J-School: Educating Independent Journalists

“If tools could make anyone who picked them up an expert, they’d be valuable indeed.” Plato, The Republic

Some Possible Comps. Questions, Pt. 1: The Rise and Fall of Objectivity

Posted by chanders on April 12, 2006

In preparation for comprehensive exams, I’m brainstorming some possible questions that one could conceivably ask about the three sets of readings I did (see earlier posts on comps. here and here.), as well as some links between the readings. Today, I’m tackling the "rise and fall of objectivity" section.

1) How does the "deflationary theory of truth" implicitly advocated by Blackburn and other scholars impact our understanding of journalistic objectivity? Would we be better able to salvage the notion of journalistic objectivity if we were to embrace a minimalist or deflationary theory? Does Ward advocate a deflationary theory either explicitly or implicitly?

2) Is there a relationship between Rorty’s argument that knowledge exists, not as the mirror of reality but conversationally, the "dialogical" nature of much current journalism’s claim to truth (ie, good journalism emerges out of reader-journalist
feedback), and Daston’s insight into the "naive empirical" nature of the Atlas? Having lost faith in their own ability to create the representationally true image, the Daston claims, makers of scientific atlases placed the responsibility with the viewer  of the image, who must now create  this image in her own mind out of the variety of individualized specimens she saw in the atlas. “While in the early 19th century, the burden of representation was supposed to lie in the picture itself, now it fell to the audience. The psychology of pattern recognition in the audience had replaced  the metaphysical claims of the author. Mistrusting themselves, they assuaged their fear of subjectivity by transferring necessary judgment to the audience.” (107)

3) What is the relationship between what goes on in philosophy and what is happening within the profession of journalism? Is Ward’s historical overview helpful in this regard? How does Kaplan’s insight into the changing nature of the public sphere, and journalism’s dependence on its "authority" from that sphere, combine these insights?

4) Does Searle’s argument about the irrelevance of the "social construction of social reality" end the journalistic objectivity controversy? What about Hacking? Is his position identical? Hacking makes an additional distinction: a distinction between constructed objects that are interactive, and those that are not; here, Hacking refers to the “looping effects of human kinds.”  In other words, “refugees” can alter their constructed status as a result of self-knowledge and discussion about them; “quarks” can not. The distinction between interactive and non-interactive objects of construction is key for Hacking’s larger distinction between objects of the natural and social sciences.

5) How can we analyze Lichtenberg’s defense of objectivity in light of the philosophical arguments I’ve been studying?

6) Both Kaplan and Minditch criticize various aspects of Schudson’s landmark study.  How are their critiques similar? How are they different? Which is more convincing?

7) Does Novick’s dissection of the relationship between post-60’s political culture and the history profession parallel similar changes in journalism? Do history studies, contained as they are within the academic domain, more closely paralell general academic developments?


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