‘Journalism of neutrality is an illusion’ and inadequate to democracy, says professor
If journalism’s role is to help people be meaningful participants in a democratic society then journalism has to take on important questions in the prophetic voice, author and professor Dr. Robert Jensen told Raw Story.
“I think the journalism of neutrality is an illusion and I think the journalism that that has produced has been inadequate to democracy,” said Jensen, one of conservative David Horowitz’s 101 most dangerous academics.
The journalism professor’s latest book “All My Bones Shake: Seeking a Progressive Path to the Prophetic Voice” is a departure for the long-time social justice activist, because his outlook has shifted dramatically as he has joined a community of faith. This move, described in detail in the book, was a surprise to his readers and former students, as he has shown indifference to religion over two decades of work against war, racism and patriarchy.
Asked what he means by the prophetic voice at his office inside the University of Texas at Austin communications building, Jensen explained.
“If the prophets were people in society who called out injustice, who reminded people of the gap between their ideals and their actions, if the prophets were folks who were willing to speak the truth and hold people accountable, that’s very similar to the job description of modern journalism,” he said.
“Modern journalism, however, is often constrained by illusory notions of neutrality and objectivity and I think if journalists thought of themselves as speaking prophetically it could produce a much more engaged and quite frankly, much more important journalism.”
In “All My Bones Shake,” his sixth book, Dr. Jensen writes about truth in terms of chaos and clarity:
Whatever we might think is “the perfect,” it is not with us here. We live in the imperfect; we struggle with the chaotic. We usually think of our rational faculties as providing us with the ability to deal with the chaos of truth, to provide the order we need to live in a complex world. Conversely, our emotions are seen as a source of even greater chaos, an aspect of ourselves that is generally out of control. I want to argue just the opposite: The chaos of truth is a product of the rational, and whatever clarity of truth we can achieve is produced not in our minds but in our hearts.
Coupled with the specter of a crumbling newspaper industry, Jensen’s ideas have led him to begin rethinking the approach of the modern academy toward journalism instruction. Last year, he proposed a new mission statement to his faculty colleagues at UT-Austin last fall.
He argued that by stating bluntly the nature of the crises we face in todayÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s world and breaking with our longstanding subordination to the industry, professors could offer an exciting alternative to students who donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t want to repeat the failures of the previous generation.
Only a handful were willing to endorse such a mission.
“In a way I think the failure of the corporate commercial business model is not just a tragedy, it’s also an opportunity to recognize that the journalism produced out of that corporate commercial model has never really served the democratic ideals of the society,” he told Raw Story. “The most painful example of this, of course, is the run-up to the Iraq War, where dozens, probably hundreds, of journalists were covering the Bush administration and Congress as that war unfolded, and yet none of that journalism helped inform the public in a meaningful way.”
He demolished media myths about war, propaganda and militarism in his third book “Citizens of the Empire” in 2004.
“Obviously journalism as an industry is in free fall,” he said, his desk buried in texts. “The business model of corporate commercial news is crumbling around us. There’s no obvious model to replace it in a society that is hesitant to supply public support for much of anything. So in this failure in the business model, we also have the possibility of something coming out of that that’s potentially much more productive.”
This audio is from RAW STORY’s Gavin Dahl, uploaded May 9, 2010.