Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Objectivity as Strategic Ritual

In the paper Objectivity as Strategic Ritual: An Examination of Newsmen's Notions of Objectivity, Gaye Tuchman claims that "objectivity" may be seen as a strategic ritual protecting newspapermen from the risks of their trade, because professions like lawyers and doctors have their operational definitions towards objectivity to protect themselves from the critics. So, as a profession, journalists also have their routine procedures to defend their objectivity. The evidences supporting the claims are analysis on ten news stories that Tuchman collected from his fieldwork in a newspaper and from a book on news practices, which are generalized into three factors that help newsmen to define an “objective fact”.
There are eight parts in the paper. The first part (Para.1-Para.5) is the introduction. Tuchman introduces various definitions of objectivity of different professions. He tries to say that the word “objectivity” is fraught with meanings. Not only the newsmen, but also other professions like lawyers and doctors do have their operational definitions towards objectivity. Despite the differences in definitions that are subject to different essence of business, lawyers, doctors, and newsmen all have some “rituals” and “strategies” to protect them from the risks of their trade. Here, Tuchman quotes Everett Hughes and other big names to justify his attempt, taking objectivity as strategic ritual.
In the second part (Para.6-Para.10), Tuchman tries to say newsmen are “men of action”; they only need some operational definitions of objectivity, rather than some epistemological examination. In the hierarchical structure of a newsroom, newsmen “second guess” the potential criticism from superiors and consumers. Superiors practice social control through “scolding and blue pencil” in the newsroom, according to Warren Breed. Tuchman suggests two factors, or two pressures/risks newsmen have to face: to meet the deadline and to avoid the libel suits.
In the third and fourth parts (Para.11-Para.34), Tuchman presents five strategic procedures enabling newsmen to claim objectivity. They are verification of facts, presentation of conflicting possibilities, presentation of supporting evidence, the judicious use of quotation marks, and using the inverted pyramid structure. These are the strategies related to news content, one of the three factors Tuchman mentions in the introduction. The fifth and sixth parts (Para.35-Para.49) deal with the other two factors, form and interorganizational relationships. The two factors lead to more strategies like using the label “news analysis” to separate “facts” from opinions, and three conventional procedures of news judgment. Meanwhile, Tuchman also mentions some problems of these strategies.
In the seventh part (Para.50-Para.53), Tuchman discusses newsmen’s “common senses”. He quotes Alfred Schutz to define common sense as “the knowledge taken for granted”. It is the fundamental determinant of “fact”. It is what makes the news judgment as sacred knowledge that lead journalism to a profession. It is always the target for critics. It is also the weakest link in Tuchman’s warrant.
The last part (Para.54-Para.61) is conclusion and discussion. Tuchman reckons that his readers would question he only examine newsmen’s use of the word “objectivity”. So he suggests that further studies in other professions should be carried out.

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