“Truth”: The Purpose of Journalism

I am reading a collection of essay about journalism called: American Journalism: History, Principles, Practices. The first article I read, “The Purposes of Journalism,” was written by Julie Hedgepeth Williams, an assistant professor at Samford University.

At the beginning of the essay she says, “The press had a purpose of publishing the truth. Should the truth be what was literally there? Or should it construct a reality that Americans presumably needed to achieve? The desire to publish truth has been in the press from the start. The basic question in that endeaver, however, is as old as humanity itself. What is truth?” (p 4)

Her story begins in Puritan Massachusetts and shows how the press has shifted between showing the citizens “what is literally there” and “shaping the reality and future” for them. Two examples she gave were:

  1. The era of the “party press”: After the American Revolution, the newly-formed parties hired editors and newspapers to write about “reality as it out to be.” These papers encouraged people to go to the polls and vote for one party over the other.
  2. The “penny press” era: In 1833, papers began printing daily papers for a penny, catered towards poorer individuals. These papers, with famous editors like Horace Greeley and James Gordon Bennett, often ran stories recounting criminal court cases that involved common people accused of drunkeness, theft, etc. This “truth” became part of the selling point for these papers. Williams claims that the notion of objectivity as part of truth arose during this period.

Williams finishes the article saying at the end of the 20th century, traditional media was “firmly convinced that “truth” meant “the world as it is.” (p 12)

My question is what is “the world as it is”? The world is seen through the eyes of an observer and doesn’t exist outside of the language and stories that the observer has to talk about the world. So for a journalist to “see” the world, he/she is already interpreting it. How do journalists deal “objectivity as truth” when there is no “objectivity”?


2 thoughts on ““Truth”: The Purpose of Journalism

  1. Better to start off with what are the styles of journalism. Investigative journalism, op-eds,… And what patterns do each style have? At this moment, I think one “variable” are the amount of assertions (witnessable events) an article has.

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