                 4.2.2 Blogging Journalists


     5. A Comparison: Objectivity in Blogs and Online News


     6. Conclusion


     7. Works Cited





1. Introduction



According to Walter Lippmann (1965) ‘news are the media’s interpretation of events.’ (Carey 1989, 1993 in :Wall 2005: 154). Still, different media can interpret news differently. The interpretation of news depends on the the person who transforms the news into  a online text or newspaper article. Therefore, the subjective opinion of a journalist or a blogger can be implyed in news.


Still, professional journalists and newspaper editors often proclaim to be 'objective'. Objectivity is a very central element of journalism. Nevertheless, the aim of this essay is not to define what objectivity is but to have a closer look on different presentations of objectivity. How objectivity is presented in online news and in blogs will be examined in this essay. 




2. The status of objectivity in the history of journalism (Wall 2005: 154/155)



  •  19th century: 'The values that anchored modernity were reflected in journalism: a sense that reality could be observed and documented from an objective viewpoint, an emphasis on constant change and timeliness, and a belief in being able to represent reality accurately' .


  •  20th century: Newsroom socialization becomes very central:


    - reporters and editors select what topics are acceptable for public consumption


    - overallm aim of news: reach the largest audience


    - news are presented as a mere reflection of reality: 'a neutral report that usually included a counter point of view to any controversity so as to offend the fewest people possible'.

  •  Problems of this new 'objectivity'


    - reduction of complex issues to two competing sides.


    - leaving out of other opinions


    - competing political groups often control the news proces

  •  Around 1960: 'New Journalism' emerges


    - writing style imitated fictional writing


    - Reliance on character, scene , dialogue


    - abandonment of objectivity and faux detachment

  •  Reasons for the loss of objectivity:


    - Today'€™s production is in the hands of few giant corporations


    - profit is more important than objectivity


    - change from 'providing news' to 'entertaining the audience'




3. The role of blogs in New Journalism



Jason Gallo claims that Weblogs can address the percetion that 'news and opinions are products of the media industry rather than objective statements of fact or independent opinion'.


This statement also supports Hans Magnus Enzensberger's thesis from 1974. In his work 'The Consciousness Industry' he writes




“There is no such thing as unmanipulated writing, filming, or broadcasting. The question is not whether the media are manipulated, but who manipulates them. A revolutionary plan should not require manipulators to disappear; on the contrary, it must make everyone a manipulator ” (Enzensberger 1974: 104).




Gallo interprets this statement of Enzensberger as a clear chance for ordinary news consumers to better understand news media and to protect themselves from being manipulated.  According to Gallo Enzensberger 'promotes infiltration of the media hierarchy by the broadest public possible to remedy the manipulation of the media' and understands blogging as 'a way of mass subjectivity against the proclaimed objective thruth of journalism'.



Especially blogs offer the audience a way to take part in the manipulation of information and enables the user 'to construct an individual interpretation of information, and channel that interpretation back into the discursive space of cyberspace, where it can circulate indefinitely without further maintenance from its creator' (Gallo 2004).



4. Where to draw the line?


Contrary to Gallo Wall perceives blogs as part of journalism. Refering to blogs she talks about 'personal journalism' or 'postmodern journalism' (Wall 2005: 157). These different approches towards blogs lead to the questions: How can journalists protect their neutrality? Are journalist allowed to blog? 



4.1 The New York Times 'press ethics'



4.1.1 How do journalist keep their neutrality?



To illustracte how huge News Institutions try to make sure that their journalists are and remain objective some of the genaral guidelines from the 'New York Times' are presented here.



    'Relationships with sources require sound judgment and self-awareness to prevent the fact or appearance of partiality'



    ''Where friends and neighbors are also newsmakers, journalists must guard against giving them extra access or a more sympathetic ear'.



    'Scrupulous practice requires that periodically we step back and look at whether we have drifted too close to sources with whom we deal regularly.'

    'Anything that could be construed as a payment for favorable coverage or for avoiding unfavorable coverage



4.2 Are journalists allowed to blog?



4.2.1 The official answer: YES, if.....

  • ... the staff member makes sure that the content is purely personal,
  • ...they avoid topics the cover professionally,
  • ...others are not defamed or humiliated,
  • ...their prose is not shrill or intolerant 
  • ...the picures and videos they show are not offensive 
  • ...they avoid taking stands on divisive public issues.



4.2.2 Blogging journalists:

  • Steve Olafson: worked for the Houston Chronicle.
  • Fired because: ' his editors felt that his personal Weblog, run under a pseudonym, compromised his ability to do his job as a reporter by poking fun of some of the politicians that he covered' (Gallo 2004).
  • Joshua Kucera: worked for CNN
  • Pressured by CNN to shut down his weblog
  • On his Weblog The Other Side Kucera writes:
  • “My editors have demanded that I stop posting to this site until the war ends. And they pay the bills, so what can I do?”

