What Is The Purpose Of Journalism?
I rarely have a favorable view of journalism. I find that many people take the opportunity they have (read microphone) and use it to push their agenda. That’s all well and good. I think that there are some things that need the assistance of mass media. However, it’s offensive when something is being presented as a fact, when it is clearly just another opinion.
“Well who are you? Are you even a journalist?” Yes, actually, I am a journalist. Did I go to school for journalism? No. I did not. Although, I would like to eventually attend some formal training to see what they actually teach journalist students. I get paid for the reporting that I do, therefore-by definition of the word-I am a professional journalist. Whether you think what I have to say has any merit or not is a different matter.
In the spirit of answering the question of whether or not I am worth listening to, I bring you this post. Since I am not a “classically trained” journalist, I have to find definitions myself. So, I had a basic question, “What is journalism?” Well, asking that question will only get you a literal definition.
What we are after is the purpose of journalism? Why is it necessary, and what are its guiding principles. So, I went looking for the “ethics” of journalism. What I found led me to this:
“The duty of the journalist is the same as that of the historian — to seek out the truth, above all things, and to present to his readers the truth as he can attain it.”-John Thaddeus Delane
While there is no “set standard” for journalism, there are four key things that most journalists, and readers, will agree need to be at the forefront of journalism. They are (as taken from ethicaljournalismnetwork.org):
- Accuracy and fact-based communications Journalists cannot always guarantee ‘truth’, but getting the facts right is the cardinal principle of journalism. Journalists should always strive for accuracy, give all the relevant facts and ensure that they have been checked.
- Independence Journalists must be independent voices; they should not act, formally or informally, on behalf of special interests whether political, corporate or cultural. They should declare to their editors – or directly to the audience – any relevant information about political affiliations, financial arrangements or other personal connections that might constitute a conflict of interest.
- Fairness and Impartiality Most stories have at least two sides. While there is no obligation to present every side in every piece, the stories produced by journalists should strive for balance and provide context. Objectivity is not always possible, and may not always be desirable (in the face, for example, of clear and undeniable brutality or inhumanity), but impartial reporting builds trust and confidence.
- Humanity Journalists should do no harm. They should show sensitivity and care in their work recognising that what they publish or broadcast may be hurtful. It is not possible to report freely and in the public interest without occasionally causing hurt and offence, but journalists should always be aware of the impact of words and images on the lives of others. This is particularly important when reporting on minorities, children, the victims of violence, and vulnerable people.
- Accountability and Transparency A key principle of responsible journalism is the ability to be accountable. Journalists should always be open and transparent in their work except in the most extraordinary of circumstances. When they make mistakes they must correct them and expressions of regret must be sincere. They listen to their audience and provide remedies to those dealt with unfairly.
Many journalists will take the second two points–impartiality and humanity–and will use those as the justification for amplifying their opinions and social causes. For example, if objectivity is not always desirable (a point with which I disagree) then you should endeavor to work to create a narrative, not simply report on the world.
Secondly, many journalists view the need to “do no harm” (a sentiment that is meant to ensure that you consider the impact of your reporting) as a responsibility to help others. This is seen in instances where you see reporting that claims that a video game is fat shaming people by depicting an antagonist as fat. While journalism can help people, and sometimes should, that should not (with very rare exceptions) take precedence over objectivity. At least, in my opinion.
As far as my blog and I are concerned, objectivity is of the utmost importance. It does neither me, nor you, nor future generations any good for me to do anything other than tell the truth. Sometimes the truth is ugly. Sometimes it can be career ending. Sometimes it can get you killed. None of that matters, as long as the truth is told.
Most journalists endeavor to tell the truth– although in their minds, the truth is relative. Their articles aren’t usually “wrong” but they are giving you much more than just the news. They (or their editors) will go out of their way to remind you that Activision laid off 800 people in 2019, for example, when they talk about the company reaching new trading highs. They will do this in the same breath as mentioning that the company is hiring 2,000 people. They may even imply that the lay offs were unfair.
I see my position as merely that of presenting you with the facts. I will certainly provide you with the means to do your own research, but I won’t tell you what you should think.
I may be arrogant, but I am not arrogant enough to believe that my opinion supersedes the truth and I will do everything that I can to always tell the truth.
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