News and objectivity - back to the future?

Authors: Jukes, S.

Start date: 14 September 2017

The emergence of ‘fake news’ during the tumultuous Brexit referendum and Trump election campaign has sent news organisations scurrying to set up special teams of journalists to debunk deliberately misleading stories and verify facts. This paper examines the steps being taken to counter the spate of false news stories being spread through social media and asks whether normative values of objectivity are about to enjoy a comeback. Typical markers of objectivity such as freedom from bias, detachment and fact-based reporting date back to the late 19th Century and, despite being deeply ingrained in the Anglo-American news culture, have always been subject to criticism and challenge. Most recently, the growth of openly partisan or populist media has illustrated a deep distrust in traditional news outlets and is overtly questioning whether it is time to jettison objectivity. The increasing use of emotive (and often unfiltered) user-generated content and the rise in citizen journalism appear to have undermined the concept even further. But are we now experiencing a backlash? Through a series of interviews with editorial policy makers at major UK and US news organisations, the paper explores how fake news and other concerns around the impact of social media are leading to fresh debate about objectivity and its potential to make quality journalism stand out.

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