The Purpose of Journalism and the News Media

Just the other day, New York Times readers’ representative Arthur S. Brisbane wrote an op-ed that posed the question “Should the Times be a Truth Vigilante?

Thankfully, there’s been quite a bit of outrage that this question even needs to be asked. Sadly, it points to how far from useful our journalists and media institutions have become.

The biggest problem, of course, is that the sad state of things is nothing new.

There is No “Truth Vigilante”

The whole concept of a “Truth Vigilante” is ridiculous. The Truth isn’t something we should have to fight for, let alone as vigilantes. The whole concept of a vigilante is someone who works outside of the law and walks the line (sometimes stepping over it) of being a criminal in order to do what they think is right (however wrong they may be). You know, like Batman.

If the Truth is something that now has to be obtained through questionable or illegal means, than the system as a whole–and the laws that support it–have failed miserably and needs to be torn down.

When lying, corruption, and abuse of power are business as usual, it’s the system that’s become criminal, not those who seek to correct it. Truth isn’t the domain of a vigilante. Truth is the domain of the hero. And that’s what’s Journalists and We The People need to be: heroes.

The Purpose of Journalism

Journalism is there to help balance out the power. To inform and educate the people who elect the officials who run thing, who support the companies that keep the economy running, who cry out over misdeeds, real or imagined.

Journalism is the final check and balance against abuse of power–either on the side of those in charge or the masses. The journalist digs beyond the veil of public relations, politics, or hysteria and shows things for what they actually are.

Journalists, be they part of the old and established institutions like newspapers or young upstarts like bloggers, above all else, have to be honest. Honest about where their biases are, about where their access is limited, about why they do what they do.

What the Times (and other Journalism Outlets) Needs to Do

First and foremost, they need to get their heads out of the asses of their corporate and government interests that are pulling their strings. Then they need to revisit the ideas and ideals that made The Fourth Estate important and useful.

Look back to Watergate–where Woodward and Bernstein worked hard to get actual facts that exposed a tremendous amount of corruption and abuse of power. Look back to Edward R. Murrow and the work he did exposing Joseph McCarthy as the fear-mongering cretin that he was. Heck, look at just about anything that’s won a Pulitzer in Investigative Journalism and you’ll see a good example of what good reporting can do.

What the Times and every other place or person who wants to be considered a Journalist needs to do is follow the basic Principles of Journalism that the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism came up with back in 1997.

  1. Journalism’s first obligation is to the Truth.
  2. Its first loyalty is to citizens.
  3. Its essence is a discipline of verification.
  4. Its practitioners must maintain an independence from those they cover.
  5. It must serve as an independent monitor of power.
  6. It must provide a forum for public criticism and compromise.
  7. It must strive to make the significant interesting and relevant.
  8. It must keep the news comprehensive and proportional.
  9. Its practitioners must be allowed to exercise their personal conscience.

Those nine points should pretty much cover everything.

What We The People Need to Do

We need to accept that the news media, as it currently is, is horribly broken. They’ve lost their way, forgotten the importance of the job they do, of their obligation to the public.

We need to take those nine journalistic principles laid out above and apply them ourselves. We need to dig for the actual truth. We need to hold the feet of the politicians, big business owners, and, sadly, “professional journalists” to the flames until they start doing their jobs right again.

We need to remind them–and ourselves–that we’re the ones in charge here, We The People. And remember, for better or worse, we get exactly what we ask for.

 

About Kier

I've been on the web since about 1994. I have a background in a lot of things, including a five year stint as a journalist and over a decade of helping people get their message out to the world.

I write on a number of subjects--everything from relationships to personal development to politics and every day life. I hope you get something worthwhile out of it.

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