The Essence of Journalism

Various news sources on a coffee table in a small apartment on N. Spaulding Avenue, Chicago, IL.

More than four in ten American adults own a smart phone, according to stateofthemedia.org. The ability to access the news is more overwhelming than ever. John Peter Zenger published the New York Weekly Journal in the 1700s. In 1735, the British government did not find his journalism appealing…as it was not in their favor. He was arrested and tried for libel. As of the last decade, it appears that everyone can be a journalist…if they so choose.

Ellie VerGowe, 24 and a graduate student, believes that “it’s to tell people what’s going on”. Though this is what journalism is intended to do, this journalist wonders if it has turned into something completely different…less news and more commentary on the news. “Unfortunately, I feel like journalism is very slanted one way or the other, so its important to read both sides so that you can get as complete of a picture as you can. You have to be very careful what your sources are.” states Tim Ahlberg, a senior and president of Northparks’ student association, 21.

A new form of journalism is blogging. It’s become very popular within young adults. Blogs can be very helpful for something specific. They also provide creative outlets if one wants to get their writing into the public eye. However, it seems debatable whether it is a valid source for news. Hannah Williams, a nanny in the Albany Park neighborhood believes “Journalism as opposed to blogging is important because its an unbiased and professional stance on reporting the news”.

Journalism is a “vehicle to convey truth and ask hard questions and give the public answers that they can’t get on their own” says Rebekah Strobel, 26 and a graduate student. Cortney Wall, a group fitness instructor at Helwig Recreational Center, agrees it “tells a story in which its recorded clearly and as concise as possible for the audiences”.

Robert Hostetter, 66 and chair of the communications department, says that “Journalism is to figure out the truth. Journalism often is just at the level of headlines and superficial information and does not give us adequate context and interpretation”.

It seems as though it is agreed upon that journalism acts as a channel in which the public gets information about the on goings in their community, their nation and the world. It also seems that many people see the news as somewhat skewed at times and biased. “It is whatever journalists say it is” claims the book ‘The Elements of Journalism’. “The idea that the mainstream media do not provide a balanced account of social protest has been developed especially in the period from the 1960s to the early 1990s” say Thomas Poell and Erik Borra. This furthers the idea that people look toward less mainstream media to get their news because they are unhappy with how the news corporations put lenses on stories based on their point of view.

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One Response to The Essence of Journalism

  1. Rev. Fr. Alan B. Maria Wharton, FI says:

    DISCLAIMER: I am unloading a bit here, regarding a “touchy” subject, but I hope that, regardless of the reader’s (and bloggers’!) feelings about abortion, they can see that the issue which the Gosnell story raises is the question of journalistic integrity, thus pertinent to the subject of this blog. The question of the essence of journalism is one that must be raised and held aloft, and not lowered again until some satisfaction is given regarding the almost unanimous failure of journalists to cover the conspicuous outrages of Kermit Gosnell’s Philadelphia abortion practice and multiple-murder trial—a failure which many are suggesting is due to willful negligence, in other words, internal “journalistic censorship” (an oxymoron, isn’t it?).

    I found this blog while Google-searching the phrase: “essence of journalism.” I was looking for an objective reference for a commentary I am writing on the silence of the mainstream media with regard to the Kermit Gosnell “House of Horrors” story, which casts the abortion issue in a gruesome light (duh!), and because the story appears to have been silenced, also casts reasonable doubt on the integrity of the American journalistic media.

    Gosnell’s spectacularly gruesome murder trial—he’s accused of severing the spinal cords of numerous babies born alive in his clinic—did not come into the mainstream view until the trial had been under way for well over a month, and then only because it was “outed” by a massively popular “Tweet-fest” organized by outraged citizens. It is practically inconceivable that the journalistic profession, responsible for informing the public about important events and issues, could have failed as a whole to notice the furor of reporting that was happening on numerous “right to life” sites, that had been for weeks attracting tens of thousands of daily web page “hits.” Such a failure would amount, in kindness one could only say, to a sort of communal incompetence. However, such an excuse would be naïve, as journalists are generally not incompetent, nor slow to focus attention on anything that smacks of spectacular or gruesome.

    My conclusion, based on many similar instances, is that the silence was intentional – as I believe it is, for instance, every year on the anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision, when over a quarter of a million people gather in the nation’s capitol to face the frigid DC winter and “March for Life,” peacefully manifesting their opposition to the institutional injustice of abortion—and to affirm once again that every human being has an “inalienable right to life” – as if the nation created by the same Declaration needed to be constantly reminded of its foundational ethos. Every year, mainstream American Journalism as a whole routinely ignores the “March for Life” story. If it gets any attention at all, it is “balanced” by equal (if not greater) time and attention given to the measly 40 or so die-hard feminist counter-demonstrators who show up in favor of abortion. The coverage (and/or silence) is so obviously biased that it is routinely now the subject of commentary on the part of pro-life and conservative writers.

    In the confusion that followed the Gosnell “Tweet-fest,” the contradiction of voices among prominent American journalists belied both the intentional blackout and the vestiges of journalist conscience left among some of the media corps, who expressed embarrassment and perhaps even a sense of guilt over the silence. With hope, now that the issue has come to the widespread attention of the more informed segment of the population, this opportunity for much-needed soul-searching among America’s opinion-makers will not be swept under the rug or relegated to the Alzheimer-effect of pop-culture’s short-term memory. Questioning the month-long silence over the Gosnell trial, journalists have a perfect opportunity to reform their vital profession which has gone lamentably astray.

    The month long media blackout of the Gosnell case is not an anomaly, but is rather symptomatic of the betrayal of truth and of the essence of journalism for money interests. If journalists are willing to turn their heads while babies are dismembered, then they have certainly lost not only the “essence of journalism,” but more fundamentally, their very humanity.

    How, in the coming weeks, they will handle the story of American Journalism’s unquestionable failure in the Gosnell case – to tell a story that is eminently newsworthy, and of extreme relevance to the nation’s spiritual wellbeing – as well as to millions of lives that ought to be spared from such horrors as characterize the abortion industry (the difference between one clinic and another, between one procedure and another, is a matter of degree, not magnitude) – will largely serve as a thermometer for the moral state of the profession. If the denial of institutional bias and an intentional blackout with regard to the ills of abortion prevails, the conclusion can only be that institutional American Journalism has truly become what many have already deduced it to be: a propaganda tool for private interests, devoid of any meaningful basis in “truth,” as it is commonly perceived, indeed, employed in the elimination of any commonly perceived “truth,” be it moral or purely factual.

    If, on the other hand, there is any spiritual vigor left in the corpus of American Journalism as an institution, then courageous self-reflection and an examination of conscience will take place, a public confession of institutional bias will be issued, and along with the mea culpa, a sincere resolution to put truth and facts back at the top of the list of reporters’ priorities, along with the honorable pursuit of knowledge for the common good. If this means, for individual reporters, disengaging from entrenched media organizations who are unwilling or incapable of separating themselves from the blood-money font, may they have the heroic backbone to walk away from the corrupt institution and to ply their trade elsewhere in the service of truth, and not filthy lucre.

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