Is Journalism an ‘Anglo-American Invention’?

In his article “Journalism as an Anglo-American Invention”, published in the European Journal of Communication (11:3), Jean Chalaby argues that it was in Britain and the United States of America during the 19th century that the “discursive practices and strategies which characterize journalism were invented” (1996, p. 304).  This essay examines the specific “discursive practices and strategies” Chalaby refers to, in particular the idea of ‘objectivity’, the practice of interviewing, and the prominence of the factual and accurate news report, as well as the historical and cultural contexts in the US and Britain which encouraged the emergence of journalism.  It assesses the impact of ‘Anglo-American’, or ‘liberal’, journalism and its overall impact on the field of journalism as a whole.  This essay evaluates alternative models of journalism in comparison to the Anglo-American, before concluding that the Anglo-American’s introduced revolutionary practices and ideals to journalism, but far from “invented” it.

Jean Chalaby argues that the “discursive practices and strategies which characterize journalism were invented” in Britain and the USA

Chalaby argues that market forces play a significant part in why journalism developed in America and Britain specifically, and compares the economic contexts in question with that in France.  He argues that 1855 was the ‘annus mirabilis’ of the British press; the abolition of “taxes on knowledge” began a golden age of industry growth, as the repeal of the last penny of stamp duty opened up a revolution in pricing (Chalaby, 1998, p. 35).  British newspapers could be sold for as little as one penny, a value which expanded the market to the mass public as a whole; in 1850, the average circulation of the leading daily newspapers was 2775 copies, but by 1900, their average circulation had jumped to more than 200,000 (Chalaby, 1998, p. 38).  As circulation grew, newspapers began to attract the attention of investors and, most importantly, advertisers – in 1910, conservative estimates of total press advertising expenditure in Britain are around £11
.5 million, whilst the advertising revenue of newspapers and periodicals in the US amounted to $202 million (Chalaby, 1996, p. 320).

These revenues are significant not only for its effect on expanding the newspaper industry, but also for its contribution toward the separation of British and American newspapers from the sphere of politics.  Before advertising, newspapers relied on bribes and funds from politicians and governments, but Chalaby argues that their new financial independence led journalists and their discursive practices to a certain level of depoliticisation, encouraging the development of a “journalism of information based on the discursive norms of neutrality and objectivity” (1996, p. 320).

In his article “The Objectivity Norm in American Journalism” (2001, p. 150), Michael Schudson defines objectivity as:
“[A standard which] guides journalists to separate facts from values and to report only those facts.  Objective reporting is supposed to be cool, rather than emotional, in tone.  Objective reporting takes pains to represent fairly each leading side in a political controversy.
‘Objectivity’ is one of the essential norms of Anglo-American journalism, and Schudson’s definition breaks it down into two elements: first, a fact-centred discourse emphasising news reporting over political rhetoric and commentary; and second, a stance of fairness and political neutrality.

At the core of Anglo-American journalism is the news report – a fact-based discursive format which, firstly, implies a detachment between facts and emotions, and second, implies a separation of facts and opinions (Chalaby, 1998, pp. 128-129).  In the

Portrait Of Joseph Pulitzer
Who cares about the philosophical speculations of our correspondents? (Joseph Pulitzer, above)

19th century, Britain and America had significantly superior news gathering services, and their expansive networks of foreign and war correspondents, as well as the use of the ‘inverted-pyramid’ style, allowed them to report more informatively, more accurately, and with a wider-ranging focus than their counterparts in neighbouring countries such as France, where journalists continued to interpose their own reasoning and interpretation (Chalaby, 1996, pp. 310-311).  This practice consolidated over time, and the news report is now central to the modern journalistic profession, separating journalists from other forms of writer, such as literary authors and publishers.  The news genres of ‘investigative’ and ‘interpretive’ consigned opinion to the political columns, as the emphasis on hard news displaced the latter genre (Allan, 2010, p. 45): “In America, we want facts.  Who cares about the philosophical speculations of our correspondents?” (Pulitzer cited in Chalaby, 1996, p. 311).

 

It is not only “philosophical speculation” that Anglo-American journalists try to avoid – In the classical idea of the news report, journalists also suppress their own, personal subjective values and interpretations, to ensure that their feelings are not revealed in their stories.  This is not to say that reports are devoid of description and written in a monotonous prose, though, and a journalist may quote bystanders whose emotions reflect their own.  But reporters generally step back from expressing any opinion or feelings of their own, to ensure that, at the discursive level at least, priority is given solely to the facts of the story, thus creating the fact-centred discourse ‘objectivity’ requires (Chalaby, 1998, p. 129).

