News Is Nothing More Than A Strategic Ritual Media Essay

From my opinion, to be objective, it is to illustrate both sides of a particular point of view without being subjective. This means that what is being portrayed should be value free. The journalist illustrates the whole truth about an event without including his or her own opinion in a subjective manner.

There has been an ongoing discourse about objectivity. Objectivity in the news being nothing more than a strategic ritual. Firstly, objectivity can be hard to define as illustrated by Schudson “Objectivity might be a professional idea, but it is one that seemed to disintegrate as soon as it was formulated. It became an ideal in journalism, after all, precisely when the impossibility of overcoming the subjectivities of presenting the news was widely accepted. Criticism of the “myth” of objectivity has been a contrapuntal accompaniment to the enunciation of objectivity as an ideal from the beginning” (Schudson, 1990: 269).

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“To a sociologist, the word “Objectivity” is fraught with meaning. It invokes philosophy, notions of science, and ideas of professionalism. It conjures up the ghost of Durkheim and Weber, recalling disputes in scholarly journals concerning the nature of “social facts” and the term “value free”” (Tuchman 1972: 660). This therefore suggests that the term objectivity is burdened with different meaning, thus very difficult to define as any definition of such word can easily be obsolete. However Schudson on the other hand argues that “A commitment to objectivity in journalism can be defined as meaning that “a person’s statement about the world can be trusted if they are submitted to established rules deemed legitimate by a professional community” (Schudson 1978: 294 cited in Harcup 2009: 82)

According to Bennet, “there are reasons to be dissatisfied with the news these days. Yet, news remains the primary source of information about society, politics, and government”. These problems could be said to be related to the term objectivity. In the sense that so many factors affect the news, thus the news cannot be seen as the whole truth, as it could be argued that it is fragmented. Furthermore the public’s perception about society and all other events are distorted. In relating it back to the question, it can be argued that objectivity in the news is not a strategic ritual because there are factors beyond the newsman’s power that cannot be controlled, as other individuals are involved in the production of the news, such as the gate keeper who decides what news is and is not presented. Thus the news is subjective.

“Perhaps the most unsettling thought of all is that the electronic media, the principal source of political information for many if not many American citizens (Robinson and Levy 1985), might be biased in the presentation of public affair” (Kuklinsk 1992: 810). This can be said to be related to objectivity because there is always the question about selection of news. How journalist select news would determine whether the news they produce would have bias included, thus the selection of news would be considered in further paragraphs. Bearing in mind that they previously hold a certain view about a topic. This would then create bias in the news report. News is the only source in which individuals find out events happening in society. However like it was previously reiterated, the news is always biased, one way or the other, thus the public is not fully aware of what is going on around them.

“More than one public official has made this very claim….when every president- liberal or conservative, democrat or republican-has complained bitterly about the inaccurate and unfair picture the networks were presenting…”(Kuklinsk 1992: 811)…“Reagan’s secretary of state, George Shult, was heard to protest that “it seems as though the reporters are against us. They’re always seeking to report something that’s going to screw things up” (quoted by Karp 1985, 63). With this, it can be illustrated that the newsmen may actually do it on purpose, so that they could attract increasing audiences. This could be said to be objectivity in the news to be a strategic ritual, in the sense that journalist would go any length just to entertain the public at the expense of politician’s profile. Thus getting increased audience because relating it to news values, the public would like to hear more on bad news and unexpectedness. The more the news is unexpected, the more it would attract increased audiences.

There are two questions which confront us when we deal with the problems of how news is selected from the multitude of events which occur in the world. The first is: what is selected?…the second is that of objectivity: namely, how accurately does such a selection reflect the real world? (Cohen and Young 1973: 17). The idea that journalist have the choice to select the news they want to report on, it means that they are already being subjective about the particular topic they want to report on. Thus, objectivity in the news could be said to be a strategic ritual. This could be so, because they might already hold a particular perspective on the topic. Hence would unavoidably be able to neglect their point of view in reporting the news, so the news becomes biased in the sense that they are selling their opinion to the public about a particular topic. Consequently, they give biased news to the public; therefore the public gets a distorted view about what the journalist is writing about.

