musings of a mediabot

Posts Tagged ‘compass

I received the following response (via email) to my last post:

I worry that the media is stuck right now between trying to be both all-knowing professional gatekeepers as well as just folks. They are so strongly influenced by citizen journalism, they may lose their internal compasses. What do you think about that? What about the role of popularity, ratings, money, and feedback in shaping how the modern journalist works?

This introduces the inevitable twist in journalism that results from the multi-directional feeding of information into various, and sometimes overlapping, digital forums. Has the internal compass shifted direction for the traditional journalist? If we take a look at the formal Code of Ethics for journalists, we can see where exactly the rules have been challenged. Journalists, no matter which platform they choose to publish their story, want to be heard, and not only that, but heard through a bold, capital headline. In the print media industry, one or two people choose which stories appear on the front page. In the digital media industry, anyone can force a story as the headline. It depends on how loud of voice the contributor has and how large of a buzz he or she can create.

I fear it is too tempting for the modern journalist to maintain an honest internal compass. By honest I mean to report facts that are newsworthy and have the potential to better the lives of its readers. It is the “bettering” people’s lives with which the modern journalist seems to have more difficulty handling. There are countless blogs, and more created each day; there are competing online news sources, both mainstream and below the radar; and then, there are the historical challenges to face. Which story gets read? Which story gets the most web traffic? Which stirs discussion? Which makes money for the parent company? But the modern journalist need not get tangled in these superficial reasons for informing the public.

The Society of Professional Journalists’ Code of Ethics is necessary, but what about the Why? Why do we need journalists?  Interestingly enough, the New York Times devotes only one line to address this question (see section A1 of The New York Times Company Policy on Ethics in Journalism). 

We need them because we need to be held accountable for what we do, how we treat each other, how our decisions impact others. We need journalists because we need to see ourselves objectively, in black and white, and be held up to scrutiny if our actions do harm to others. We need journalists because we need others to hear and read about how generous and caring we can be to our neighbors, both local and overseas. We need journalists because we need to continue to be inspired and reminded that we are all humans, and we are all connected – in one way or another.