Journalism as a Public Forum

26 Mar

“Journalism must provide a forum for public criticism and compromise”

Alright, so this has actually become one of my very favorite topics we’ve covered so far. This class has made me a crusader for journalism, and this topic kind of helps me do that. It’s interesting how it ties in with what we’ve talked about already. But I kind of what to start out by talking a little bit about truth and how it is essential to setting up a public forum as journalists.

Basically, we have to be guardians and protectors of truth, because in today’s society, journalists seem to be the only ones who truly value the truth. That’s not to say everyone else in the media is dishonest, it’s just that sometimes, the truth is hard to hear, or not as spectacular as a talk-show host’s outrageous opinion. But since we’re in the business of news, and not entertainment, our first obligation is to give the truth. If we are to provide a public forum for criticism and compromise, we had better make sure that we have all our facts straight.

I found this clip on Youtube, and while, yes, it is silly, and albeit, a bit disturbing, I think it illustrates some important points. It’s from the Guardian (an English online newspaper), and it’s using the story of the Three Little Pigs to show how they provide a public forum.

Something that’s changed in the last few years (something that this video illustrated beautifully)  is the way the public forum works. There are far more outlets now for the public to voice their opinions, and get involved in the forum. In the video, after the three little pigs were prosecuted, a lot of people were upset, and they voiced those opinions, and apparently, in this world, their outcry sparked reform in the government. That’s our job, when it all boils down to it. We provide the information that people need to be self-governing. We give them the truth, and allow them to act on it. As journalists, we’re not supposed to go lobbying the government, because that is the job of the people we serve. We provide the forum, and they discuss and make changes. 

I don’t know how many of you have discovered Nieman Reports, but it’s a pretty awesome website. They get into some deep discussions on journalism. Anyway, this article I found talks about the importance of creating a public forum, and even references our book a few times.

The article talks about how there are so many voices competing for the attention of viewers, and all of them with different viewpoint and worldviews, not all of them entirely verified or factual. I love this quote from the article. It says

“That’s where today’s mission for journalists comes in. With the expanded audience and jacked-up volume comes an added responsibility to keep the conversation focused on the fact track, to nurture the best of what this new superforum can offer and prevent the worst from infecting it.”

Really what it comes down to for me, is focusing on journalistic principles. Truth, verification, objectivity, loyalty to the public, independence from faction, ethics, and acting as a watchdog are some that’s we’ve focused on in class so far. I also thought it was really interesting when the group presenting brought up crossfire and their tendency to polarize issues for the sake of entertainment. Once again, I will reiterate this fact: we are not entertainers. We are journalists. We need to remember what it means to gather news, not just present it, and use our presence in the media to find compromise and spark discussion

I’ll end with this clip from the PBS show Frontline. It’s from the episode called “News War” and I think it applies to pretty much every topic we’ve discussed thus far, but especially to the cause of acting as a public forum. It talks about how the greatest tragedy in American journalism that we’ve compromised our values and started judging the news on whether or not it’s entertaining rather than how well it served the public interest. I would suggest starting at just over the two minute mark as the first part is a little irrelevant, but it really is a good watch.

When we use the news solely as an outlet to entertain our audience, we are failing as journalists. We’re supposed to get people talking, and get them involved in the democratic process, and in their communities. We use up precious airtime and paper space when we talk about Kim Kardashian–space that could be used to inform and help the public.

One last quote from the Nieman article that I love so much:

Therein lies the real message: The price for letting journalism get sidetracked by the boisterous, facts-are-optional, anything-goes approach is not just the sacrifice of truth and civility, important as they are. It’s the loss of our audience and, with it, a piece of democracy. It’s a price we cannot afford.


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