Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Okay, so I’ll be the first to admit I was tempted to title this post, “Why I can write anything I feel like writing.”

Two problems with that: First, it’s not entirely true, which violates my journalistic obligation to the truth. Second, it violates this whole idea of humility, which I also happen to believe is central to good journalism.

Nonetheless, whether we admit it or not, I think all journalists secretly crave opportunities to irk authority with the power of the press. It all goes back to an instinctive dislike most journalists I’ve encountered thus far harbor for authority figures. Ironically, judging by our actions, we journalists also adore authority figures. After all, prominence and eminence are some of the strongest news values to which we members of the press adhere.

But all of that has to do with Herbert Gans’ theories, and that’s a topic for an entirely different blog post.

What I mean to write about today is the role of the so-called watchdog press, the reason why the American press is sometimes thought of as a fourth branch of government. It is the duty of the American press to check the government’s power—to ensure government officials do nothing shady without the public’s knowledge, and to make evidence of wrongdoing public.

According to Poynter Online, “Watchdog journalism is a state of mind for the whole newspaper.” It’s the state of the community newspaper looking after those who live alongside them. And it is something I feel both journalists and citizens are inching away from. Journalists, from what I have seen, are increasingly viewing the watchdog role as a justification for writing racy “exposés” for the sole purpose of capturing eyeballs. Our text brought up several concerns regarding the irresponsible overuse of the watchdog role, pointing out that the American public continues to grow more skeptical of the press’s value as journalists continue to cry wolf.

I can’t be the only one following the story of Russian journalist Oleg Kashin, who was allegedly beaten for writing unpopular statements about recent protests and political movements. If you’re not familiar with the story, you can read up on it here. Several activists evidently called Kashin a “journalist traitor” just before the attacks.

If individuals across the world begin to view journalists as the enemy, then perhaps this is a sign of things to come. It will ultimately be the whole of society that decides the fate of the press—it is up to us journalists to prove our work to them.

Perhaps the best way to do this is remember our first obligation is to the citizens and communities we cover. Perhaps we should, as last week’s presentation suggested, ask “What am I doing to make a difference in the community I am serving” before publishing any article. We must ensure our motives are in line with our values and avoid publishing sensationalized exposés for the sole purpose of creating profit.

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