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Objective, free / independent, socially responsible, critically investigative, activist, subjective and dialogical

The philosophy of journalism
JOURNALISM / Via the pragmatic philosophy, Steen Steensen and Harald Hornmoen create great relevance and applicability in their thoughtful writing about journalism.


On a daily basis, I work in Denmark researching and thinking about journalism, and I am so lucky to share an office with a philosopher. In my intellectual and academic life, I have not yet met a human being who, like this philosopher, always manages to make a relevant, stimulating and often surprising observation when we discuss the essence of journalism. That is why the Norwegian book is here, Philosophy of Journalism, a work I have been very much looking forward to reading. This is because a philosophical thinking about the often overly thoughtless subject of journalism is extremely much needed.

The authors deftly adopt the pragmatic philosophy in their analysis of journalism.

Behind the book are two Norwegian professors of journalism, namely Steen Steensen and Harald Hornmoen, who both have a background in executive journalism. The communication skills of the two gentlemen are also extremely well-honed and create a logically progressive and readable text. The background in executive journalism is perhaps also one of the reasons why writers deftly adopt the approach of pragmatic philosophy in their analysis of journalism and the basic journalistic ideals.

With its foundation in the situational and functional rather than the eternal and the universal, pragmatic philosophy is an excellent bid for a path to thinking in a subject that seems to be constantly changing. Pragmatism can accommodate and address changing media cultures, Google impact, consumption patterns, changed institutional frameworks and whatever else goes on to characterize journalism.

With pragmatism as a faithful companion, the authors embark on an embrace with seven well-chosen ideals that still seem to live in journalism: objective, free / independent, socially responsible, critically investigative, activist, subjective and dialogical.

An objective or subjective journalism?

The mentioned are ideals that make us well aware of the diversity of journalism. Journalism is by no means one size fits all – if that has ever been the case. We should rather talk about journalism, and for each of these variants of journalism, the ideals can be graduated in different ways. The rewarding thing about Steensen's and Honrmoen's approach in the book is that in an enormously systematic way they throw themselves into an examination of the ideals separately in order to finally summarize a coherent bid for a pragmatic philosophy for journalism.

Oleksiy Kustovsky (Ukraine). Freedom Of Expression. See Libex.Eu

In each chapter we thus get both a philosophical / idea-historical outline of the concept's origin and possibilities of understanding as well as not least a press historical view in addition to how the concepts have often changed meaning and had different consequences throughout press history. For example, journalism has not always sought a purely objective approach that can be perceived as positivistic – and can only be pursued if one believes that there is one truth that man can acknowledge, and that this truth can be felt outside man himself. Objectivity was not only neglected during the party press, where the journalistic media acted as propagandistic mouthpieces for political currents, but we have also in recent times seen how attitude and emotion seep into news journalism.

Is it that problematic? Here the book's chapter on subjectivity comes to our aid. For subjectivity can in certain interpretations be understood as a path to more objectivity and does not necessarily stand in an oppositional relationship to the objective. If we assume that there is a general value in the subjective experience, a piece of journalism in which the journalist himself is also involved in various ways, will contribute to increasing the truth value and the cognitive potential of journalism. Here, Hegel's assumption that we only understand ourselves through others and others through ourselves can be linked to the journalistic ideal of dialogue. If the journalist manages to integrate into journalism in a rewarding way and not least openly declares his presence, we can imagine that it can help to create a conversation inside and outside the journalistic work. And it is precisely the conversation that is the cornerstone of the understanding of discussions in a representative democracy, whereby we are once again left with one of the fundamental functions of the role of journalism in the public sphere.

Constant changeability and become

But this is just one interpretation via some downturns in the book's chapters. Other conclusions can easily be reached, and this is precisely the book's very significant quality. Because it chooses pragmatic philosophy as its main path, the book is an excellent conversation partner and an excellent place to start when we need to discuss the essence of journalism. For it must happen without eternal truths but instead in the ever-changing and become, which journalism will forever be marked by. There is no one truth in the world, but neither is it a world where everything is constructed and no community can be achieved. There is a space, and it is precisely in that space that the book resides.

This useful, thoughtful practice writing can hopefully benefit students, established journalists as well as citizens with an interest in the media.

Steffen Moestrup
Steffen Moestrup
Regular contributor to MODERN TIMES, and docent at Denmark's Medie- og Journalisthøjskole.

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