Telling the Truth: How Journalists Believe a Story is Told Truthfully


Missy Belote

Date of Graduation

Spring 2003


Master of Arts in Communication



Committee Chair

Christina Drale


What is the role of the journalist in a democratic society? The wide range of answers to this question has led to the development of two approaches to doing journalism: civic journalism and traditional journalism. Critics of civic journalism say it is boosterism while supporters say it leads to a better community through the active involvement of the news organization in civic activities. Traditional journalism rejects community involvement in favor of objectivity but critics say it neglects marginalized viewpoints. The theroretical framework for this paper matches traditional journalism with the view that truth is absolute, as articulated by Jürgen Habermas. Civic journalism is matched with the view that truth is relative as articulated by Best and Kellner. Based on gaps in the literature, the following research questions were formulated: How do journalists view the truth and then relate that view to producing a story? Do they tend to lean toward civic or traditional journalism strands in producing stories? This study employed a dual methods approach. It began with 16 qualitative interviews. Journalists from newspapers and television stations, from both large and medium-sized cities were interviewed. The goal was to discover how journalisits talk about truth telling and how they view civic and traditional journalism. Based on the interviews, a survey was constructed and sent to two hundred randomly selected journalists. Seventy journalists responded. The results showed a strong positive correlation between a participant's approach to journalism and his/her view of truth, thus supporting the assumptions made by the theroretical framework. Perhaps the most exciting finding came in the unreliability of the survey questions that were designed to measure whether a journalist was a civic journalist or a traditional journalist. Respondents did not answer the questions consistently, meaning journalists clearly do not see the issue as black and white. This refutes much of the literature, which treats the two approaches as incompatible.

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