Real Journalism

What a difference the DNA makes

Today’s front-page piece in The New York Times about Congressman Charlie Rangel’s rent-control boondoggle—he has four rent-controlled apartments in Manhattan, including one that serves as a campaign office—is a clear illustration of what separates a real journalist from the thousands of pretenders who take great pleasure in denigrating the embattled MSM.

The very existence of the piece makes the case. We don’t typically find such stories on blogs, in part because most “citizen journalists” don’t have a professional journalist’s DNA. They too often pursue personal agendas, or partisan ones. There is evidence that this is changing—the citizen journalists at places like Off the Bus and the Chi-Town Daily News strive for journalism that is intellectually honest—and that is a welcome change indeed. Journalism—however flawed—is built upon the ideas that public servants should be held to a higher standard, that the powerful must be checked when they abuse that power, that the public has a right to information that the powerful would rather keep hidden. The Times is branded a “liberal” newspaper by the right, and it has endorsed Rangel, a liberal lawmaker, in the past. I wouldn’t be surprised if the reporter who wrote today’s exposé actually agrees with most of Rangel’s positions on key issues. But that’s the point. The bias, ultimately, is to the story, not the ideology.

Yes, there are real journalists beyond the mainstream media. But they are still extreme exceptions among all the “media revolutionaries.” This is a question of function, not of form—and as the business of journalism continues its uneven and unsettling transition, it is crucial that we find ways to ensure that journalism’s supreme function takes root in whatever forms evolve.

Has America ever needed a media watchdog more than now? Help us by joining CJR today.

Brent Cunningham is CJR’s managing editor.