The First Amendment says, among other things, that Congress shall “make no law abridging the freedom of speech or of the press…” If you look closely you notice that the First Amendment does not say that the press has to act responsibly in order to remain free. Still, most of us believe that we ought to act responsibly. To many people, the notion of being responsible means producing journalism that is objective and does now show bias.
You remember from our history class that the First Amendment was created when newspapers were incredibly biased toward one political party or the other. It wasn’t until the rise of the penny press and the Associated Press that objectivity became a thing – and that thing was about the economics of making money by reaching as wide an audience as possible, and the economics of saving money by having an organization cover news for lots of newspapers. As Mark Twain was said to have said: “Get your facts straight first. Then you can distort them as much as you please.”
Over time, the idea of objectivity morphed from a mere economic principal into the forefront of media ethics. This is the notion of social responsibility – the idea that the First Amendment freedoms you had should lead you to be responsible, and being objective was part of that responsibility – lasted throughout the last century.
But in last century’s rise of cable television news networks, and especially now in this Internet age, mass communicators can find plenty of reasons to show bias – or at least deliver the types of news and commentary that will attract a big-enough audience to turn a profit. You could argue that we’ve returned to the Partisan Press era of the 1800s.
And then there is the simple idea of what we mean by bias – and whether anyone can be truly objective – and whether objectivity is something to strive for, or whether it turns journalists into stenographers who quote oppositional idiots at equally.
In this week’s module, we want to talk about what we mean by bias and by objectivity. It also is a good time to deliver the latest examples of real or imagined bias by news organizations, and I’ll be looking forward to seeing what you find.
Required reading for the assignment
Lichter, S. R. (2017). Theories of media bias Click for more options Theories of media bias – Alternative Formats . In K. Kenski and K.H. Jamieson (Eds.) The Oxford handbook of political communication. Oxford.
►Thomas, Ryan J. (2018). Advocacy journalism Click for more options Advocacy journalism – Alternative Formats . In Tim Vos (Ed.), Journalism: Handbooks of communication science (Vol. 19). (pp. 391-414). De Gruyter Mouton. https://doi.org/10.1515/9781501500084 Chapter doi: https://doi.org/10.1515/9781501500084-020
►Rosen, J. (2010, Nov. 10). The view from nowhere: Questions and answers. PressThink. https://pressthink.org/2010/11/the-view-from-nowhere-questions-and-answers/
►Look around the Trusting News site, created by the Reynolds Journalism Institue and American Press Institute to provide practical ways to boost trust. (Yes, this sort-of ties to Module 5, but it wraps it up nicely.)
For this assignment, you will demonstrate your mastery of writing well; this includes using Associated Press style. Your paper should illustrate your comprehension of the module readings analyzing key points for each. See the Course Schedule for the due date. Follow the instructions below to complete the assignment:
Explain the readings in ways to show that you’ve done the readings.
Point out specific arguments that are particularly cogent or specious.
Tell me what struck you about each reading – what you liked or didn’t like – and why.
Ask questions that you would like to see discussed for the week.
Provide at least two writing prompts based on the readings (including page numbers) that could become the online discussion topics.
It can be based upon compare/contrast of different approaches, or why you think one approach would be best for journalists while another would not be good.
Evaluate those arguments.
Compare disparate arguments, and draw conclusions in favor of the argument that seems the most cogent to you.
Persuade readers why you’re right and others may be wrong.
Validate those arguments, as you can, using examples from your own experience or from other information.
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