Brief note on a philosophy of journalism

Posted on October 2, 2010


Is there a generally accepted philosophy of journalism? Is one necessary?

These are two questions I think are vital for all media practitioners. I will argue that such a philosophy, from which flows the moral principles – the ethics- of the craft, is essential, especially in the current world context. I think that it should underlie all media practice, even if only to distinguish between the propagandist functions of public relations and advertising and what is usually presented as the “objective” craft of journalism. I would include under the heading of journalism all media which attempts, via news reports, human interest or other features, to portray or analyse the human condition and broader reality.

Although universities such as Woolongong in Australia now offer Phd (Journalism) courses, it seems to me that the comment made in 1989 by University of Miami philosopher Kenneth Goodman probably holds true: “Few journalists know or care much about philosophy as about government, crime or other journalistic staples.” Yet, if only for the sake of consistency, how these “staples” are dealt with should require a philosophical underpinning. It should provide the rule of thumb by which “good” or “bad” journalism may be judged.

Concepts such as truth, objectivity and balance all require definition within the journalistic milieu. As does language. Adjectival usage and specific nouns, for example, often reveal the (usually subconscious) bias of the practitioner or the perhaps more considered bias of the editor/proprietor through the demands for “house style”.

A simple example is the use of “terrorist” on one hand and “freedom fighter” on the other when the more neutral – and accurate – guerrilla or irregular forces would do.

Media manipulation and pressures on journalists to conform to ideological or policy demands have been with us ever since the development of a mass media. But they have arguably never been as great as now. Particularly in regions such as Africa there is — for a variety of reasons that should be explored — pressure is on local journalists to produce “positive” reflections of their societies as part of assisting in “development”.

At the same time there is the greatest ever concentration of media ownership internationally. The effects of this have been fairly well documented, but should be revisited and analysed.

Anyway, this struck me as a possibly appropriate starting point since it deals with research, theory and the critical analysis of creative change. It would lead logically to my project.

* Originally published 10/2006

Posted in: Archive - 2006