If we accept this as fact, it is likely to lead to the most effective journalism: deeply researched stories that come as close to the truth of an event as possible, delivered through a point of view. This is similar to the greatest works of literature or film, which have moved society to think of the world differently by finding creative ways to tell stories that certain audiences thought of as absolute in their facts or feelings, but came away from those stories feeling very differently about the same facts and feelings. The best we can hope to accomplish is to provoke an audience to thought, within their own world and at their own speed.
Chris Miller is a filmmaker. He was the executive producer of Undefeated, which won the Academy Award in 2012 for Best Documentary.
When my news organization applied for nonprofit status three years ago, we hewed closely to the suggested legalistic description of our purpose: “To promote the instruction of the public on subjects useful to the individual and beneficial to the community.” While newsrooms might sound silly bending their mission statements to conform to IRS rules, the agency would be wise to include “journalism” as a synonym for “education,” which qualifies for tax exemption. New nonprofit organizations doing investigative and accountability reporting should be encouraged to assume the community’s public-education role, as the shrinking commercial press strays into sensation and entertainment.
Michael Stoll is executive director of the San Francisco Public Press.
There have been times in our history when the purpose of journalism was to inform the citizenry of the urgent need to act before we were no longer a self-governing republic. The first example was in 1798, when President John Adams led Congress to pass the Alien and Sedition Acts. Awakened by the press to this turning of the First Amendment upside down, the new Americans denied Adams his second term as president.
But never before in our history than right now have the media been more needed to keep demonstrating to Americans how close we are to losing our most fundamental individual liberties to the Obama administration, which ceaselessly ignores the quintessential separation of powers. In the July 12 New York Times, Randy Barnett, a professor of constitutional law at Georgetown University, underscored Obama’s abuse of “the fundamental constitutional principle that the sovereign people must be the ultimate external judge of their servants’ conduct in office . . .
“Congress and the courts must put a stop to . . . these surveillance programs [and] danger . . . to the rights retained by the people.”
But how can this happen unless journalists persistently stay on this story and reveal the mounting un-American facts that demand that We the People seize accountability and restore the Constitution?
Nat Hentoff is a journalist, novelist, historian, music critic, and civil libertarian. He writes about jazz for The Wall Street Journal.
A journalist is first and foremost a questioner. We ask. That’s the most important thing we do. Before all the highbrow analysis, instant commentary, or in-depth reviews, there are simple, straightforward, spontaneous, sometimes unashamedly naïve, and often-mundane questions.
For a journalist, questions should come before answers, for it is only by asking that we dig deep into the shining surfaces of the well-manicured, ready-to-print statements we are so often presented.
Everyone wonders. Everyone suspects. Everyone believes there is more. But not everyone is in a position to ask. Journalists are. It is our job to give voice to the silent questions that breed in the minds of everyone. Who? What? When? Where? Why? How? These are magical words. They have been a journalist’s best tools for centuries, and they still are in the digital age.
Yasemin Congar was a founding deputy editor in chief of Taraf, a crusading Turkish newspaper. She now lives in Istanbul and writes for T24 and Al-Monitor.