At the core of Anglo-American journalism is the news report – a fact-based discursive format which, firstly, implies a detachment between facts and emotions, and second, implies a separation of facts and opinions

Anglo-American journalism’s focus on the facts, and nothing but the facts, leads many to assume that this discourse goes naturally with a stance of political neutrality – facts are by their very essence immutable objective truths, and, regardless of their detail, they have no political leaning in-and-of themselves (Hallin & Mancini, 2004, p. 207).  By abandoning the language of ‘truth’, as each individual ideology or opinion would have it, and adopting that of ‘objectivity’, Anglo-American journalism doesn’t deny the existence of an absolute truth, but it does require journalists to free themselves from influence by party values, and provide the public with access to facts free of bias; in the 1920s, Walter Lippmann gave voice to his belief that democratic society itself required the press to be viewed as “trustworthy”, in as much as the public could trust that what the press reported was factual, and not what governments or politicians wanted viewed as “the truth” (Allan, 2010, p. 45).  Chalaby notes that, as advertising increased its independence and separation from governmental influence, the British newspaper ‘The Times’ was one of the first, in 1852, to “mention objectivity as an ideal, and to suggest that the duties of the state and the ‘fourth estate’ were ‘constantly separate, generally independent, some-times diametrically opposite’” (Chalaby, 1996, pp. 320-321).  As a separate entity, supposedly devoid of political bias or influence, the media becomes the principal watchdog of government; it holds it to account, and educates the public so that they too can understand political processes and affairs.

The practice of interviewing developed in the United States, and was eventually also adopted by the British, as a means of providing journalists with more control over their story – by asking specific questions, reporters could select the parts of politicians’ discourse they thought were relevant, and could whittle down what would previously have been long speeches in verbatim into shorter quotes, a practice more suited to pleasing an audience of news consumers than promoting a particular view-point of party line (Schudson, 2001, p. 156).  Interviews also allowed reporters to lay claim to exclusives – journalists could lay claim to exclusive news, as well as exclusive interviews with significant figures, differentiating them from competition and conferring prestige upon the interviewer and their publication (Chalaby, 1998, p. 128).

In the United States, this sense of political neutrality is characteristic of most major national newspapers; on their editorial pages, many American newspapers display relatively consistent political orientations, but these leanings are limited in their impact on news reports – there is a strong assumption that political stance is irrelevant when it comes to reporting news (Hallin & Mancini, 2004, p. 208).  These low levels of political parallelism are also prevalent in many other countries where the Anglo-American way of journalism is dominant, such as Canada and Ireland; major newspapers either lack a strong political bias in their news reporting, or they adopt a centrist orientation – aiming their coverage at the majority of the population.

The move towards a larger, autonomous press in the US and Britain, which started the process of developing an Anglo-American model of journalism, became possible as media began to raise its own revenues.  In many parts of southern Europe, such as Italy and Greece, these conditions never occurred, leading to an alternative model of journalism developing; compared to Britain and the United States, newspaper circulation remained extremely low, and, along with many broadcast stations, most outlets were eventually picked up by private interests and political alliances (Hallin & Papathanassopoulos, 2002, p. 177).  Largely due to political and corporate intervention, this meant that media in these countries never detached itself from political, economic, and ideological leanings, and journalists continue to represent and defend the interests to which they are linked.  In Italy, a clear example of this can be found in the history of the newspaper, Il Giorno, established by the state-owned oil company ELI, which had close links to the Christian Democrats and Socialists (Hallin & Papathanassopoulos, 2002, p. 177).  In 1985, leading Italian journalist, Piero Ottone, claimed that:
The real objective of [Il Giorno], its primary function, was to support in public debate the ideas and the interests of state owned industry, of which ENI was the principal party, against the daily press sustained by private industry” (Mancini, 2000, p. 270).

