Rosen: 'Truth vigilante' column stems from journalists' insistence on objectivity

The NYU journalism professor and "view from nowhere" diagnoser explains how journalism reached the point where The New York Times public editor asks whether reporters should be "truth vigilantes":

Something happened in our press over the last 40 years or so that never got acknowledged and to this day would be denied by a majority of newsroom professionals. Somewhere along the way, truthtelling was surpassed by other priorities the mainstream press felt a stronger duty to. These include such things as “maintaining objectivity,” “not imposing a judgment,” “refusing to take sides” and sticking to what I have called the View from Nowhere.

No one knows exactly how it happened, for it’s not like a policy decision came down at some point. Rather, the drift of professional practice over time was to bracket, or suspend sharp questions of truth and falsehood in order to avoid charges of bias, or excessive editorializing. Journalists felt better, safer, on firmer professional ground–more like pros–when they stopped short of reporting substantially untrue statements as false.

Related: Journalists are incredulous as Times public editor asks: ‘Should the Times be a Truth Vigilante?’ (Poynter) | Rieder: "Questionable claims should be challenged as quickly as possible" (AJR) | Brisbane reacts: "In this case a lot of people responded to a question I was not asking." (

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    Jeff Sonderman

    Jeff Sonderman is the deputy director of the American Press Institute, helping to lead its use of research, tools, events, and strategic insights to advance and sustain journalism.


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