The following is the first part of my inaugural lecture at City University London, ‘Is Ice Cream Strawberry?’. The total runs to 3,000 words so I’ve split it and adapted it for online reading.
The myth of journalism and the telegraph
Samuel Morse was a portrait painter. And he invented the telegraph. The telegraph is probably one of the most mythologised technologies in journalism. The story goes that the telegraph changed journalism during the US Civil War – because telegraph operators had to get the key facts of the story in at the top in case the telegraph line failed or were cut. This in turn led to the objective, inverted pyramid style of journalism that relied on facts rather than opinion.
Objectivity is one of the key pillars of journalistic identity: it is one of the ways in which we identify ourselves as a profession. But for the past decade it has been subject to increasing criticism from those (and I include myself here) who suggest that sustaining the appearance of objectivity is unfeasible and unsustainable, and that transparency is a much more realistic aim.
Recently I’ve been revisiting some of the research on journalistic objectivity for my inaugural lecture at City University. But as I only mention objectivity once in that lecture, I thought it was worth fleshing out the issue further.
One of the reasons why I think studying journalism is so important at the moment is that the profession is rooted in a series of practices and beliefs that have specific historical roots – and things change. Continue reading →