Jean Chalaby (1996) argues that journalism is an Anglo-American invention.
In ‘Journalism as an Anglo-American invention: A comparison of the development of French and Anglo-American journalism 1830s-1920s’, he develops this argument through a comparison of French and Anglo-American journalism.
Chalaby’s work is aligned to that of journalism scholars such as Schudson (2001), who interrogated the core journalistic concept of objectivity.
The 1920s, the end point in Chalaby’s analysis, coincides with the period that Schudson (2001) identified as the period when the occupational norm of ‘objectivity’, the chief occupational value that distinguishes American journalism from the dominant model of continental European journalism, arose.
Schudson argued that objectivity in American journalism was aligned to the growth of journalism as an occupational culture in the 1920s, independent of political parties (2001, p. 156).
If journalism was developing an occupational culture by the 1920s, the origins of journalism itself are earlier and it is this area that Chalaby explores (2001, p 305), claiming that:
- American and British journalists invented the modern conception of news;
- Anglo-American newspapers contained more news and information than any contemporary French paper; and
- Anglo-American newspapers had much better news-gathering services.
Further, Chalaby argues that proper journalistic discursive practices, such as reporting and interviewing, were also invented and developed by American journalists (1996, p 305).
According to Chalaby, French journalists, like journalists in many other countries, progressively imported and adapted these methods of Anglo-American journalism.
The reference by Chalaby to interviewing also recalls the work of Schudson (2001), who cites interviewing as having become a common activity for reporters in the 1870s and 1880s, widely practised by 1900, and the mainstay of American journalism by the First World War.
Schudson argued that while the practice of interviewing did not give rise to the objectivity norm, it was one of the growing number of practices that identified journalists as a distinct occupational group with distinct patterns of behaviour, that would eventuate in a self-conscious ethic of objectivity in the 1920s.
In tracing the origins of journalism, Chalaby finds that journalism could develop more rapidly in the United States and England because of:
- the independence of the press from the literary field (2001, p 313);
- parliamentary bipartism (2001, p 318);
- the ability of newspapers to derive substantial revenues from sales and advertising (2001, p 320); and
- the dynamics of the English language and because of the Anglo Saxon central and dominant position in the world (2001, p 322).
Chalaby argues that like the modern concept of news, the Americans and British invented fact-centred discursive practices. These discursive practices are identified as journalistic in the sense that their use was determined by norms and values (such as the ideal of objectivity) in the journalistic field that were emerging during the second half of the 19th century in England and America.
Chalaby notes that these discursive practices were neither literary nor political in nature, and that from the 1850s onwards “Anglo-American journalists began to make the typically journalistic claim to be neutral and objective.” (1996, p 311). The “emphasis on news and information did not give much space to Anglo-American journalists to express their opinions”, he argues. (1996, p 311).
In contrast, in France during this period, “journalism remained under the influence of its traditional spheres of origin, politics and literature”. The importance conferred upon the “literary form” kept the “telegraphic” style of Anglo-American news reports away from French newspapers (Chalaby, 1996, p 311).
French journalists “continued to write in the tradition of publicists, writing to propagate political doctrines and defend the interests of a particular political group” and “opinions and comments still prevailed on news and information” late into the 19th century (Chalaby, 1996, p 311).
Reporting and interviewing are two of the fact-centred journalistic practices invented by the Americans, according to Chalaby. He argues that many facets of the news report were foreign to the French conception of journalism. The news report format implied the dissociation between facts and opinions, so that “In newspapers, information and opinions began to be separated into two distinct journalistic genres”. (Chalaby, 1996, p 311).
By way of contrast, Chalaby argues that the French journalistic tradition did not draw such a sharp line between facts and comments, and “most articles freely mixed news with opinions. A high proportion of articles in the French press played the double role of presenting the news and interpreting it.”
Chalaby also notes differences in the way Anglo-American news reports were written, compared with the “classic French journal article” (Chalaby, 1996, p 312). He says that news reports, notable because they place the most noteworthy fact first, are constructed “around facts” and not around “ideas and chronologies”. In French newspapers, it is claimed, the organizing principle of many articles was the “mediating subjectivity of the journalist” (Chalaby, 1996, p 312).
As for interviewing, Chalaby refers to Schudson (1994), who wrote: “The history of the interview is not only an account of the form’s modernity but its Americanness.” Schudson (1994, p 565) noted that by the turn of the century, the interview was the “central act of the journalist”.
Chalaby says that the practice spread to England during the early 1880s, and to France around the same time, but at a slower pace. Notably, this was because politicians were reluctant to give interviews and preferred to write articles themselves. (p 312). He says that the interview was “not a common practice among French journalists until the interwar period”.
Chalaby’s analysis helps to answer some of the questions I raised in an earlier post entitled ‘Should journalists still aspire to objectivity?’ I had imagined that unbiased, objective reporting had a long, distinguished and inviolate history in American journalism (that was translated into British and Australian journalism) but somehow just didn’t catch on in continental Europe.
Chalaby’s work explains, from a historical perspective, how and why the differences I had observed between Anglo-American and Italian (and, by extension, European) journalism actually evolved.
Chalaby Jean K, 1996, ‘Journalism as an Anglo-American invention: A comparison of the development of French and Anglo-American journalism 1830s-1920s’, European Journal of Communication, Vol 11, No 3, pp 303-326.
Schudson, M, 1994, ‘Question Authority: A History of the News Interview in American Journalism, 1860s-1930s’, Media, Culture and Society 16(4): 565-87.
Schudson, M, 2001, ‘The objectivity norm in American journalism’ , Journalism, Vol. 2, No 2. pp 149-170.
Chalaby Jean K, 1998, The Invention of Journalism, Palgrave MacMillan.
Jean Chalaby is currently a reader at City University, London.
City University London, Staff entry: http://www.city.ac.uk/sociology/staffdetails/Chalaby.html
Jean K. Chalaby teaches media history as well as comparative media systems and international communication at City University, London, where he is Director of the MA in Transnational Media and Society. He is the author ofThe Invention of Journalism (1998) and The de Gaulle Presidency and the Media (2002) and editor of Transnational Television Worldwide (2005).