Journalism now is for what good journalism has always been for: telling people things they didn’t know about the world, answering questions, and telling your readers everything you know and everything you can find out. Online media took a bit of a detour during the “search era” into tricking machines, but now we’re back to informing and delighting humans. And the transparency of the social Web means we can see what questions our readers are asking, and they can tell us what they think of our answers.
Ben Smith is editor in chief of BuzzFeed.
A journalist is someone who is willing to disappoint himself with the truth.
Sebastian Junger is an author and journalist.
Journalists used to be conceived as mediators between all sorts of dominions and the ‘ordinary mortals,’ the public. The ideal journalist was supposed to be watchdogging the powers that be. However, the real journalist has not always lived up to this ideal. In coverage of the Fukushima crisis, for instance, it’s difficult to placidly declare that Japanese journalists have stood up for people’s interests. With social media emerged a host of new expression platforms. As in any group or movement, there will be wheat and chaff. Who’s going to separate them? I am afraid the public itself is already at work.
Uesugi Takashi is a journalist, author, and CEO of the Japanese media company No Border.
The Tulsa World always portrayed Tate Brady, a founder of Tulsa, OK, as an all around nice guy, a ceaseless city booster who died in 1925. According to Brady’s family, all those nasty rumors about the Ku Klux Klan were untrue. But in 2011, a guy named Lee Roy Chapman, who had never done a lick of journalism, went in search of the facts of Tate Brady’s life. The ugly stuff wasn’t online; it was in the New York State Library archives, and hidden away in a few boxes in Norman, OK.
Chapman learned that Brady wasn’t merely in the Klan, but that his violence extended to the whole human race. Brady tortured people, beat them up, and schemed to segregate Tulsa. He helped the Klan earn a powerful foothold in the city. All these facts about Brady had been sitting there for nearly a century, but it took a guy like Chapman to organize them into a story.
This Land Press published Chapman’s “The Nightmare of Dreamland: Tate Brady and the Battle for Greenwood,” in September 2011. Tulsans had been saying the name Brady a thousand times a day, when they suggested meeting in the Brady District, or going home to Brady Heights, or gathering at the corner of Main and Brady. Now, thanks to Chapman’s journalism, they know that the Brady name is synonymous with violence, racism, and intolerance.
The World, Tulsa’s paper of record, reported for years on the story of Tate Brady. But it only reported; it didn’t question or investigate. The World would probably argue that it conducted journalism; I’d agree, only I’d give it a failing grade. Here’s the kicker: Chapman had never published an article in his life. He explored Tulsa’s history as a hobby. Should he be allowed to call himself a journalist, or to say he conducted journalism?
Fuck, yes. The act of journalism doesn’t require a career. It requires a 42-year-old Lee Roy Chapman hunched over a 90-year-old document in the Western History Collection at the University of Oklahoma. And when that act of collection and contextualization gets refined through skill and craftsmanship, journalism takes on even greater qualities. Chapman’s 3,500-word article forced all of Tulsa to address its racial divide. At its height, journalism does not simply displace power or shed new light; it is power and it is light.
Michael Mason is the founder and editor of This Land Press, Oklahoma’s first new-media company.
Journalism should keep us honest. Honest to ourselves. Honest to our ideals. Honest to the darker shadows of our world and our culture. Journalism should be the illuminating force within our collective consciousness, the force that challenges our widely held assumptions and presumptions. To do this effectively journalism must be about individual journalists giving us their wisest take on any situation or issue, without awkward and self-defeating notions of false balance. Let the sum total of the large conversation find its own level and balance, not in the contorted expressions of a journalist to surface the binary, both sides, in a rich, multifaceted world.
Richard Gingras is senior director of news and social products at Google.