Freedom of the Press, not freedom from responsible journalism

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Freedom of the Press: 

The right of the press to circulate information and opinion without censorship by the government.

 

 

 

 

While watching coverage of this week’s Republican National Convention, I switched between CNN, ABC, FOX-News, CBS and others. I read news articles online and in print, and watched live streaming from different sources online.

And I was struck by how one event could be seen so differently by so many news organizations — nearly all of which had a clear slant, whether for or against.

Our founding fathers made Freedom of the Press part of the Constitution’s First Amendment because, in the words of its principle author James Madison:

“We have no Facebook yet.”

And because I’m a journalist, you can trust me on that.

When our forefathers included Freedom of the Press in the Constitution, they knew it was a two-edged sword with as much potential to do harm as it could to ensure the exchange of factual communication free from governmental interference. However, they knew it was a risk that needed to be taken if America was going to have a chance at establishing a peaceful democracy — one that is protected by the intellect of an informed society.

 

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As I said, this was before Facebook.

One of the key ingredients to a foundation strong enough to support the weight of democracy within our Constitution is the freedom given to the press. Its intention is to guarantee a level of transparency within the government and, just as importantly, keep government from manipulating the information its citizenry receives.

Shortly after the Missouri School of Journalism was established in 1906, it’s founder, Walter Williams, wrote The Journalist’s Creed.

Within it are these words:

I believe that clear thinking, truthful statements, accuracy and fairness are fundamental to good journalism, and that the supreme test of any journalist is the measure of their public service.

Journalists are liaison of trust between the American people and those who govern, whether it be in Washington D.C., state government, a national corporation or with our local city officials. The trust we place in journalism is one of the cornerstones of maintaining a unified, peaceful society. Without that trust and belief that we are an informed people, the ensuing uncertainty is fertile ground for chaos, mistrust and division.

In a way, journalists are like Chris Harrison on “The Bachelorette:” We’re given the freedom to talk with and gather information from all sides. And ultimately it’s our job to let everyone know when we’re down to the final rose.

Today’s Information Age, thanks to the Internet and social media, has forged its own two-edged sword with the potential to do as much harm as good.

In the late 1950s, iconic newsman Edward R. Murrow recognized this same paradox. News reporting was being transformed from the purely word-driven medium of radio into a much more powerful visual medium of television.

Murrow recognized that news journalism would never be the same.

He also recognized the responsibility that accompanies that kind of power.

In 1955, during an awards dinner where he was the keynote speaker, Murrow spoke of the new television medium and the paradox it presented for journalists and our society; it’s a paradox we find ourselves facing once again in the age of social-media-style journalism.

I’m going to close with a clip from the Oscar-winning film “Good Night, and Good Luck,” when Murrow, portrayed by David Strathairn, expresses his concern about the new medium of television broadcasting.

I think you’ll agree his words from more than 60 years ago, in context of social-media journalism, are just as poignant today…

 

 

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(I hope you’ll join me for #OurWeekOfPeace at The Public Blogger Aug. 1-7

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51 thoughts on “Freedom of the Press, not freedom from responsible journalism

  1. It is such an incredible and unbelievable disservice to the very estate that is a cornerstone of democracy, to have become little more than a megaphone for the owners of each media centre. It’s mind-boggling to grasp that the vastly technically advanced society we are, has actually become one of the least-informed..

  2. Never did understand how Kurt Cobain managed to create a wrecking ball of a daughter rofl Laughed out loud at that photo. Mind you I had to take a second look because I thought it was Keith Urban at first. *face palm*
    I’m going to say well said. I believe that in this day and age, many of our media sources are driven by the political agenda of their owners and that of themselves. Sad really.

  3. Profound Ned. And yet true for all inventions and intentions.Even the most violent technologies – like nuclear energy – can be used to cure cancer or vaporize cities causing cancer. Or the most innocuous items – like a spoon – can by used to gouge out eyes or feed us. It is a truism that anything is only as good or bad as we make it – it is the humans that are the determining factor.

  4. Journalism’s use in history is often a factor ignored in articles. It has been used, as you put it, as a double edged sword, to promulgate both the truth and propaganda. The question today is, which is which? There are, as you many, multiple view points on a single event. Does this mean society has lost its homogeneity, become fractured and, in the process, fractious? Is the sinister difference today, not in the ownership of mass media? Or have social networks displaced or usurped news media, for the dissemination of information? Your article, as all articles on this subject do, raises far more questions than, for which, it could ever find answers.

    • I think it’s interesting how, so many years ago, we broke up “Ma Bell” because government didn’t like the idea of one company controlling all of that power. Yet we allow mass ownership of media — the lifeblood of an informed democracy.

      Informed by who?

      You’re correct that we seem to have far more questions than answers. But I’ll continue to find hope as long as the questions continue to be asked.

  5. Today “Freedom of the Press” has come to mean freedom from reality. Journalists have become the Used Car Salesmen of another era.

    • There has always been an uncomfortable relationship between news and advertising. Today, we’re seeing large corporations owning media that include news organizations like CNN, Fox, ABC and others. I have a problem with that, and I think it’s at least part of the reason journalism has become more like selling used cars than reporting unbiased, informative news.

      • I’m so glad you said that and couldn’t agree with you more. Do you feel anything can be done? Many of us get much of our news off the internet. While I read l’Independent every day, it is local French news. I supplement it with what I can find on the web. While I have been here nearly nine years and not inclined to be elsewhere, I do still have family and friends that I care for so do tend to keep up and what happens there does effect the world. Thank you

        • I’m not sure anything can or will be done until we cut the ties to campaign financing from special interests and major corporations. Until we financially level the playing field when it comes to running for president, and eliminate special interest dollars, I’m afraid that component of the problem will remain.

