Week 9 — Student media’s leadership role: Part 2

Any student considering a career in journalism in today’s world has to be aware of that journalism is not going to bring riches. It might not even attract a living wage. A creative entrepreneurial type might be able to develop a presence through social media that just might do the trick. Outfits like Sourcefabric provide tools, such as Newscoop, Citizen Desk, Airtime and Super Desk to assist startups.

But then that is for the business entrepreneur, whose concern is running a profitable enterprise. A entrepreneurial journalist is creative when it comes to bringing information to people. The hope, of course, is that citizens will value this information enough to pay for it, but that has yet to be worked out.

I guess, my contention is that people are motivated not by money alone when it comes to a career. Just as we honor diversity in our classrooms, we ought to recognize that there is a diversity in society when it comes to what drives people. There are people who just want to be able to contribute in a meaningful way to society, and their contribution is not setting up businesses, but doing the work, in instance, doing the work of journalism.

Journalists have for their goal shining a light in the dark places as well as providing the information that citizens need to lead good lives and to engage with others in making society better. I will leave what constitutes a better society for another time.

Shining a light in those dark places is a special skill and takes special qualities. In the reading this week and last week, two of those qualities came to the fore. These ideas are important ones to for any journalists to embrace, but especially those who want to dig deeper. They are qualities of mind and heart, as wells as, a skill set. The qualities come from Kovach and Rosenstiel–the first from Blur, the second from The Elements of Journalism. They are related.

The first is not to demonize the people being covered. Within the scope of this quality is that of having both an open mind, and at the same time, an inquisitive one. The goal is to present that person, his or her beliefs, actions, words, and the impact of these beliefs, words and action in a way that respects readers, who will then be able to draw reasonable conclusions.  It does not mean a reporter cannot report with indignation, but it does mean that the reporter maintain a sense of propriety and distance and perspective that requires open-mindedness–seeks alternative meaning, explanations, etc.–and that demands constant questioning and includes taking different perspectives.

That quality complements a second: understanding that “Journalists must serve as an independent monitor of power,” as Kovach and Rosenstiel say in their principles of journalism. Monitoring power brings a reporter close to power and that means into the sphere of power and money. Having distance–being a person who is not motivated solely by the profit principle–is an important quality to have for anyone in that situation. The ability to think in a far-ranging way about context, impact, consequences–is invaluable for the citizen who is overwhelmed with the responsibilities of everyday living; and being able to do this without casting aspersions or attributing suspicions is a gift.


Earlier today I picked up the latest issue of the New Yorker magazine and came across Jill Lepore’s review of Michael Lynch’s new book, The Internet of Us: Knowing More and Understanding Less in the Age of Big Data. The review is worth your time. The book sounds like it would be, too. But the point here is that the times, they are a changing, and the notions of “truth” and “fact” are wobbly. Even more serious is Lynch’s contention that the internet is sapping us of our ability to think, in Lynch words as quoted by Lepore, “because the collection and weighing of facts require investigation, discernment, and judgement, while the collection and analysis of date are outsourced to machines.” Ultimately, this time from Lepore, “When we Google-know, Lynch argues, we no longer take responsibility for our own beliefs, and we lack the capacity to see how bits of facts fit into a larger whole. Essentially, we forfeit our reason and, in a republic, our citizenship.”


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