But to what end? We say, idealistically, that journalism is a check against power and corruption. And this is true. But I wonder if that is what journalists are really “for,” or if that is just a positive consequence of something else. If journalism is only for these noble goals, then what is the purpose of journalism that doesn’t check power and expose corruption? The journalistic process still applies, but stories about new businesses, cultural events, even real estate can help a community talk to itself. Whether the community is defined by geography or interest, members of human tribes must communicate to have internal cohesion and to coexist with other tribes. “Social media” is the latest buzzword, but media has always been social. To be a journalist is to collect, filter, and distribute information that serves as social glue for a community.
David Cohn is founding editor of Circa, a startup that is creating “the first born-on-mobile news experience.”
Journalism is much more a thing that someone does, than journalist is a thing that someone is. All kinds of people can practice journalism, the way all kinds of people can write novels or build decks. And like those practices (novel writing, deck carpentry), there is a wide range of quality in how people practice journalism. The best journalism is truthful, compelling, furthers our understanding of our world, gives citizens the tools they need to self govern, challenges us to think more clearly and rigorously about the assumptions that guide our understanding of society, and functions to hold people in power to account.
Chris Hayes is editor at large of The Nation and host of Up w/Chris Hayes on MSNBC.
As a young person, I asked a lot of questions that were followed by my opinions about those questions. My mother nurtured both the asking and the opining by encouraging me to write everything down, which later evolved into my capturing stories with a camera. By the time I got to junior high school, journalism was an obvious fit. But as much as I tried to tell stories as they were, I saw everything through the eyes of an African-American female. Is that journalism?
Growing up in DC during the 1970s and ’80s, the news involving African Americans was rarely positive. Thus I’ve spent my life questioning the validity of bias. Journalism should be a vehicle that disseminates facts and information—and it is. But the reality of who decides what news gets released and how, is plagued with bias.
Very few of my students, most of whom are African American, watch the news. They simply don’t feel that it’s for them. Unfortunately, I can’t say I totally disagree; yet I encourage them to seek out some news daily to ensure they are informed about the world around them. Every year we analyze Soldiers Without Swords, Stanley Nelson’s documentary about the evolution and decline of the black press, which highlights the need for African-Americans to tell their own stories. This sparks strong opinions and connections among my students about the information reported in the news today. While they are very expressive in their poetry, they feel disconnected from journalism.
So what is journalism for? A better question may be who is journalism for?
DC’s public schools are nearly devoid of journalism courses, despite research that shows students who take journalism in high school become better writers and critical thinkers. It was the first course cut from the curriculum at my school in 2009-10. McKinley Tech, it should be noted, was a nationally recognized blue-ribbon school in 2012. Journalism is woven into the mass-media courses that I’ve taught for the past nine years, but it is being squeezed out because the administration considers the content art rather than a necessary technology.
So I continue to ask: Do we want African Americans to be viable voices in our society? Journalism should be about delivering current and factual information for and about the diverse communities it serves, without a bias. But is the absence of bias even possible?
Judy Moore teaches mass media at McKinley Technology High School in Washington, DC.
I’ll start out with the first thing I see in my head when I think of reporters. A reporter is—or was, in my generation at least—someone who as a little boy grew up with distracted parents or, more crucially, a depressed mother.
At the dinner table one day he mentions that last night he saw a funny car parked in front of Mrs. McGillicuddy’s house. His mother comes alive at this, or at least seems interested. “What did the car look like?” Mr. McGillicuddy has been away. That flirt Herman Smith has a ‘58 Chevy.