“According to Gaye Tuchman, objectivity can be seen as a strategic ritual that journalist use as a defence mechanism. She identified four routine procedures that allow journalist claim objectivity for their work: the presentation of conflicting possibilities, the presentation of supporting evidence, the judicious use of quotation marks, the structuring of information in an appropriate sequence” (Tuchman, 299-301 cited in Harcup 2009)

The word objectivity can be affected by several factors of only some would be discussed, which in turn affects the report in which the journalist produces. This can be illustrated by Tuchman 1972, who explained that “there are three types of factors which influence the newsman’s notion of objectivity: form, inter organization relationships, and content. By form, I mean those attributes of news stories and newspapers which exemplify news procedures such as the use of quotation marks”(Tuchman 1972: 661) This is to show that by using such quotation marks, it would mark the objectivity of the event. Individuals who must have witnessed whatever event would be able to give a full account about what happened. Thus, the journalists report would be objective and free from bias thus exemplifying him from problems if he produced inaccurate news. “By content I mean notions of social reality which the news paper man takes for granted. Content is also related to the newsman’s organisational relationships, for his experiences with these organisations lead him to take for granted certain things about them” (Tuchman 1972: 661). Everett Hughes (1964) cited in Tuchman 1972: 661 “suggests that procedures that serve this purposes may be seen as “rituals”…inasmuch as newspapermen invoke ritualistic procedures in order to deflect potential criticism and to follow routines bounded by the “cognitive limits of rationality”, they are also performance “strategies” (March and Simon 1967, pp.137, 142)…Objectivity as strategic ritual may be used by professionals to defend themselves from critical onslaught”. Overall, these factors/ procedures help protect the journalist and the organisations integrity in the sense that they would not get accused of producing inaccurate news and they would not get sued unnecessarily. All these factors explained by Tuchman, it can be argued that objectivity in the news is a strategic ritual in the fact that, they are trying to protect their back and save the organisations reputation.

It can be argued that objectivity in the news is a strategic ritual because it can be said that the newspaper and writers are trying to get an increase audience. With them publishing the news, it would actually help increase their organisational revenue in the sense that they would experience high circulation. Also with the increased audience, it means that they would be at the top of the competition list, therefore giving them the competitive edge against other news providers. Thus giving them a unique selling point, which means they would be able to differentiate themselves from other news organisations. as a result stand out. This could be illustrated further, according to Young “the market model then maintains that the responsible journalist selects these events which are in the public interest to know and objectively portray reality within the format and genre of the particular media concerned”(Young 1973: 17). The public would like to know that they are being provided with objective news, thus the journalist would try their best to provide the news, so by making sure they get objective news, and they increase their readership and circulation. This would benefit them because it would allow them to be popular against their competitors. However, for the fact journalist select the news they think the public would be interested and present it as objectively as they can, this could be said to be a strategic ritual. The selection of news would further be illustrated later in this essay. This may be so, in the fact that they don’t want to get themselves into trouble for providing biased news, thus affecting their integrity in the organisation they work and publicly soiling the organisations reputation. This means that the public would not trust the news they produce, thus, they would continually get negative criticism. This could be illustrated by Tuchman 1977b cited in Shoemaker 1996 who “argues that objectivity is a ritual that objectivity is a ritual that serves primarily to defend the organisational product from critics. Because newsworkers have little time to reflect on whether they have gotten at the “truth” in their stories, the need a set of procedure, or strategies, that if followed will protect them from occupational hazards such as libel suit and reprimands from superior”. Consequently, journalists follow a set of guidelines to avoid critics so that they don’t get into unnecessary trouble and to be able to protect themselves from disgrace.

Like it was previously said, journalist get chance to select the news they want to write about. The idea that they are allowed to do that shows that the news they are going to write about is already biased on the fact that they might already have a subjected view about it. Thus, the news would be value laden as well as hardly value free.

Also for the fact that journalist use different sources to make up their news, Even though they are supposedly trusted sources of theirs, the question is how can they be so sure that the news the trusted sources provide is objective. Thus, it shows that they cannot be sure if the news is 100% objective.

“Calling into the question of validity of representational knowledge about the world- arguing that news is as much a bureaucratic product as it is a reflection of external reality and that ‘objectivity’ is essentially a strategic ritual- is at bottom incompatible with journalism’s self legitimating discourses. Pointing out that the subject’s (i.e. the journalist’s) perception are not just the product of individual autonomy, showing that journalist (like all of us) are inexorably entangled with and in part constituted by language us, serve to erode the foundations of the conventional wisdom”(Dahlgren 1992: 11). Consequently, this shows that, it is not only the journalist who influences the news they write, as all other people are involved…..This can also be reiterated by Shoemaker 1996: 112 “objectivity, although a cornerstone of journalist ideology, is rooted in practical organisational requirements. In this sense, objectivity is less a core belief of journalist than a set of procedures to which journalist willingly conform in other to protect themselves from attack”. Consequently, this shows that the organisations also have an influence on the new. With the organisation involved there would be less chance of the company endangering their integrity and shame on their organizational image. Both of these sources show that the firm in which these journalists work for, has an influence on the type of news they produce in the sense that they always have a say. This is done so as to protect their image. Thus a set of gu are provided for the journalist to follow, so that they do not drift off the organisations rules and regulation about reporting news. This therefore means that journalists have no choice but to follow the set guidelines or they lose their job.