    (Gallo 2004)



5. A Comparison: Objectivity in Blogs and in Online News




                    BLOG                      ONLINE NEWS


Salam Pax

Mark Santora


- I could not find an image :(

2. Title

Where is Raed? Fighting near Basra blocks humanitarian aid Iraq's 2nd-largest city has had no electricity, little water for days


3. Date 

March 27th, 2003

 March 25th, 2003


4. Topic

The situation in Basra 

The situation in Basra



              BLOG                                                                  ONLINE NEWS

Quote I



‘We all in Baghdad are very aware that we still have not seen the seriously bad days. Basra on the other hand is in deep shit.’



‘The Iraqi Red Crescent told the Arab language television station Al- Jazeera that 77 people had been killed in allied bombing



- blogger has not been to Basra

- swaer words are used to experess feelings

- personal impression

- very subjlective statement


- Journalist has not been to Basra

- 2 sources are named

- the exact amount of dead persons is reported


Quote II


‘One more word by Americans on TV about “humanitarian aid” will make me kill my television. They have the audacity to turn us to beggars while we will have to pay for the research and development of the weapons they are field-testing on us and they do as if they are helping us with their “humanitarian aid”.

Excuse me, but it would help much more if you would stop dropping those million dollars per bomb on us, in is cheaper for us in the long run.’


 ‘Despite President Bush's assurance that large amounts of aid should begin flowing to areas of southern Iraq by today, relief workers […] said  that it would be impossible to meet such a timetable. […] Franks (military leader in Basra) said he was confident that aid would be only slightly delayed. "I think what you'll find is that the people of Basra will, in the days ahead, be able to have more access to food and more access to water than they have had in decades," he said.





- does not believe in governmental promises

- very subjective analysis of the situation

- very ironic and sarcastic tone

- ignores official opinions




- reports on the planned humanitarian aid

- only names what is planned. Does not include personal 


- shows differnet american opinions

- does not hear Iraqi opinions

- statements are one-sided

Quote III


‘One thing made me really laugh with delight, as the Red Crescent cars stopped at safwan and started unloading, it got mobbed. People just went into the trucks and did the distributing themselves while the US/UK soldiers stood watching. And what did the Iraqis shout while they were around the trucks? “bil rooh, bil daam nafdeek ya saddam” – we will sacrifice our sould and blood for saddam.’



'In the south of Iraq, our coalition forces have worked hard to make the port area secure to make the transit of humanitarian aid as safe as possible," Bush said Sunday. "As I was told this morning in my briefing, that humanitarian aid should begin within 36 hours." However, the British defense minister, Geoff Hoon, said Monday that it may be several more days before the port is opened.



- gives inside news

- shows how Iraqis perceived the help

- explain the irony to the reader



- the Bush statement creates a positve picture


- this positive picture is question by a second opinon


- cannot explain what Iraqis think




6. Conclusion 


Objectivity palys a very central role in Journalism. As the brief historical overview shows objective reportage becomes more central over the centuries. With the increasing role of the Internet a new form of Journalism- including blogs- emerges. One of the proclaimed powers of blogs is (according to Gallo) their power to manipulate their audience through subjective statements. Professional  journalism tries to prevent this kind of subjective manipulation in several ways. First of all, huge news agancies unsually have a 'ethics catalogue' to protect the journalist from being manipulated. Such catalogues aim to increase the objectivity of the works published under their name. How professional journalists write on certain news events like the situation in Basra shows that objective reportage has highest priority. Nevertheless, it is quite impossible for them to guarantee absolute objectivity. Blogs as well as journalists try hard to make the audience get the impression that they give them a real, authentic and true insight to what happens. If they are sucessful does not necessarily depend on what they write but an how thrustworthy they seem to be. Objective reportage definetly increases this trustworthyness.







7. Works Cited: 


Boese, Christine: The Spirit of Paulo Freire in Blogland: Struggling for a Knowledge-Log Revolution?, in: Gurak, Laura et al. (eds.): Into  

The Blogosphere: Rhetoric, Community, and Culture of Weblogs, 2004,  

http://blog.lib.umn.edu/blogosphere/the_spirit_of_paulo_freire.html 25.08.2008.


Choi, Junho H./Watt, James W./Lynch, Michael: Perceptions of News Credibility about the War in Iraq: Why Opponents Perceived the  

Internet as the Most Credible Medium?, in: Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, Jg.12, Nr.1, 2006. 

http://jcmc.indiana.edu/vol12/issue1/choi.html, 22.08.2008.


Enzensberger: the Consciousness Industry New York Seabury Press, 1974.


Gallo, Jason: Weblog Journalism: Between Infiltration and Integration?, in: Gurak, Laura J. et al. (eds.): Into the Blogosphere:  

Rhetoric, Community, and Culture of Weblogs, 2004.

http://blog.lib.umn.edu/blogosphere/weblog_journalism.html, 23.08.2008.



Wall, Melissa: ‘Blogs of War’ Weblogs as news, in: Journalism 6 (2) (2005): 153-172. 





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