The move towards a larger, autonomous press in the US and Britain, which started the process of developing an Anglo-American model of journalism, became possible as media began to raise its own revenues

Unlike the political neutrality typical of the Anglo-American model, southern European journalism maintains a strong tradition of advocacy journalism, with the public sphere significantly different to the “ideal” liberal model; rather than objective and unbiased news reports, various organised groups control the newspapers and television channels, using these platforms to express their own points of view and engage in dialogue with other groups (Mancini, 2000, p. 271).  As a profession, journalism hasn’t particularly developed under this model; journalists in Italy, Spain and Greece have all stated they come under strong pressure from their management to report on current affairs with distinct political themes and opinions, and the lack of a consensual code of ethics has led to a weak professional identity (Hallin & Papathanassopoulos, 2002, pp. 181-182).  Journalists in America founded their own press association in the 1920s, the American Society of Newspaper Editors, which adopted a code of ethics extolling ‘Sincerity, Truthfulness, Accuracy’ and ‘Impartiality’ (Schudson, 2001, p. 162), but in Italy, Mancici (2000, p. 266) writes: “journalists are advocates, linked to political parties, and very close to being politicians themselves.”

This doesn’t mean, though, that the Anglo-American model is devoid of party-press parallelism.  In Great Britain, for example, party affiliation of the major newspapers remains rife, especially in the tabloid press; even The Times, the newspaper which claimed the state and fourth estate were ‘constantly separate, generally independent, some-times diametrically opposite’ displays bias towards the Conservative party (Hallin & Mancini, 2004, pp. 210-212).  Anglo-American journalism can therefore be said to encompass instances of relatively high levels of political parallelism (Great Britain) and relatively low levels (USA, Canada, and Ireland) (Hallin & Mancini, 2004, pp. 211-214).

The foundation of China’s media system was greatly influenced by the West – it was colonial and missionary agents who set up the first modern newspapers, often in ports and in foreign languages (Zhao, 2011, p. 146).  This meant that the Anglo-American way of journalism had a significant influence in China at a time when the very idea of ‘Chinese journalism’ was still forming; the ideal of objectivity, for example, is widely believed to have been introduced to China from America at the end of the nineteenth century, becoming a dominant force in pre-communist Chinese journalism (Maras & Nip, 2015, p. 326).  Xu Baohuang was one of the very first lecturers on journalism in China, and he taught that objectivity is a force for social change; Xu link’s his objectivity norm to the task of both ‘creating’ and ‘representing’ public opinion, arguing that a newspaper’s first duty was to report the news, by which he meant facts (Maras & Nip, 2015, p. 335).

This definition of objectivity is slightly different to its contemporary Anglo-American counterpart – for both, an idea of objectivity based on facts rather than values is central, but for the Anglo-Americans, objectivity was a professional standard journalists turned to in order to remove propaganda and party politics from news reporting (Schudson, 2001, p. 163).  The focus of journalists such as Walter Lippmann and David Lawrence was on educating, to ensure that, in an increasingly complex world, current affairs were explained from an unbiased viewpoint – it was taken for granted that understanding had nothing to do with partisan sentiment (Schudson, 2001, p. 164).  In China, the focus was on cultivating healthy public opinion; newspapers were occasionally shut down by the government, and many were therefore afraid to represent public opinion in order to continue surviving.  Xu therefore saw healthy public opinion as vital – if newspapers could objectively report the news, the public would have a greater understanding of current affairs and could in turn begin influencing the government (Maras & Nip, 2015, p. 335).  The three ways Xu suggests that newspapers should influence public opinion are surprisingly similar to Anglo-American discursive practices: first, publishing genuine news reports; second, through interviews with experts and significant figures; and third, with incisive editorials – whilst the framing and context may have been different, Anglo-American journalism clearly had some impact on Chinese journalism (Maras & Nip, 2015, p. 335).

Xu Baohuang was one of the very first lecturers on journalism in China, and he taught that objectivity is a force for social change

That said, judged by the professional standards of Anglo-American journalism (objectivity, political neutrality, and generally independent press and journalists), Chinese journalism completely lacks professionalism, operating instead as a mouthpiece for the communist government and party rhetoric (Zhao, 2011, p. 163).  In the West, the prevailing view of Chinese society is one of complete control by the ruling state, with rampant censorship and no freedom of speech, still the unchanging evil authoritarian state of the Cold War, and in some ways this is true – strictly speaking, media in China is controlled and owned by the state; media organisations are considered ideological apparatus, and therefore do not receive guaranteed funding and are tightly controlled with regards to appropriate content, especially political news (Kit-wai Ma, 2000, pp. 21-22).  Indeed, the continuing and penetrating influence of Western media has remained a major factor in domestic Chinese efforts to introduce a non-Western media system (Zhao, 2011, p. 146); communist China attempted to block American broadcasts during the Cold War, due to their ideological opposition, whilst the Chinese state was forced to stamp down on protests in the 1980s by advocates for a more liberal, ‘western’ democracy.

