CMN 3105: Reading #2 Sept 21 2013
Authentic Journalism? A Critical Discussion about Existential Authenticity in
Existential journalism can be seen as rejection of the demands of conformism and conformist of personal
convictions that many journalists face. Ethically, existential journalism calls on journalists to live authentic
lives as private individuals as well as in their profession. This means to resist external pressure and to
choose to follow a path that can be defended by the individual journalist’s inner conscience.
Mass media are a defining feature of modern society.
Existentialism is a philosophical reaction towards the conditions of life in modern society.
Existentialist thinkers such as Soren Kierkegaard, Fredrich Nietzsche and Martin Heidegger all expressed
disapproval or ambivalence about the effects of mass media.
There is a dimension of media criticism in existential thought that reacts against mediated sensationalism,
shallowness, and idle talk.
Existentialism reveals anxieties about the consequences of leveling, alienation and anonymity resulting
from an increasingly artificial, superficial and media saturate milieu.
John C. Merrill has made a sincere effort to describe what an existential approach to journalism ethics
First urged media workers to reject “herd mentality” and to embrace freedom and responsibility.
According to Merrill, media people often work in environments that encroach on the journalistic freedom to
determine what is right and what is good to do in a given situation and what kind of self or journalistic unit to
The core of existential journalism is found in the imperative for journalists to live authentic lives as private
individuals as well as in their profession
Merrill place existential journalism firmly among the libertarians. The communitarian perspective represented among other, by Clifford G Christians suggests a focus on the
politics of the common good rather that the libertarian stress on individual freedom.
Look closer into authenticity as a concept and its possible usefulness as ethical guide for contemporary
Two works representing two different viewpoints will be analyzed: Theodore Adorno’s: The Jargon of
Authenticity and Charles Taylor’s: The Ethics of Authenticity.
Personal commitment and responsibility for one’s actions is a central theme in existentialism.
Authenticity is today more and more regarded as a social construction a matter of appearance that is
consistently in need of negotiation between the individual who have claims to authenticity and the
In contemporary liquid media work, striving for authenticity has more to do with distinguishing ones work
from others, of accentuating as trademark than ethical commitment of true individuals.
Journalism itself is challenged by numerous variants of information sharing online, demands more than ever
an ethically motivated personal commitment to the task of serving the public with good and trustworthy
information from reliable sources.
Authenticity in Existential Philosophy:
Authenticity is a nebulous word with a wide range of meanings.
In existentialism, authenticity is often presented as an antidote to the sense of meaninglessness and the
lurking danger of fatalism that is often so painfully present in the experience of a society bereft of divine
sanction and dissatisfied with the false comforts of modern life.
Soren Kerkegaard, Fredrich Nietzche , Martin Heidegger, Karl Jaspers and Jean Paul Satre all have
elaborate on the concept of authenticity as a central ingredient in their philosophies.
They have all dealt with the authenticity of the self and the ideal of staying of becoming true to the originality
of ones own being in spite of societal or cultural obstacles. For Soren Kierkgaard, authenticity is an aim for the single individual, an ideal of becoming true to oneself by
facing reality in al its joy and horror.
The press and the public were symptoms of what Kierkegaard referred to as leveling, the process whereby
individual significance is lost in the emerging mass culture of modern society. He characterized his age as
one of shallow curiosity and detached reflection where meaningful differences had lost their significance
and where there was no great revelation and no deep secret, but superficiality all the more.
John Stuart Mill and Alexis de Tocqueville mainly saw the problem of the public sphere and the press in the
19th century as a danger of a tyranny of the irrational and uneducated masses.
In this respect, the public constituted a false sense of unity among its members.
Not until the single individual has acquired himself an ethical stance in face of the whole world can there be
anything like genuinely uniting because such a union of the individually weak become just about as
uncomely and corrupt as child marriages.
The press offered escaped from personal experiences into someone else’s experiences, turning most
people into passive onlookers of life. For similar reasons, Kierkegaard was critical of the traditional and
routinized Christianity of the State Church, where he calls the essentially Christian.
In this way Kierkegaard saw both the media and the church as intervening agencies, blocking peoples way
to true experiences, authenticity and God.
Frecrich Nietzsche presented an atheist version of Kierkegaards religious construal of authenticity.
For Nietzsche, the authentic man, the ubermensch is someone who elevates himself in an attempt to
decide for oneself about good and evil without regard for the virtues.
Such men strive instinctly for a citadel (fortress) and privacy where he is free from the crowd , the many, the
Nietzsche’s emphasis on the subjects active role in the formation of an understanding of the world is in this
way meant to counter the effects of nihilism.
Nihilism: the rejection of all religious principles often in the belief that life is meaningless. Extreme
skepticism maintaining that nothing in the world has real exsistence.
Along similar lines, Martin Heidegger descrives existence “Dasein” as endowed with a potentiality for
authenticity that needs to be actively realized by each person because initially “Dasein” has lost itself in
inauthenticity This lostness is partly because of the individual has not yet taken it upon himself to define himself but rather
drifts along and is defined by circumstances; this is what Heidegger refers to as being in the world, in its
everydayness and its averageness”
This state of being can come to an end only if “Dasein” specifically brings itself back to itself from its
lostness in the ‘they’, if the individual starts making active choices about who to become.
