ARTICLE: Cultural journalists accept subjectivity

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Cultural journalists, such as book critics, reconcile with subjectivity in various ways, writes Phillipa Chong, of McMaster University, Canada. Chong interviewed 40 book reviewers who write for major American newspapers or prominent book blogs.

Subjectivity cannot be avoided when writing about arts and culture, Chong points out. The book reviewers not only accept the fact, but also embrace it: parts of their work process require honest subjectivity. For example, reviewers must be mindful of their personal preferences in order to avoid unfair book-critic “pairings”, e.g. a book about golf may get unjustly torn apart by a reviewer uninterested in the sport.

Furthermore, enjoying a book is also an intuitive, subjective process. Conveying that evaluation to the readers, however, requires a more detached approach: a critic should not just tell what they think of a book, but also convince the reader to agree.

Chong also found notable differences between the critics’ approaches depending on whether they were writing for a newspaper or for a blog. Since most interviewees write for both, the author concludes the reviewers “code-switch between different epistemic styles” according to outlet.

The article “Valuing subjectivity in journalism” was published by the journal Journalism. It is available online on the publisher’s website (abstract free).

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