The Objective News Report: A Content Analysis of Selected U.S. Daily Newspapers for 1865 to 1954 (Ethics, Professionalism, United States)

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Mass Communication and Journalism

First Advisor

Arthur J. Kaul

Advisor Department

Mass Communication and Journalism


The pervasive contemporary ethic of American journalism is "objective" news reporting, conventionally defined as the apparent value-free impartial reporting of observable or verifiable data from a detached, impersonal point of view. This study explored origins of journalistic objectivity in the general news reports of six selected U.S. daily newspapers from all regions between 1865 and 1954 using content analysis. The newspapers were studied in five 10-year periods evenly distributed over the 90 years. Six hundred news reports were coded from 150 weekday issues. Stories were coded as objective or nonobjective, wire or nonwire, inverted pyramid or other form, and authoritative news source or other source. Chi-square analysis was used to compare the variables across time periods. Objective reports increased cumulatively from 1865 to 1934, from about one-third in 1865-1874 to about half in 1885-1894, two-thirds in 1905-1914, and 80% in 1925-1934 and thereafter. Objectivity was a cumulative variable which increased progressively between the close of the Civil War and the pre-World War II era. It was apparently not influenced by the introduction of the telegraph and wire services, and there is no apparent difference between reports of New York City newspapers and those of other cities. A strong relationship was found among objective reporting, inverted pyramid format, and use of authoritative sources of information. Previous writers have suggested the phenomenon may result from (a) technological advances, (b) the rise of professional persuaders (i.e., propaganda and public relations), (c) rise of the commercial press, (d) the professionalization of journalism, or (e) the rise of science. This author proposes another possible "cause": a basic shift in Western culture and thought which may be labeled "Secularization."