You don’t have to go to journalism school to be a journalist, but it’s certainly not terrible and may not hurt you at all. You may be a gifted natural. But no matter whether you are academically trained or not, you have to be a pro. You have to know the rules. These rules used to be taught, and sometimes with a rough hand, by older editors and reporters. But in the past 10 years they took the buyout. No one has taken their place. No one can. This is a bigger threat to real journalism, and carries with it more unhappy implications for the future, than any new technology.
Peggy Noonan is a columnist for The Wall Street Journal, and the author of eight books on American politics, history, and culture.
At its best, journalism is for guarding democracy and guaranteeing its promise of equality and justice. It is for exposing tyranny in order to stop it—tyranny that arises unavoidably in human affairs from the exercise of power, the accumulation of wealth, or the habits of hatred and corruption. How ignorant we would be without the explanatory powers of a free press, how diseased with dark secrets without its antiseptic action! No one could enjoy the duties and privileges of citizenship or be secure in their liberty without it. Isn’t all this obvious?
David Sassoon is the founder and publisher of Inside Climate News, which won the Pulitzer Prize for National Reporting this year.
A while ago I blurted out that “the press is the immune system of democracy.” Maybe I remember civics class too vividly, but that biases me in terms of what I consider the major role of a journalist: to hold the powerful to account. We need government that we can trust, and we need good, trustworthy reporting to make that happen.
Among professionals, trust is built upon a code of behavior. That means a code of ethics, and then, the hard part—some way to hold the professional to account. I’m an outsider, a news consumer, so I can’t say how that should happen, but the country needs news it can trust. We should do better as consumers, listening only to journalists who avow a code of ethics and are accountable to that code.
Craig Newmark is the founder of Craigslist and a member of CJR’s Board of Overseers.
Journalism is to document and explain what’s going on in the world. The kind of journalism we do at our show also takes as its mission to entertain. On a weekly schedule, we don’t think you have to sacrifice the idealistic, mission-driven parts of the job in order to entertain.
Anyone who’s trying to get at the truth of a situation can be a journalist. It’s not fucking rocket science. Talk to people, write down or record what they say, use good judgment in picking quotes and evaluating the overall truth of what’s happening. Try to summarize it interestingly for others. A kid can do it.
Ira Glass is the creator and host of This American Life.
Your plane crashes. You tweet a picture of survivors stumbling away. You’ve just become a reporter. You’ve told us what happened. Anyone can be a reporter today. Technology has dissolved the line between newsgatherers and news subjects. All the world’s been deputized.
But journalism belongs several echelons above reporting. It often requires withholding information in the service of understanding it better. Journalists resist the demands imposed on reporters by the marketplace and the audience. They are detectives. They gather reporting. They build cases. When they publish or broadcast, they force us to consider what’s going on and not merely to notice or accept it. Journalism holds powerful interests accountable because its output interrupts lazy, instinctive, and tribalist thinking. The best thing a journalist can hear is, ‘Wait, what?’
The world is a blur. Journalism is a superconductor.
Marc Ambinder is a contributing editor to The Atlantic, The Week, and GQ, and senior contributor to Defense One.