Thursday, December 16, 2004

Professional "bias"

There's a good piece in The Guardian (reprinted by, about the link between journalistic professionalism and an inevitable pro-Government bias (or "framing"). The piece, by David Edwards and David Cromwell of media lens, even references well-known critical structuralist scholars such as (in the U.S.) Robert McChesney and (in the UK) James Curran and Jean Seaton, authors of the widely read and very good Power Without Responsibility. Inevitably, the piece tears into the U.S. media coverage of the Iraq War, but it even has a go at the supposedly more critical UK papers, The Guardian and The Independent. It also gives some very useful -- and little-understood -- media history.

    The modern conception of objective reporting is little more than a century old. There was little concern that newspapers were partisan so long as the public was free to choose from a wide range of opinions. Newspapers dependent on advertisers for 75% of their revenues, such as the Guardian and Independent, would have been regarded as independent by few radicals and progressives in, say, the 1940s. Balance was instead provided by a thriving working class-based press. Early last century, however, the industrialisation of the press, and the associated high cost of newspaper production, meant that wealthy private industrialists backed by advertisers achieved dominance in the mass media. Unable to compete on price and outreach, the previously flourishing radical press was brushed to the margins.

And the the kicker: "just as corporations achieved this unprecedented stranglehold, the notion of professional journalism appeared." The historical context is important here. You can argue all you want that professional journalism is good or bad; but you can't argue about how and why it got started. It got started in order to help publishers make more money.


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