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The Dialectic in Journalism

Toward a Responsible Use of Press Freedom

by Carter R. Bryan

259 pages / 6.00 x 9.00 inches / no illustrations

Journalism | Media Studies

  Paperback / 9780807118894 / August 1993

“A main intent of this book is to show how freedom relates to ethics in journalism and at the same time to discuss how a number of other contraries or antinomies are unsuitable in the real world of journalism. I also hope to demonstrate how a synthesis—a position near the Aristotelian Golden Mean—is the best solution to many of the problems of mass communication. We need to form the habit of thinking dialectically about many of our journalistic problems realizing that a clash of opposing positions is not harmful but useful in the constantly changing world of journalism.” —From the Introduction

Over the past thirty years, John C. Merrill has produced what many critics consider an essential body of writing on the relatedness of journalism and philosophy. He speaks with authority for a growing group of scholars who are looking behind the product of journalism for the ideologies that create them. His latest work, The Dialectic in Journalism,is an ambitious and comprehensive examination of the forces at work throughout the press.

The book focuses on two important and timely issues: journalistic license and social control, or in a larger sense, freedom and responsibility. What are the just limits of the press? Where may libertarians and statists of the press find common ground? How do journalists convert the world into the word

?Merrill places sweeping questions such as these in the context of the Western intellectual tradition. Beginning with the Heraclitean observation that reality is constantly changing, he traces the development of the dialectic through Plato and Aristotle to Rousseau, Spinoza, Nietzsche, and Hegel. Merrill connect these thinkers with many of the problems facing the journalistic community today. He uses the Hegelian dialectic to suggest that a moderating force is at work in the contemporary journalism. He shows that the tensions created between the concept of freedom of expression and necessity of restraint resolve themselves in a synthesis of “social responsibility.”

Readers familiar with Merrill’s earlier works will find in this new book the same strong concern for the ethical foundations of journalism. The Dialectic in Journalism is sufficiently rigorous philosophically that it sustains a close critical reading, and yet the general reader will find it straightforward and lucid. Journalists will want to read this book to gain new insight into the frequently unexamined philosophy of their trade, and the public will profit from a broader understand of the force that plays a central role in shaping our view of the world. 

John C. Merrill is professor emeritus of journalism at the University of Missouri. He has also taught at a number of other universities, most recently at Louisiana State University. He is the author of some twenty books, including The Imperative of Freedom: A Philosophy of Journalistic Autonomy and, with Jack Odell, Philosophy and Journalism.

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