Since the 1990s, China has been undergoing significant market-driven changes, introducing increased commercialisation to Chinese journalism (Kit-wai Ma, 2000, p. 27).  In some ways, this commercialisation has had a negative effect – instances of “paid” journalism, where journalists take money in exchange for a particular angle or story – have increased (Zhao, 2011, p. 162).  This situation does, though, draw similarities with the context in France which Chalaby compares Anglo-American journalism with; French industrialists were unwilling to spend money on advertising, leading to rampant corruption, just as Chinese journalists, without guaranteed funding, similarly turn to outside financing (Chalaby, 1996, p. 321).  In both cases, the general public are left less informed than their American and British counterparts, due to the lack of factual news in the media.  In other areas, though, increased commercialisation is leading many Chinese journalists to become inspired, not only by Anglo-American journalism, but also by pre-communist Chinese journalism, such as the work of Xu (Zhao, 2011, p. 165).  Whilst not a certain indication that China is adopting a more liberal, free press – the state does still evoke heavy censorship – some leading Chinese journalists have begun to proclaim the virtues of autonomy and objectivity, pushing ideological boundaries with desires to “serve the people” (Kit-wai Ma, 2000, p. 26).

From within the Anglo-American model of journalism, it is easy to look out and assess the world based on the surrounding context; the idea that the purpose and function of “journalism” is to inform a public who are not up-to-date on current affairs, a process that can only be done through a practice of objectivity – reporting on the facts, devoid of opinion and political rhetoric.  This forms the basis of Chalaby’s argument – that the British and American’s invented journalism, because it was they who first developed media systems based on information gathering, it was they who developed discursive practices such as interviewing and reporting (Chalaby, 1996, p. 303).  The problem, then, is when you have a country where the political, cultural, or economic context meant that journalism developed differently.  In southern Europe, for example, newspapers never secured appropriate funding to fuel growth and independence, which meant advocacy journalism remained the norm.  In China, the government took total control of the industry, limiting freedom of the press and objectivity.  Certainly, the growth and development of the Anglo-American model of journalism has introduced revolutionary techniques across the world, such as the news report and interviewing.  However, to say that it “invented” journalism would be improper, when you consider the vast differences that still remain in the various models of journalism, each with its own process of development.


Bibliography

Allan, S., 2010. News Culture. 3rd ed. Maidenhead: McGraw-Hill

Chalaby, J. K., 1996. Journalism as an Anglo-American Invention. European Journal of Communication, 11(3), pp. 303-326

Chalaby, J. K., 1998. The Invention of Journalism. Basingstoke: MacMillan Press Ltd

Conboy, M., 2004. Journalism: A Critical History. London: SAGE Publications Ltd

Hallin, D. C. & Mancini, P., 2004. Comparing Media Systems: Three Models of Media and Politics. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press

Hallin, D. C. & Papathanassopoulos, S., 2002. Political Clientelism and the Media: Southern Europe and Latin America in Comparative Perspective. Media, Culture & Society, 24(2), pp. 175-195

He, Y., 2015. Hangzhou, The Origins of the World Press and Journalism?. Journalism Studies, 16(4), pp. 547-561

Kit-wai Ma, E., 2000. The Case of China. In: J. Curran & M. Park, eds. De-Westernizing Media Studies. London: Routledge, pp. 21-34

Kraidy, M. M., 2011. The Rise of Transnational Media Systems. In: D. C. Hallin & P. Mancini, eds. Comparing Media Systems Beyond the Western World. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp. 177-200

Mancini, P., 2000. Political Complexity and Alternative Models of Journalism: The Italian Case. In: J. Curran & M. Park, eds. De-Westernizing Media Studies. Londom: Routledge, pp. 265-278

Maras, S. & Nip, J. Y. M., 2015. The Travelling Objectivity Norm: Examining the Case of the First Chinese Journalism Handbook. Journalism Studies, 16(3), pp. 326-342

Schudson, M., 2001. The Objectivity Norm in American Journalism. Journalism, 2(2), pp. 149-170

Zhao, Y., 2011. Understanding China’s Media System in a World Historical Context. In: D. C. Hallin & P. Mancini, eds. Comparing Media Systems Beyond the Western World. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp. 143-174

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Author: James Walker

Recent Masters graduate spreading his "valuable" views on journalism, politics, and video gaming

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