Special Issue 2001

Journalists Must Maintain an Independence From Those They Cover

Excerpt from "The Elements of Journalism" by Bill Kovach and Tom Rosenstiel
“…Being impartial or neutral is not a core principle of journalism. ...impartiality was never what was meant by objectivity. ...the critical step in pursing truthfulness and informing citizens is not neutrality but independence....

This applies even to those who work in the realm of opinion, criticism and commentary. It is this independence of spirit and mind, rather than neutrality, that journalists must keep in focus.... Their credibility is rooted instead in the same dedication to accuracy, verification, the larger public interest, and a desire to inform that all other journalists subscribe to....

The question people should ask is not whether someone is called a journalist. The important issue is whether or not this person is doing journalism. Does the work proceed from a respect for an adherence to the principles of truthfulness, an allegiance to citizens and community at large, and informing rather than manipulating— concepts that set journalism apart from other forms of communication? The important implication is this: The meaning of freedom of speech and freedom of the press is that they belong to everyone. But communication and journalism are not interchangeable terms. Anyone can be a journalist. Not everyone is. The decisive factor is not whether they have a press pass; rather, it lies in the nature of the work....

People increasingly see the press as part of an establishment from which they feel alienated, rather than as a public surrogate acting in their behalf. The solution to this kind of isolation is not to repudiate the concept of independence, however. The solution is to recruit more people from a diversity of classes and backgrounds and interests in the newsroom to combat insularity. The journalism that people from a diversity of perspectives produce together is better than that which any of them could produce alone....

Independence from faction suggests there is a way to be a journalist without either denying the influence of personal experience or being hostage to it.... Just as it should with political ideology, the question is not neutrality, but purpose. This journalistic calling to independence from faction should sit atop all the culture and personal history journalists bring to their job....

In the end it is good judgment, and an abiding commitment to the principle of first allegiance to citizens, that separates the journalist from the partisan. Having an opinion is not only allowable, not only natural, but it is valuable to the natural skepticism with which any good reporter approaches a story. But a journalist must be smart enough and honest enough to recognize that opinion must be based on something more substantial than personal beliefs if it is to be of journalistic use.”

1 Comment on Journalists Must Maintain an Independence From Those They Cover
Yotsiri Mitpaibul says:
February 2, 2014 at 3:42am
I concur. Been seeking academic view on neutrality of Journalism for sometimes. Whereas conflicts often surround journalists at all times, I often wonder whether Journalists, including myself, must be, by law of by ethics, to be neutral. I think not, and agree with this article.
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