What does a journalist do anymore?

Recently I’ve been thinking of the plight of the journalist. Presenting pertinent information for public consumption has always been a challenge, but it seems that doing so is becoming increasing more difficult.

Journalism is defined as: “The activity of gathering, assessing, creating, and presenting news and information. It is also the product of these activities.”¹

Now, journalism as a profession is somewhat a flawed system, because the presenting of that information is a basically capitalist institution. That is, only information that the public will listen to or watch will be worth sharing. However, information that is worth sharing may not be all that compelling.

Something I heard on a local NPR station a couple of months ago got me thinking: “Journalism is taking what’s important and making it interesting; not taking what’s interesting and making it important.”

Much of what we consume as news is in fact opinion. The old tenets of “who, what, where, when, why, and how” still apply, but now we look for to the analysis of those events from people the media tells us to trust. Because that’s where we, as consumers, consistenly turn to.

We find media that is conformed to our sensibilities and we stick with it. By absorbing what they’re throwing down, we’re merely reinforcing our biases, rather than being challenged by viewpoints outside our comfort zones. It’s creating insular bastions that are becoming more difficult to break free of.

Such opinion-based analysis opens up any journalist to criticism. It’s easy for an opinion of one to differ greatly from another. Thus, one may call the other wrong. “Fake news.” But journalism should remain at a distance from the opinion-mongers. How, then, can one present facts in an interesting way without resorting to biases and opinions?

There is a lack in our society which is, by virtue of the vacuum it creates, being filled with the bluster and hot air of those who think they know. Journalism is a profession designed to fill that void with fact. Not to be swayed by opinion and unfair considerations. No, the writer cannot dissuade himself from writing from the vantage point of his own biases, whether known or unknown. But the writer can also write from the perspective of someone who doesn’t know. It’s a journey. All writing should be a journey, with the author and the reader traveling together to learn the end truth.

Televised reports can be the same. The news anchor can introduce the story in her own way, from her own perspective. Then, assume the identity of the uninitiated. Travel with the viewer or the listener to identify some truths that were formerly hidden.

When consuming news, it’s our responsibility to determine what the truth of the situation is. What is the reasoning behind the news report. What side of the issue does the reporting body take. How are we supposed to determine what the truest situation really is. These are issues that are difficult to uncover. These are elements that one doesn’t consider when consuming information.

When we read a textbook, we don’t consider that the material is inherently biased. And thus, when we turn to news reports, similar in vein to how we were educated in school, it’s not always clear at the outset whether or not the reporting is biased as well.

We’re wrong to assume both – that reports of news events aren’t biased and that, also, textbooks aren’t biased. A recent fight over text books in Arkansas demonstrates that someone can look at a historical event and write a considerably differing account of it based on principle and perception.

When a journalist starts the writing process, most often they know the side want to present. And while truth is the underlying force that a reporter should be pushing towards, sometimes the story gets in the way of truth. But that isn’t the case across the board.

We’re fortunate that we have a wealth of qualified, credible sources to turn to when we’re seeking news. We’re also sometimes at the mercy of our own biases when we look to those news sources as well.

The only thing we can reasonably do is stay mindful of what we’re consuming, how we’re consuming it, who we’re consuming it from, and why the story is being presented in the way that it is.

  1. https://www.americanpressinstitute.org/journalism-essentials/what-is-journalism/

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