Journalism is serious business, and reporters are earnest and care deeply about their work. At the same time, it helps to have a sense of humor. For me the question isn’t “What is journalism?” The question is “What is news?”
Journalists deliver news, whether text, video, tweets, posts, videos, photos, broadcasts. People say journalism is dead. I say it’s dead when we say so. As long as one reporter is delivering news, that’s journalism.
News is timely or time-sensitive content that is informative, factual, useful to the consuming public, and the journalist maintains emotional distance, even while, or despite, having a possible vested interest. I would even say that news is always about an event. Let’s see how that holds up. Is a recipe news? It’s informative, factual, and useful. It’s not timely or time-sensitive, nor an event.
Is an editorial/advertorial/opinion piece news? No — there can be an obvious vested interest, and the writer is necessarily advocating. Furthermore, it doesn’t have to be timely or time-sensitive.
Is a story about the pair of pants you’re wearing news? Depends. No, not the adult diapers. Maybe you’re writing about the trade sanctions President Trump put on China or new U.S. trade rules that are slowing truck shipments from the maquiladoras in Mexico. In either case, that pair of pants took way too long to get here, and the retailer had to dump them on the market at a reduced price because they went out of fashion during the trade debate, and then the retailer lost a pile of money, and ultimately had to declare bankruptcy.
That’s timely/time-sensitive, informative, factual, relays an event useful to business readers, among others, and it’s doubtful I have a vested interest in your pants. I’d call the story of your pair of pants legitimate news. It might be a feature — the hopeful trade journey that ended in disappointment for distributors and a retailer; or hard news, with a lede about the bankruptcy, and deeper context about the cost to the bottom line of disrupted trade.
News is everywhere. As a journalist, you bring it in to focus, depending on your audience. Any possible event creates news. A dandelion blooms. That’s an event; can it be news? The first one of the season? In an unexpected place? Despite extermination efforts? Signaling a new season?
A star supernovaes. Closest one ever? Furthest one ever? Biggest one ever? Littlest one ever? First one seen with a new telescope? For a first-time astronomer? Last one observed by an old-timer?
Whatever the event, business writers look at the business angle, sports writers the sports angle, feature writers the feature angle, finance writers the finance angle. Is it a mainstream paper? Is it a business paper? Is it an international publication, or the local community paper? Those things determine your focus.
Is it vital that a news article be true? That may be hard to sort out, particularly in the heat of an unfolding event. It’s easier to make the measuring stick: is it factual? Cite the sources, describe the event, and then the truth will ultimately over time shake out, as more information becomes available. That could take years. You, as a journalist, cannot wait for the “end” or the “truth.” You must tell what just happened. And sometimes, lots of times, you don’t have a conclusion or an ending, but rather a news event may trigger or deepen the mystery or unknown. It’s not your job to wrap things into a tidy explanation, or confirm others’ expectations, or validate their opinions. You’re going to tell what happened. A particle discovery changes the existing theories of quantum physics. A new recruit to an NBA team can shake up championship expectations for the teams.
Is news important to democracy? Yes, I’d say so, but also to Communism, Socialism, whatever. It’s my belief that all people, no matter their form of government, deserve news about their world.
What kind of person makes a good journalist? I’d say someone who is incredibly curious about everything, loves being the first to find out something useful and of interest, loves being the first to tell other people about it, and loves to either write, photograph, make videos or stand in front of, or behind, a microphone and camera.
Are they opinionated? Probably. Do they have values and principles and ethics they strongly believe in? I would say so; human beings do that. Are they objective? No. People aren’t built that way; we all have preferences.
Can they see things from other perspectives than their own, and understand how someone else might see, feel, think that way? Yes, and that is the beautiful key to a journalist. They really can understand other points of view. In fact, I might say they thrive on hearing others’ views, and relaying them to the curious news consumer.
The person who can’t, might be a great editorial or opinion writer.
The person who can, relishes delivering ANY kind of news, MORE than they crave having people agree with their point of view. In fact, they feel the importance of the drama of the debate, the conflict, the chaos, the differing viewpoints, mysteries, the unknown, the awkward, the incomprehensible, the tumultuous, the controversial, the tragic, the bittersweet, the joyous, the marvelous, the awe-inspiring, the majestic, the simple, the fascinating, the humorous, even the mundane — and crafting episodes at the core of those elements into the news story relevant to their audience. The bigger the mess, the sweeter the story, the simpler the tale, the more interesting and exciting!
Why do we need journalism, journalists and news in a democratic society? Isn’t it all just fake news? Can we believe anything we see in, or on, the news anymore? Isn’t the media just trying to manipulate us? Isn’t there a giant conspiracy, the media is part of, to push one hoax after another onto an unsuspecting, gullible, sheeple public?
If only the media, and journalists, were that organized.
Maintaining our democracy requires citizens to choose their representative government to make decisions, craft laws, design and render policies, and engage with the larger world, in an orderly, prescribed fashion on their behalf. To make those choices, citizens require accurate, factual information. From local to national.
What are we to make of the landscape of news today? Is it the big, fake news mess we’re told it is? No.
The world is awash in news that is factual and accurate. There are many news outlets that can be trusted. They are transparent about their sources and methods of gathering news. Yes, the media does screw up, and has to admit error. Don’t expect us to be perfect. Media is run and operated by humans. So relying on multiple trusted news sources is a beneficial way for any citizen to get a better picture of any news event. That is good for our democracy, and holds accountable those who govern us. If a news outlet’s coverage is counter to that of every other outlet reporting on an event, it’s relevant to ask why, and dig further, or watch as events develop.
Journalism is thriving, perhaps not as a for-profit business, but as a commodity. There is reliable news everywhere, thank goodness.
Sadly, many citizens care less for news, and instead prefer information that validates their pre-existing views. It can be easier to call it all fake news and dismiss it, than to take responsibility for sifting through the information. But to keep a democracy alive, citizens must care about facts and information, so they can choose those who govern them. Can we make citizens care? I don’t think so. But we still deliver the news.
We do our jobs, and our continued steady production of news, keeps the facts undeniably on the record.
Spend some time at a news outlet, watch how the news is crafted and delivered. You will see the magnificent, marvelous, gargantuan effort that goes into the minute-to-minute production of delivering timely, accurate information. There will be no doubt in your mind that the news, from a reliable news outlet, is not fake, and is critical to our democracy.
As an exercise, tell me what you think of this:
Do you find Lee Norman’s chart confusing?
Who is the Kansas Policy Institute?
Here’s the newspaper KPI funds: https://sentinelksmo.org
They wrote the original story about Lee Norman’s chart: https://sentinelksmo.org/kdhe-doctored-a-covid-case-chart-to-justify-mask-mandates/
Would this be an independent news outlet? Why or why not?
Look at Koch involvement in this event:
Perhaps scan this:
The Koch patriarch’s quote:
In a 1934 editorial titled “Democracy’s Problem,” Harry rejected “mobocracy,” which had “been discarded as undesirable, even if attainable.” Mobocracy was the right’s popular name for “tyranny of the majority,” and remains a favorite whipping horse of Koch-funded libertarians, who increasingly promote the idea that America is not a democracy and was never intended to be one. Here’s Steve H. Hanke, senior fellow at the Cato Institute, writing in a 2011 editorial: “Contrary to what propaganda has led the public to believe, America’s Founding Fathers were skeptical and anxious about democracy. They were aware of the evils that accompany a tyranny of the majority. The Framers of the Constitution went to great lengths to ensure that the federal government was not based on the will of the majority and was not, therefore, democratic.”