From high-school teachers to new-media whiz kids, conservative pundits to liberal wonks, African poets to Google executives, CJR asked dozens of people to answer the question, What is journalism for?, preferably in 100 words or less. You can add your own response in the comments section, and we will round up the best of these and post them in the coming weeks.
Journalism is meant to give people a true sense of their world, so they can participate and have a voice in how their world is structured. Relentless horse-race coverage, obsessive reporting on meaningless polls, prioritizing balance over the truth, and a narrow focus only on what’s not working does not give the public a real sense of what’s going on. Journalism should also shine a light on what is working, so people can act on their innate desire to help their neighbor and make their communities, and their world, a better place.
Arianna Huffington is the chair, president, and editor in chief of Huffington Post Media Group.
In today’s digital age, plenty of people and organizations have the means to share what they know. Journalism happens when someone tells a compelling true story. Period. The practice need not be limited to an elite group of professionals called “journalists,” but those who attempt it must tell great stories and share knowledge. A tongue-in-cheek essay, an infographic that makes a complicated topic instantly accessible, or an in-depth piece of reporting that teaches, inspires, or reveals—all of these things make people smarter and better able to navigate the world. That, in turn, makes societies better.
Alexander Jutkowitz is managing partner of Group SJR and a member of CJR’s Board of Overseers.
As a young reporter in 1987, one of my first big assignments was to cover the aftermath of the eviction of artisanal miners in southern Ecuador. Along with a two-man camera crew, I drove four hours and linked up with two guides and several mules. Police were patrolling the main road into the mining community, so the mules were the only way up the hill. After three hours of slow climbing, we arrived at a place called La Playa, where at least 200 miners and their families had been violently evicted the day before to clear land that the government had leased to La Tigrera, a mining company.
There were fresh traces of blood on the ground and bullet holes on the main house’s walls. We could hear children crying, while just a few women stood around, waiting. They had no guns; their only defense was to keep their urine to protect themselves against tear gas if the police returned.
Officially, there were only two men killed, about 50 wounded, and several missing. The police claimed the miners received them with dynamite, but no officers were reported dead. Even now, more than 25 years later, what actually happened is not clear. It has been under investigation by a government truth commission, created in 2007 to investigate human-rights violations allegedly committed during the term of President León Febres-Cordero.
That day I shared the rage, indignation, and grief of those women. At 23, I understood that I had to reveal stories of injustice lest those stories disappear into oblivion and indifference.
Since then I have written many stories, about everything from violent events to white-collar crime. Each one has been a great responsibility and a big challenge. It is not only about being accurate and pursuing the truth; it also is about using words with a purpose. Sometimes that purpose is to give people better information so they can make better choices, sometimes it is to provoke a change in a specific situation, or to defend fundamental liberties, or to stand up for someone or something. Sometimes it is also a matter of not following the agenda set by the powerful, but of telling the stories of people affected by that agenda.
And during these 25 years, I have been threatened in different ways; nothing too grave compared to places where journalists are jailed or killed for doing their jobs. But now, for the first time, I feel that I won’t be able to fulfill my journalistic pledge. A new media law has gone into effect in Ecuador. Under this law I wouldn’t be able to print the story about the miners. The law censors me. Under its terms, stories of crime and corruption will not be reported. Now I have to learn a new meaning of journalism, one that serves the government but not the citizens. Shall I call that journalism?
Monica Almeida is an editor at El Universo, a daily newspaper in