ARTICLE: Journalists can be independent, but not uninvolved observers

Picture: Basketball game by KeithJJ, license CC0 1.0

A long-lasting ideal in journalism has been that a journalist should be a detached observer of the event being reported, not being a part of it. With the growing popularity and opportunities for live-reporting events, a journalist’s involvement in the events has become inevitable, Horst Pöttker of TU Dortmund University and the University of Hamburg writes. He describes how non-partisanship and being uninvolved have to be reconsidered, putting focus also on the German press code.

The ideal of a non-involved or detached observer needs to be changed, Pöttker argues. When considering the nature of media events, journalism becomes the structural condition for events and situations that it is reporting live, the author describes.

Impartiality, that is, striving for independence, is different from being uninvolved. Without this distinction, “the requirement of independence can become a barrier that prevents them [journalists] from emancipating themselves from their own prejudices through self-reflection, or from revealing the structures of the media business”, Pöttker notes.

The expression of being uninvolved and the metaphor of the journalist as a judge presents an old-fashioned view of a journalist. The term independence and the metaphor of the referee better captures striving for impartiality while being aware that one is a part of the event himself, the researcher concludes.

The article “The Detached Observer: On a Necessary Change to the Self-Image of Journalists in the Digital World” was published in Javnost and is available online (abstract free).

Picture: Basketball game by KeithJJ, license CC0 1.0

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