Monday, December 3, 2018

The purpose of journalism


Today’s Dominion Post reproduces part of an editorial from the Sydney Morning Herald commenting on an Australian philanthropist’s pledge of $100 million “to strengthen Australian journalism and help restore faith in its central role in a healthy democracy”. The editorial comments: “The challenge is not just to produce information but to package it and focus it so it has an impact on society and brings about concrete change.”

Right there, in one sentence, the left-leaning SMH demonstrates two of the besetting faults of modern journalism and the reason why public confidence in the media continues to decline. The first is the assumption that the mission of journalists is to change things – a mindset encouraged by journalism courses taught by leftist ideologues. The second is the conceit that journalists know what’s best for us.

One of the best definitions of journalism that I’ve read comes from The Elements of Journalism, by Bill Kovach and Tom Rosenstiel. It defines the purpose of journalism as “to provide citizens with the information they need to make the best possible decisions about their lives, their communities, their societies and their governments”.

You’ll note there’s nothing there about promoting change. That’s a concept that has taken hold in recent decades, along with the pernicious view that objectivity is a myth and that journalists therefore have no obligation to cover issues even-handedly. The proper purpose of journalism remains as Kovach and Rosenstiel defined it – not to lead society toward the outcome that journalists think is correct, but to give ordinary people  the means to make their own decisions about what’s in their best interests.