          So yeah, I’d definitely keep enjoying my French-press coffee and wonderful pastries if I were you, Lea 😉

  6. I haven’t watched television news in years, so on those rare occasions that I do, I find the things that drove me away — the focus on the reporter, the increased use of editorializing camera and sound tricks, the general unwarranted over-excitement — have only gotten worse. This is both in the U.S. and Canada, by the way. I get my news from print (including online) and CBC Radio.

    • I’m with you, Ross (It’s ok, don’t turn around. I didn’t mean that literally). I try to stick to OPB (Oregon Public Broadcasting) or NPR (National Public Radio) as my main news sources, or print news for those very same reasons. Once corporations like Warner, Turner and Disney started purchasing media that included news programming, journalism became more like Entertainment Tonight. And with about as much plastic.

  7. It’d be nice to think that responsible journalism is the way things were and now it’s gone to hell in a handbasket, but unfortunately yellow journalism has been with us for a long time. It just seems more pervasive because media is more pervasive. Maybe folks from more responsible schools of journalism should start a news media fact check, much as some have attempted for the politicians. And perhaps something for context; when news starts with 10 minutes of crime reporting it’s hard to realise crime is actually trending downward.

    • Great, great points, Dave. As you said, yellow journalism has been around since before the colonial days. But you’re right, the availability to have news served up in so many ways, by so many sources makes it seem even more prevalent today. That, coupled with the need to “be first” and/or the most sensational only exacerbates the problem. Sadly, “If it bleeds it leads” has become more than an old adage; it has become the standard.

  8. BRILLIANT — good timing – – and GOD bless the art of free and independent journalism in the USA an World with Truth, Accuracy and Accurate Headlines!

    b

    William A. Olson Director of Planned Giving The Salvation Army — Cascade Division Serving Idaho & Oregon 8495 SE Monterey Avenue Happy Valley, Oregon 97086

    Tel.: 503-794-3284 or Toll Free: 1-800-481-3280 Fax: 503-794-8408 Email: bill.olson@usw.salvationarmy.org

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  9. Reblogged this on Just Plain Ol' Vic and commented:
    Excellent post.

    It is unfortunate that ideals like journalistic integrity, fact checking and truth over sensationalism have become things of the past.

  10. Fantastic and wonderfully said Ned. Media has become sensationalism. Every day it’s ‘breaking news’ on CNN. A sad state of affairs when there’s so much war in the world that ‘breaking news’ isn’t even something new anymore.

  11. Like you, I often go to varied news sources for the contrast, the bias. It’s fascinating. Murrow was right, and it started well. I never knew or cared about Walter Cronkite’s politics. ☺ Just the facts, ma’am.

  12. Great post. Here courtesy of Rob’s reblog. Between hyperpartisan media who at best is spin-doctored news, but at worst is disinformation, shallow main stream news that is conflicted by funders/ profit goals and only covers the tops of the issues, and online social media, which is scarily where many get their news, we are an ill-informed electorate. I have said before we are the “United States of Entertainment.”

    It takes an effort to confirm the veracity of the news sources. I tend to watch and read sources like PBS Newshour, BBC World New America, NPR, The Guardian to get a deeper dive on news. What I appreciate about the three former sources is they have civil discussion typically with people who know what they are talking about. I recognize there are some who would even claim bias from these sources, but the level is smaller in my view and the civil discourse is important.

    Democracy requires us to be informed. There is a reason when strong arm leaders take power, they try to reduce the influence of the media and control it when the can. To this end, I study the two fact checking organizations on candidates, as I find that they do a very good job of reporting on hyperbole and lies. It should be noted the most significant truth bender in the history of fact checking says the fact checkers are biased, attempting to be his own judge and jury. I find that interesting.

    Many thanks, Keith

    • Thanks so much, Keith. You’re very right; Democracy depends on an informed citizenry. And yes, I always hit the fact-checkers after any speech. But candidates know that only a smaller percentage of people do that. It’s like the lawyer who says something and has it stricken afterward. It’s still in the jury’s mind regardless.

      Thanks for the thoughtful comment, Keith.

      • Thanks Ned. Just yesterday, after PBS Newshour reported the number of misstatements in the GOP nominee’s speech the night before, one of the commenters parroted a common refrain from said speaker – who is checking the fact checkers? But, your right about equivocating it to a lawyer in front of a jury.

  13. Your words are profound and timely. In the last 18 months or so, I’ve been at a loss in the quest to find the truth. It’s difficult to tell which end is up, and journalists I’ve trusted in the past have disappointed me more than once.
    That said, I know that there are still writers, journalists and reporters like you to help people like me sort through to get to the truth. Thank you!

    • Thank you so much, Michelle. It’s true that so much out there is spin control and smoke and mirrors. As this thing progresses in the month ahead, I can only hope journalists will step up and reveal the truth, regardless of who ones their media company.

  14. And as sources for information increase we, as a people, become even more ill informed. Faced with the sheer number of media choices we tend to feel overwhelmed and begin to narrow down those to which we will pay attention, favoring ones that more closely support our worldview. Eventually we are left with only the ones that validate our preconceptions. Ultimately we adopt the position, “my mind is made up, don’t confuse me with the facts.”

  15. I spent years striving for a journalism degree.
    But now I’m more than happy to be a bellman.
    For once, I’m kinda glad I failed at something…
    By the way, if all journalists were cut from your cloth, Ned… we’d be okay.

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