Sunday, August 30, 2009

Understanding What We Are Trying to Achieve

As Kovach and Rosenstiel say in the beginning of chapter four, memory,perspective, and politics tend to blur people’s recollection of history. Journalism (true journalism at its best anyway) tries to counteract this basic human pitfall by recording the facts as best can be done – free of hidden agendas or geography or biases. This whole concept of “objectivity.”

While of course every journalist is human and therefore comes to the table with a certain set of beliefs, I think that the concept each journalist should strive for is that of what Dan Gillmore proposed – that it’s not so much about being a superhuman journalist who is “objective” but instead striving to incorporate thoroughness, accuracy, fairness, and transparency into their work.

When taught the “elements” of journalism in the classroom we have had concepts like newsworthiness, relevance, promixity, etc. repeatedly pounded into our brains, but there is more to it than just these taught seven. Elements such as honesty and transparency. Accuracy and showing both sides of an argument. To me that’s what journalism is, or at least, SHOULD be: Presenting the stone cold facts that let the reader make an informed decision for themselves. (While there is still room for creativity and we cannot let ourselves become so involved with “cool-looking” graphics and multimedia we let ourselves stray from the basic duty at hand – the story itself.

As Boorstin says, the news-making profession in America has attained a “new dignity as well as a menacing power.” I think that there goes unrecognized just how powerful a journalist really is – they get the press passes to go behind the scenes, they are the ones who sit face to face with world leaders, and their words are what can either irritate or inspire an uncountable number of readers that may or may not lead to change.

The ‘menacing power’ he speaks of is a call for truth and reliability- or as Elements of Journalism states, the “essence of the discipline of verification.” This sort of ability for the public to now be the “watchdog of the watchdog” is greater today than ever before with the Internet readily available at anybody’s fingertips with innumerable resources and means of checking a journalist’s work.

Boorstin best explains how tangled these roles can become when sources, even if inadvertently, are allowed to compose the story themselves. This danger is often with politicians trying to promote their image or agenda through wording or being more in control of an interview than the person giving it. How can the journalist possibly present an unbiased product when they themselves are, whether unknowingly or not, being used only as a medium to spread the subject’s message? “The citizen can hardly be expected to assess the reality when the participants themselves are so often unsure who is doing the deed and who is making the report of it. Who is the history and who is the historian,” said Boorstin.

The quest to dig deeper-not take anything at face value but to verify, verify, verify is the premise of what has led to the greatest journalistic work. Consider if reporters just said, “Oh, OK,” when originally told nothing was going on about events such as Watergate or Enron. In return for reporters doing their verifying, their stories must be equally verifiable to the public. This is the only way to build credibility and trust in a press that has seen more than its fair share of scandal and inaccuracy.

Schudson and Tifft talk about the new role of journalism after ethical lapses in reporting that have led to a public still somewhat critical and distrusting. They say that while the old role of arbiter of information has diminished, the need to alert citizens to the misleading, false, and propagandistic has never been greater. I agree with most of the class that there will be room for journalism in the future because despite how many bloggers are out there, the majority of these bloggers are getting the information that they either rant or rave about from professional journalism sources. The blogger is not at the news conference or sitting down with a member of the Senate. Journalists still have resources and rights that no blogger ever will.

While I think we would all, especially as journalism students, sit around a classroom and agree on the crucial elements of accuracy and impartiality and on and on, real-world application is what will be the test. Will we have the spine to stand up to a politician that is trying to spin our interview his or her own way? Will we not allow ourselves to give in to “lazy journalism” and actually go the extra mile to not only verify our stories but protect our professional credibility from faulty facts? It’s not that journalists who have fabricated stories don’t know better…I think that no matter how much we discuss the “elements” and the purpose of journalism, we will always agree on it and authors of the most inaccurate stories would probably agree with us as well. Knowing deep down what it is and should be is not the hard part. The application of those beliefs is.

1 comment:

  1. First, I would like to say that your post was great. But I would like to pick out one point that I slightly disagree on, which has to deal with those dreaded bloggers. I think that they get too much attention in the will-the-real-journalist-please-stand-up debate. Journalists should not feel intimidated by bloggers. It's kind of like Miss Universe should not be intimidated by me (although I would like to think I would give her a run for her money). I agree with the assertion in Kovach and Rosentiel's book that the purpose of journalism is to provide citizens with accurate and fair information that they need to be self-governing. It is the journalists who are not providing this that other journalists should be intimidated by because these pseudo journalists are only serving citizens with entertainment fluff dressed up as news to drive up ratings.