According to Michael Schudson (1978) cited in shoemaker 1996: 112 “notes that at the turn of the century, newspapers in competing for circulation, tried to conform to the public’s standards of truth, decency, and good taste. Reporters believed they had to be lively and entertaining while factual at the same time. Indeed, editors and reporters were pre-occupied with facts to avoid public criticism and embarrassment for the newspaper”. This could be said to be spin and twisting, for the fact that journalist thought that they had to be entertaining and lively. The idea of being entertaining would mean that they are trying to reach audiences they never actually reached out to. This can also be related to the idea that objectivity in the news is not an objective idea, for the fact that the news would most probably be shortened thus audiences would not get the full picture. This could be illustrated by Shoemaker who argued that “the objectivity routine also leads to omitting seemingly harmless information” (Shoemaker 1996: 113). Consequently, it means that audiences are not receiving the whole story of an event. The thought that journalist are omitting some of the information may be good, in the sense that the public would get an idea and grasp a bit about a complicated story about events in society. As illustrated in Bennet’s Book in a case study, “news stories often oversimplify larger and more complex realities. In many ways it is good…However, the news may radically simplify realities to the point of distortion or omission of important information for various reasons…”(Bennett 2007: 211)” This therefore suggests that objectivity in the news could be omitted for good reason; however, it should not necessarily be said to be a strategic ritual, because it is being done for a good cause. However on the other hand, it can be argued that objectivity in the news is strategic ritual in the sense that important information would be hidden an omitted from the public thus making the public naïve to events happening in society.

It can also be argued otherwise that objectivity in the news is not a strategic ritual on the fact that journalist right from the start have the obligation to report the truth and try as much as possible to be objective so as to avoid libel suits but for the fact that they have deadlines to reach. This means they would actually be time conscious. Thus having less spare time to check over their report therefore it might be difficult to have totally objective news as illustrated by Tuchman 1972 “unlike social scientists, newsmen have a limited repertoire with which to define and defend their objectivity. He must make immediate decisions concerning validity, reliability, and “truth” in other to meet the problems imposed by the nature of his task…the newsmen need some working notion of objectivity to minimize the risk imposed by deadline, libel suits, and superiors’ reprimands” (Tuchman 1972: 662)

“Objectivity is defined as a matter of intent, it includes the freedom to disregard the implications of the news. Indeed, objectivity could not long exist without this freedom, for the moment journalists are required to consider the effects of news on sources and others they would have to begin assessing their own intent and to relinquish their detachment, especially if they wanted to prevent injury to someone’ (Gans, 1979: 188).

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Overall, it can be argued from a perspective that objectivity in the news is a strategic ritual, down to the idea that organisations train their potential journalist and give them guidelines on how to report news in an objective manner without being biased. This is done so as to protect the organisations integrity and the journalist status. Thus, it would help them avoid libel suits. This could be illustrated by Tuchman 1972: 678 who concluded that “objectivity used defensively as a strategic ritual. Objectivity refers to routine procedures which may be exemplified as formal attributes and to protect the professional from mistakes and from his critics”. And for the fact that journalist have to follow these set guidelines means objectivity in the news is a strategic ritual, as it means that these journalist have no choice, thus they cannot go against it as they would most probably lose their job

Furthermore, if journalists do not provide objective news as they could, then the public would most probably not think journalism is a serious and professional job. Thus no one would see them as trustworthy. Thus it is their duty to provide the public with objective news. This can then be said that objectivity in the news is not a strategic ritual, as they have no choice but to provide non biased news so as to inform the public.


Bennet, W. L. (2007) News: The Politics of Illusion, New York: Longman, Pearson

Cohen, S. & Young, J. ( ) The Manufacture of News, London: Macmillan.

Dahlgren, P. & Sparks, C. (1992) Journalism and Popular Culture: London, SAGE Publications.

Galtung, J. & Ruge, M. (1981) ‘Structuring and Selecting News’, in S. Cohen & J. Young (eds) The Manufacture of News, London: Macmillan

Gans, H. (1979) Deciding what’s News. A Study of CBS Evening News, NBC Nigthly News, Newsweek and Time. New York: Random House

Harcup, T. (2009) Journalism: Principles and Practice. London, SAGE Publications

Kuklinski, J. H. & Sigelman, L. (1992) ‘When Objectivity is not objective: Network T.V News Coverage of US Senators and the “Paradox of Objectivity”’ in Journal of Politics, 54 (3)

Shoemaker, P. & Reese, S. (1996) Mediating The message: Theories of Influences on Mass Media Content. (2nd ed.), London: Longman.

Schudson, M. (2003) The Sociology of News. New York: United States of America.

Tuchman, G. (1972) Objectivity as Strategic Ritual: An examination of Newsmen’s notion of Objectivity’ in American Journal of Sociology, 77: 660-67



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