Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Brian McNair, Journalistic Objectivity, and Personal Subjectivity

Brian McNair received his PhD in sociology from the University of Glasgow in Scotland and is the Head of Discipline and a Professor on the Creative Industries Faculty, School of Media, Entertainment, Creative Arts, Journalism, Media and Communication at the Queensland University of Technology in Brisbane, Australia.  Among the topics for which McNair’s writings are most well-known are popular culture, political involvement in journalism, and sexuality.  
Besides contributing to the book from which our reading this week was taken (Making Journalists), McNair is also the author of the following books:

  • An Introduction to Political Communication, which examines how contemporary politicians, commerce groups, terrorist groups, and others use the media.
  • News and Journalism in the UK, an overview of how Great Britain and Northern Ireland media outlets have responded to changing technologies and some of the challenges currently facing journalism in the UK.
  • Cultural Chaos, which draws on events such as the September 11th terrorist attacks, the War in Iraq, and Hurricane Katrina to examine how news outlets are responding to increasingly globalized media.
  • Striptease Culture, an examination of pornography, how sexuality is represented in the media, and sexuality in contemporary art contribute to public awareness of sexual health and gender differences.

    McNair’s chapter in Making Journalists, titled “What is Journalism?” examines the changing role of journalism and journalists within our technology-centric, globalized society, focusing on the importance of maintaining objectivity in reporting.  Some of the factors that McNair cites as challenges to objectivity include falling into the trap of the public’s desire for spectacle and drama (the public being the consumers of the news), and situations that challenge the moral righteousness of objectivity, such as the September 11th, 2001 terrorist attacks.  He also mentions the quandary of publications needing funding and sometimes having to rely on state taxation or religious groups and therefore being censored.  Even privately owned media outlets can be challenged in the pursuit for objectivity because, as McNair says “if news is business, it is owned by businessmen” (p 34).  This statement is consistent with the critical theory view of media, which says that owners of large media outlets have the power to legitimize some cultural values and delegitimize others by projecting their personal beliefs on their networks.
    The importance that McNair places on the pursuit of objectivity and truth in reporting is perhaps defined most clearly by his assertion that their needs to be a degree of detachment and independence from the topic by the reporter.  However, it is important to note the disctinction that McNair creates between objective reporting and personal weblogs unassociated with news outlets.  This is particularly interesting in McNair’s case when looking at his twitter and past reporting experience.  From what I could gather, McNair’s book Striptease Culture and his contributions to other books on gender roles and LGBTQ culture are informed by personal experience working with and interviewing porn stars.  His twitter feed is riddled with pro-gay tweets, for example: “funny riff on gay stereotypes - 20 Things Lesbians Are Tired Of Hearing via @buzzfeedlgbt,” “hypocrisy is the sin, not homosexuality - how Britain's Catholic leader fell from grace  via @guardian,” and “This is now. Gay marriage: MPs vote in favour leaves Cameron adrift from Tories  via @guardian.”  Though McNair strives for objectivity in reporting, he recognizes the freedom for expression of personal, subjective beliefs on personal news outlets and the importance of utilizing them to disseminate information and opinions.


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