Revisiting journalistic values: Pragmatic approach to journalism’s claims to truth and objectivity


The digital culture of the XXI century is flooding an increasingly fragmented media audience with an unprecedented amount of content of different types and quality. In this reality, journalism as a profession adjacent to other content production fields has become diffused and ill-defined, especially on a global scale when faced with international information flows. However, what distinguishes journalists from other content creators are their professional codes with claims to telling the truth and being objective. But what is “journalistic truth” now? In academia, we have spent the past few years hotly debating the nature and consequences of misinformation, propaganda, fake news, etc. although it might be the right time to recall what 'true' is, how truth is actually reflected in journalistic texts and practices. 

As Kaarle Nordenstreng underlines in his article “Truth: More valid than ever” (Journalism 1-4, 2018), journalistic truth has long become considered unattainable and hence disregarded in academia. He calls “for а betteI balance in the overall profile of the field, which is currently domi­nated bу applied research, bу basic research - especially research that strengthens the philosophical self-conception of the field”. The concept of journalistic truth seems to have fallen off the agenda of communication scholars (Keren Tenenboim-Weinblatt, 2009; Graham Majin, 2019). The consequent reluctance of the academy to do discuss the concept of truth in journalism is referred to as ‘truthophobia’ - truth as a theoretical concept has become obsolete, impertinent, banned, self-evident or too explosive to handle. Recently, there have been attempts to create new frameworks such as Journalistic Truth Theory (Graham Majin, 2019) that would restore the concept of journalistic truth as a legitimate object of scholarly research and prepare the ground for an epistemology of journalism.

My research on journalistic truth in reporting global crisis (the case of the Syrian conflict) follows the epistemological approach to journalistic truth and studies it in the new realities of doing journalism in the 21st century - the rising significance of transnational media in covering global crises and the inevitable impact of using digital technologies by journalists in their practices and by audience in their news consumption. My research questions are the following: What is journalistic truth as of now? How is it reflected in journalistic texts? And how do journalists construct journalistic truth through their practices?

This paper aims to study the current epistemological position of journalism and suggests pragmatism as a practical lens for looking at the profession and its fundamental, codified claims. The promise of truthfulness is the basis for the social code shared by journalists and their reading audience. From a pragmatic perspective, beliefs do not have to correspond precisely to some idealized picture of reality as long as they are useful to reporters and individuals in their dealings with everyday work and life. And thus, news values could be seen not from the point of view of telling the “absolute” truth but rather “practical” one, selected and reported by the journalists and then passed onto the audience for its own perception.