Notes on Buddhist Journalism—10-Comparing BJ news paradigm with alternative journalism forms that challenged the mainstream
Posted on July 24th, 2011

By Shelton A. Gunaratne © 2011 Professor of mass communications emeritus at Minnesota State University Moorhead

 The five elements in the mainstream/ Western news paradigm began to take shape in 19th century America. Penny papers emerged as a cheap source with coverage of crime, tragedy, adventure and gossip. The inverted pyramid structure of writing news became formalized after the Civil War (1861-1865). Partisan journalism gradually turned into more objective and balanced reporting as newspaper publishing became another business activity aimed at maximizing profits. The larger the circulation of a newspaper, the more advertising it attracted.

Thus, the event-centered news values that the non-West inherited from American journalism (through the grace of global wire services like the Associated Press) had very little to do with Oriental socio-cultural experience. Wire services had to produce nonpartisan news copy to sell their product to partisan media outlets, which too became increasingly apolitical. By the end of the 19th century, American journalism practice included the news interview as another component of the news paradigm. Interviewing helped to personalize the story and give it a faĮՠդade of timeliness.

The West passed on its news paradigm to the East as a neutral formula for inculcating a news sense among the practitioners in the periphery. These practitioners whose minds were already injected with colonialitis, failed to detect the insidious ideological package hidden within this Trojan horse (called the news paradigm).

Yellow and Muckraking

At the end of the 19th century, two kinds of journalism pejoratively labeled yellow journalism and muckraking journalism emerged on the American scene.

Yellow journalism was the practice of sensationalizing news out of proportion to its importance as a gimmick to increase newspaper sales. It originated with the battle for circulation of their New York newspapers between Hearst and Pulitzer prior to and during the Spanish American War (1895-1898). Murdoch’s news empire made heavy use of yellow journalism, the history of which goes back to the penny press. Buddhist-oriented Journalism (BJ) has no place for this practice.

Muckraking journalism emerged around 1903 as a hallmark of the Progressive Era with a group of reform-minded magazine journalists taking up cudgels on a range of issues including the monopoly of Standard Oil; cattle processing and meat packing; patent medicines; child labor; and wages, labor and working conditions in industry and agriculture. Muckrakers (so labeled by President Theodore Roosevelt in a 1906 speech) were among the pioneers of investigative reporting, which became a staple of the elite newspapers well into the early 21st century. From the BJ perspective, muckraking is acceptable because it helps to reduce dukkha (suffering/ unsatisfactoriness). However, the BJ practitioner will not use the aggressive techniques of his Western counterpart; rather, he will use the wu wei (action through nonaction) approach within the sila (ethical conduct) dimension of the Noble Eightfold Path (NEP).

Libertarian journalism

Libertarian journalism practiced in America, backed by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution that guaranteed freedom of the press, had become very unpopular by the time of President Franklin Roosevelt’s death (1945) because of suspicions about the motivations and objectives of the press. Wikipedia asserts: “The press had mushroomed into an unwieldy and powerful entity, and criticism of the Fourth Estate was widespread. Critics contended that the media had monopolistic tendencies, that corporate owners were not concerned with the rights or interests of those unlike themselves, and that commercialization produced a debased culture as well as dangerously selfish politics.”

Social responsibility journalism

The Commissions on Freedom of the Press (headed by Robert Hutchins), after deliberating four years, issued its report in 1947. It concluded that inasmuch as the press played an important role in the development and stability of modern society, it was imperative to impose on mass media a commitment of social responsibility. Elaborating on its new social responsibility theory, the commission asserted that the press had a moral obligation to aim at producing the greatest good when making journalistic decisions concerning the overall needs of society. Ergo, the social-responsibility theory proposed that the media take it upon themselves to elevate society’s standards, providing citizens with the information they needed to govern themselves. If they failed do so, the public would demand that the government regulate the media. The BJ goal of reducing dukkha (suffering/ unsatisfactoriness) is consistent with the goal of social responsibility journalism. BJ, however, is unique because it doesn’t depend on the Western news paradigm to determine what is news.

Broadcast journalism

Although the advent of broadcast journalism in the first half of the 20th century forced print journalism to compete more vigorously for the advertising dollar, it did not make any fundamental changes in the news paradigm itself.  Dissatisfaction (dukkha) with the evolving news paradigm continued on to the second half of the 20th century, giving rise to the co-arising of several mutually interconnected, interdependent and interactive genres of journalism: peace, advocacy, development, civic/public, etc. Social unrest over the 19-year Vietnam War (1955-1975) and the political corruption of the Nixon Administration (1969-1974) provided a fertile ground for journalists to try out new approaches.

