TRUTH AND THE POWER OF JOURNALISM


Although journalists maintain they are reporters of the truth, one group of Ryerson journalism graduate students argues that journalists in fact use the news to architect and package truth and reality.

“Journalism transforms an interpretation into truth,” the group said during its presentation. News consumers tend to believe the contents that come with professional routines and conventions, justifying and masking the subjective interpretation and news selection of the individual journalist.”

This presentation, on Truth and the Limitations of Journalism, was the latest installment in a series of presentations in a media law and ethics course that explores particular aspects of the libel defence Public Interest Responsible Communication.

The group, including students Ashley Csanady, Gilbert Ndikubwayezu and Najat Abdel-Hadi, examined the persuasive power of journalism and how it describes and, thus, produces phenomena.

"This is not to imply that the material social world is of no importance at all," the group said. "But if the claims of one article are refuted by another article that claims to have new sources or facts, the new claims are also judged by their persuasive force."

The truths and realities journalism creates are perceived as “the objectivity norm,” the group argued, and that notion lends itself to what is deemed as “the public’s interest” –an building brick in the building of a distinct identity for a particular group of people.

Furthermore, consumers of news pay take comfort in the truth journalists provide and are therefore uninterested with transparency about journalistic methods and ideological positions of newspapers.

Since news consumers are comfortable with the "the objectivity norm" the journalists provide, the group offered that it might be better for journalists to embrace a subjective paradigm: "Journalists can withdraw from the regimen of objectivity and its formal and stylistic conventions, and can decide not to take the trouble to fit their stories into their audiences’ mental framework."

A shift towards a subjective approach would mean journalism would assume a partisan model, but within that paradigm the "the principles of its procedures of representation" would be more explicit. Moreover, this kind of shift would focus on specific subsets of society with particular interest and would, hopefully, illuminate the performative power of journalism.

This subjective approach would also help news consumers understand that the truth provided in the journalism is not assumed to be "the objectivity norm" but a single aspect of a larger discussion on the nature of truth and reality.

"It determines what people think about and how they act, and it shapes the public debate," the group concluded.

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