Authenticity requires active, conscious, existential modification of the “they”
This responsibility for choosing comes with a certain amount of pain, anguish and a sense of abandonment.
For Heidegger and Sartre, who were atheists, the sense of being thrown into existence and abandoned is
related to the belief that no deity can be held accountable for throwing humanity into existence.
Since God does not exist, the individual alone must bear the full consequences of that assertion which
create anguish because it demands of him that he takes responsibility for his choices.
Christian existentialism (mainly represented by Kierkegaard and Jaspers, existence preceded essence
because of God, the creator, conceived of man before creating him. Therefore, there is something
universally human, a human nature that is common to all men.
In atheist existentialism, the existence of the human reality comes first , then man himself wills himself to
be: Man first exists he materializes in the world, encounters himself and only afterwards defines himself.
Have in common is their belief that existence preceded essence; or if you prefer that subjectivity must be
our point of departure.
Imposes a huge responsibility on the individual, because every choice one makes for oneself, one also
makes for all of mankind as a sort of categorical imperative.
The heart of authenticity is the injunction for the unique individual to take ethical responsibility for how one
decides to live life.
Authenticity in existential Journalism:
Existential journalism for Merrill is an orientation of being true to one’s self that is mainly manifested in an
attitude of freedom, commitment, rebellion and responsibility.
It can be seen as an expression of dissatisfaction with the demands of conformism and compromise with
personal conviction that many journalists face.
Merrill is highly critical of contemporary journalism. Existentialism for Merrill is a philosophy of revolt against
mass men, against all those who have lost their authentic selfhood in modern technological and group
oriented society. More often than not, the students who graduate from journalism schools and who are seeking employment
are gladly sacrificing individual authenticity to adapt nicely to the highly regimented, depersonalized
The result of this is journalistic content that reflects crude commercial media logic rather than ethical
consideration of committed and responsible journalists.
For journalists, the key to authenticity lies in not letting oneself be controlled or restricted by institutional “red
According to Merrill, individual freedom and courage to act is more valuable than collective adherence to
journalistic codes of conduct.
Satre’s notion of individual action as categorical imperative is invoked as an example of one such factor.
Nietzsche and Heidegger both refer to an inner voice of conscience.
For Christian existentialists, the golden rule, agape and concern for others will make sure that individual
freedom is not exercised at the expense of others.
Becoming authentic means becoming of a Nietzschean uberjournalist: finding the courage to be a person
who acts ethically but on grounds that lie beyond conventional moral codes.
Adorno and Taylor: two critics of Authenticity:
A Quasireligious Jargon:
Modern rationality and reason undermines the worth of our highest values because it makes suspect the
ethical ideals we employ to orient ourselves through the world making their pursuance increasingly irrational
and without appeal.
However, for Adorno, the starting point is a critical look at the language used to describe authenticity.
One of Adorno’s main concerns is the tendency to slide back into a religious way of thinking, of using
metaphysical language that derives from a theological worldview.
Because the content of the religious worldview is no longer present in a disenchanted world, the language it
borrows becomes useless.
What the jargon amounts to is a pretend religiosity, which according to Adorno is dangerous: Dead cells of
religiosity in the midst of the secular, however become poisonous. In conclusion, what Adorno argues is that while authenticity is promoted by existentialists as a cure for the
lack of meaning and motivation for ethical behavior in modern society it is really a waste product of the
modern that it attacks and therefore counterproductive in terms of bringing about any change.
This is according to Adorno, is where culture become ideology, because wile it tries to offer consolation and
hope it really conceals the material conditions on which everything human is constructed.
Ethics of Authenticity in the culture of Narcissism:
Charles Taylor points out that that ideal of authenticity is one of the most significant in modern Western
Popularized, simplified and narcissistic way of interpreting this originally moral ideal has led to negative
consequence in our culture such as causing many people to lose sigh of concerns that transcend them and
the non moral desire to simply to what one wants without interference.
Taylor identifies three “malaises” of modern society that are related to this slide in the culture of authenticity:
individualism, instrumental reason and loss of freedom.
Loss of a sense of a higher purpose, something worth dying for its flipside involves narcissism an abnormal
and regrettable self absorption which flattens and narrows peoples lives and reduces their interest in others
and in society.
When society is no longer seen as divinely sanctioned, people around us lose the significance accrued to
their place in the chain of being.
Together, individualism and instrumental reason affect political life. A society that is structured around
instrumental reason imposed a great loss of freedom on the individual. The citizen is left alone in the face
of the vast bureaucratic state and feels correctly powerless.
Causes antagonism of the self absorbed individual who prefers t stay at home and enjoy the satisfactions of
private life rather than actively participating in the vigorous political culture.
The ethics of authenticity in this sense rests on respect for subjective choices about who to become and
how to achieve it.