What is a young journalist’s responsibility in the increasingly corporatized world of media conglomeration, info-tainment and opinion journalism that passes as news reporting?
How can journalists engage in meaningful work & remain independent from faction? What qualities should such a journalist bring to the job? Why does this matter?
In a world of instant updates and media conglomeration, journalists have more responsibility than ever. The “primary purpose of journalism is to provide citizens with the information they need to be free and self-governing” (Kovach & Rosenstiel, 12). In modern society, citizens are being power washed with information from all sides. Brooke Gladstone, in her Influincing Machine, views media as a delusional set of mirrors that aren’t well calibrated, fogged, and cracked. “The media landscape is so cluttered with mirrors facing mirrors that we can’t tell where an image begins or ends” (Gladstone, xxi). The Internet is a wonderful source of infinite knowledge, but also an overwhelmingly confusing and contradictory place with a danger for overload. When citizens receive information from Facebook statuses, Twitter updates, Instagram, and sites they stumble upon, they risk the danger of information overload and confusion. Now, more than ever, young journalists hold responsibility for steering citizens away from unverified and faction-based information. Young journalists must now provide resource for the tainted citizens- information the citizens can trust and rely on. The major responsibilities of a journalist in the increasingly corporatized world of media conglomeration, infotainment, and opinion journalism that passes as news reporting are responsibility to the truth, loyalty to citizens, discipline of verification, and independence from faction.
According to Bill Kovach and Tom Rosenstiel in The Elements of Journalism, the first and most confusing principle for journalists is an obligation to the truth. While truth is unanimously recognized as a key principle of journalism, its definition can sometimes get lost. Truth is not an absolute, but a goal and something that “grows like a stalactite in a cave, drop by drop, over time” (Kovach & Rosenstiel, 44). In the Information Age and a corporatized world of media conglomeration, there is a large growth in available news and almost infinite information. Ironically, finding truth in the Information Age takes more work than the ages without such technologies precisely because there is so much information available. The overload of information becomes increasingly challenging to sift through and “knowledge becomes more difficult to acquire, not easier” (Kovach & Rosenstiel, 48). Citizens looking for truth browse the abundant array of often-contradictory information on the web and must reach their own conclusions. Reading about an issue can be taxing with bloggers and tweeters and Facebook users writing heated opinions. The responsibility of the young journalist is to “give citizens identifiable sources and verify the information, highlighting what is important to know and filtering out what is not” (Kovach & Rosenstiel, 49). Gladstone notes “we expect cops to be honest and firefighters to be brave” but with journalists, “we expect it. And yet we don’t expect it” (Gladstone, 45). Citizens want the truth, but are skeptical of anything put in front of them. Journalists need to uphold the expectation of truth. With any Average Joe able to give information as fact on the web for all to see, young journalists must give the truth. They have a responsibility to be an outlet of information that doesn’t need questioning. With plenty of untruths in cyberspace, citizens are increasingly skeptical of any and all information. Journalists have a responsibility to rebuild trust and they can do this through truth. If journalists only report the truth, citizens can trust at least one facet of information they are bombarded with in the Information Age. Journalists work for citizens and citizens need truth.
Journalists have employers, of course. But the loyalty of a journalist goes beyond a loyalty to his employer. Kovach and Rosenstiel argue, “journalism’s first loyalty is to citizens” (Kovach & Rosenstiel, 52). With the primary purpose of journalism as providing citizens with the information they need to be free and self-governing, Journalists must be loyal to the citizens they provide information to- at the stake of anything else. With most journalism available for free in this new media-based world, journalists have a very different relationship with their ‘consumers’ than other businesses. Instead of merely selling consumers content, journalists now have the responsibility of “building relationships with their audience based on their values, judgment, authority, courage, professionalism, and a commitment to the community” (Kovach & Rosenstiel, 64). The business relationship of journalism is simply different from traditional consumer marketing especially now that ‘journalism’ is everywhere on blogs, in Facebook statuses, and floating all around the web. In our corporatized world, the relationship between news and business needs examining. In order for news businesses to remain successful, Kovach and Rosenstiel outline five key characteristics: the owner/corporation must be committed to citizens first, hire business managers who also put citizens first, set and communicate clear standards, journalists have final say over news, and communicate clear standards to the public. Citizens are skeptical, as previously mentioned, and in order to reconnect people with the news, “journalism must reestablish the allegiance to citizens that the news industry has mistakenly helped to subvert” (Kovach & Rosenstiel, 75). Journalists must develop good rapport with their readers, building trust and an expectation of honesty. To uphold this expectation, journalists must maintain a discipline of verification.
In this increasingly corporatized world of media conglomeration, infotainment and opinion journalism that passes as news reporting, “verification is what separates journalism from entertainment, propaganda, fiction, or art” (Kovach & Rosenstiel, 79). With so much information available, journalists tend to spend more time looking for something novel than trying to independently verify news facts, leaving information unverified and likely untrue. Verification is the responsibility of modern journalists. With unverified information polluting the web and the minds and time of citizens, journalists must verify information to put them above the infotainment and opinion journalism. Journalists’ first commitment is to the truth and they must be loyal to citizens above all else, but in order to engage citizens in their pursuit of the truth, journalists must apply transparent and systematic methods of verification. Beyond verifying information, journalists must be able to refrain from revealing any opinion to discredit the truth they report.
Another key responsibility journalists hold in the modern world is an independence from those they cover. This independence is not to be mistaken with neutrality. Journalists often react to objectivity with hypersensitivity, ensuring that each side of every argument is balanced- even if balance is untrue. More important than balance is revealing any potential for conflict of interest. If there is a potential conflict, “it should be revealed, and if the revelation casts one in a clearly compromised position, don’t take the work” (Kovach & Rosenstiel, 122). According to Gladstone, there are two issues with independence from faction, one is “the challenge reporters face in confronting a raft of data, confirming it, distilling it, writing it, and yet forming no opinions about it” (Gladstone, 110). The other is “what to do with these opinions, however fluid, once they form” (Gladstone, 110). Gladstone goes on to explain there are rules for these things. Most journalists and reporters are not allowed to participate in or contribute to campaigns. New technology reflects and reinforces political culture with entire cable news channels and websites reporting through and sharing with obvious political prisms. Journalists have a responsibility to remain independent from faction- now more than ever. If journalists are truly objective, “objectivity works to repel the attacks of critics, like a kind of ethical pepper spray” (Gladstone, 102). Kovach and Rosenstiel point out “the question of independence is not limited to ideology” (Kovach & Rosenstiel, 131). It is important to remain independent from class, economic status, race, ethnicity, religion, and gender. There is a way to be a journalist “without either denying the influence of personal experience or being hostage to it” (Kovach & Rosenstiel, 134). This is the ultimate goal with independence from faction- the responsibility of today’s modern journalist. Having an opinion is not a bad thing. Reporting an opinion without truth is. To remain independent from faction, journalists must be independent in mind, spirit, and practice. This independence is invaluable and may save the journalism industry from being swallowed by modern technology and drown in opinions passing as news reporting.
Journalists today walk a fine line. They must be truthful, loyal, disciplined, and independent in a world filled with dishonesty, fleeting devotion, little self-control, and low levels of individuality. This is their responsibility. This is the way to save journalism and journalistic integrity from the directions it could go with modern technology. Keep journalism true, loyal to citizens first, disciplined to verification, and independent from faction- with these responsibilities upheld, there is hope for journalism’s future.