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The Newsroom

A Space of Decision Making

María Francisca Greene González

Journalists are in the daily business of making the unseen visible, of connecting us to the world beyond our direct experience. In doing this, objectivity becomes a pivotal issue, and a highly debated topic both in academia and everyday life. The first systematic approach to the issue of objectivity was initiated by the discipline of «mass media sociology»: this approach, which was at its peak between 1970 and 1980 in the United States, proposed a completely scientific, «mathematical» solution to the problem of objectivity.

This book is an overview of academic work on journalistic objectivity between the 1970s and 1980s by American mass media sociologists such as Herbert Gans, Gaye Tuchman, Mark Fishman, Todd Gitlin, Edward Epstein, Harvey Molotoch, Marilyn Lester and Michael Schudson, observing and comparing their positions on journalistic routines and their influence on the news.

The ideal of objectivity is discussed from the points of view of the traditional and sociological schools, and weighed against the constant tension between a journalist's search for truth and their perception of it, as well as the constraints posed by the organization for which he or she works.

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Introduction

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Objectivity in journalism is a broad topic highly debated from different points of view. Opinions on objectivity range from the academic – chapters on journalistic objectivity can be found in all ethics research papers and textbooks – to personal professional experience. Most recently, it has also become a topic of regular conversation in everyday life. People frequently complain that journalists have not been objective in their coverage of specific news. This issue is as old as the profession. When objectivity is mentioned, it refers to the principle of journalism; in other words, it is regarded as a characteristic or requirement of the journalist.

Using this traditional concept of journalistic objectivity, the perception of objectivity as a product of journalistic work is surprising. This book begins with the discovery of a novel approach to the treatment of objectivity, provided by so-called “mass media sociology”, which, at its peak between 1970 and 1980 in the United States, is a pragmatic proposal for a totally scientific, almost “mathematical” approach to the “problem” of objectivity.

On the other hand, “real” journalistic work shows professionals resolving the issue of objectivity in a practical way: awarding equal time to opposing positions; interviewing authorized sources; obtaining official declarations, etc. It is a fact that journalists around the world, not only those from the United States, have somehow established methods that allow them to achieve this ideal objectivity demanded by the academic world and even more strongly by their sources, the public and the...

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