Other journalisms

 Peace Journalism (also called conflict solution journalism, conflict sensitive journalism, constructive conflict coverage, and reporting the world) was a concept that Norwegian sociologist Johan Galtung (1930″”‚present) developed based on research adducing evidence that all too often news about conflict had a value bias toward violence. (It also included practical methods for correcting this bias by producing journalism in both the mainstream and alternative media; and working with journalists, media professionals, audiences and organizations in conflict.) Peace journalism arose in the late-“ƒ”¹…”60s as a reaction to the pro-American propaganda on the Vietnam War that the Western media carried out under the pretext of objective and truthful reporting. Galtung has transcended Western cosmology to incorporate Buddhist/Oriental cosmology in his conflict-resolution brand of journalism, which The (London) Independent has adopted as a journalistic practice.


Mainstream Journalism

(Western news paradigm)

Peace Journalism

(Similar to Buddhist Journalism)

  1. 1.      Violence/War-oriented

      Focus on conflict arena

       Two parties, one goal (win), war

       General zero-sum orientation


        Finite time, finite space

        Causes and effects in arena

        Who threw the first stone?

        Poor in context


       Focus on visible effects of violence


        Making wars opaque/secret


       Reactive: waiting for violence before  


  1. 1.      Conflict-oriented

       Explore conflict formation

x parties, y goals, z issues

General “win-win” orientation


Infinite time, infinite space

Causes and outcomes anywhere

Also in history/culture

Rich in context


Focus also on invisible effects of violence


Making wars transparent


Proactive: reporting also before violence

  1. 2.      Propaganda-oriented

Expose “their” untruths

Help “our” cover-ups/lies

  1. 2.      Truth-oriented

Expose all untruths

Uncover all cover-ups

  1. 3.      Elite-oriented

Focus on “their” violence, “our” suffering

Name their evil-doer

Focus on elite peace-makers and mouth-piece

Focus on able-boded elite males

  1. 3.      People-oriented

Focus on all violence and suffering

Identify all evil-doers

Focus on people peace-makers

Give voice to voiceless””‚women, aged, kids

  1. 4.      Victory-oriented

Peace = victory + ceasefire

Conceal peace initiative before victory is at hand

Focus on treaty, institution controlled society

Leaving for another war, return if the old flares up

  1. 4.      Solution-oriented

Peace = non-violence + creativity

Highlights peace initiatives, also to prevent more war

Focus on structure, culture, the peaceful society

Aftermath: resolution, reconstruction, reconciliation

Source: (adapted from) Wikipedia  

 Advocacy journalism was a genre of journalism that intentionally and transparently adopted a biased viewpoint, usually for some social or political purpose. Because advocacy was based on facts, it disclaimed the accusation of being propaganda. (Note that advocacy bias is distinct from media bias; and its failures of objectivity are distinct from those of media outlets, which present themselves as objective or neutral.) Outstanding writers of advocacy journalism were Gloria Steinem, Pete Hamill and Nicholas Von Hoffman. BJ is similar to advocacy because it has a Buddhist bias in determining what’s news, but it is not propaganda because it accepts the Four Noble Truths as the reality of the universe.  

Development journalism also arose in the “ƒ”¹…”60s when the mainstream news paradigm and the wire services came under severe criticism for paying scant attention to the needs of developing countries. This genre entailed the use of journalism to promote social development. It refers to the practice of systematically applying the processes, strategies, and principles of communication to bring about positive social change. Inter Press Service (IPS), Gemini and Non-Aligned News Agencies Pool (NANAP) were some examples of agencies that attempted to produce and distribute this type of news as a social good. The government-controlled media in many developing countries tried it out. The Philippines and India were outstanding examples. Many universities in South Asia and Southeast Asia offer development journalism as a subject specialization.

Civic journalism  (also known as public journalism) was almost a replica of development journalism applicable to developed Western countries. A phenomenon of the late “ƒ”¹…”80s, its philosophy and practice attempted to abandon the notion that journalists and their audiences were spectators in political and social processes. The civic journalism movement sought to treat readers and community members as participants. This genre has abandoned objectivity and the inverted pyramid structure as vital elements of the news paradigm. It paved the way for the surprising emergence of social media, such as Lankaweb on the World Wide Web, which unleashed a profusion of citizen journalism. In Buddhist parlance, any namarupa (no self) can create its own brand of journalism and distribute it to a selected audience through one or many of the multitudes of social media.

Then, why another?

One may well question the need for another genre of journalism, which I have labeled BJ, when a plethora of others have already emerged in the last half-century alone. The next installment will provide my response.

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