Monday, August 31, 2009

The Costliness of Truth

At its essence, journalism cherishes truth as its first and most critical pursuit. A good reporter—for all her limits and flaws—will dig and dig until she has a sense of the truth of a story. If she gets it right, she can invite both praise and criticism. What thugs, after all, want to be found out? But that is what drives us, what motivates our need to know. In fact, from their ground-breaking book, The Element of Journalism: What Newspeople Should Know and the Public Should Expect, authors Bill Kovach & Tom Rosenstiel say this: "This basic desire for truthfulness is so powerful, the evidence suggests it is innate. 'In the beginning was the Word' is the opening line of the Gospel of St. John in the New Testament. The earliest journalists—messengers in preliterate societies—were expected to recall matters accurately and reliably, partly out of need. Often the news these messengers carried was a matter of survival. The chiefs needed accurate word about whether the tribe on the other side of the hill might attack."
Yes, it costs to pursue the truth; it costs time, safety and often reputations. It can even be dangerous, as we know from the hundreds of journalists worldwide who risk their lives regularly getting to the truth of a story. Yes, truth is costly. But imagine how costly it would be—and sometimes is—to our culture if reporters did not pursue it.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Resting the Lion: A Prime Example of the Sea Change

Today's memorial service of Senator Edward Kennedy in Boston reflected not just the loss of the country's fierce Lion of the Senate, but the massive changes in today's journalism. Hundreds of Massachusetts citizens throughout the week lined the streets of Boston to pay their respects and view his body—Tweeting their feelings in the process. This morning's actual service was streamlined in video on the New York Times web site, making the once traditional newspaper of "All the News That's Fit to Print" seem like a major broadcasting company. CNN—which IS a major broadcasting company—was posting hundreds of still photographs on its site. The Christian Science Monitor—the first major daily newspaper in the country to eliminate its print version for online site—posted audio podcast interviews with reporters who'd covered the senator. Meanwhile, our local newspaper, The Salem News, interviewed local representatives who'd worked with Sen. Kennedy; it also published wonderful archival photos of his visits to the North Shore. I have more information about Sen. Kennedy now than I ever have to appreciate the efforts of a man who undoubtedly served his country with passion and vision. What's stayed with me the most? That gorgeous historic photograph of Kennedy on Cabot Street in Beverly—which is not online but in my pile of papers waiting to be recycled.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Why Journalism Matters: My Top 10 List

10. Everyone is a snoop.
9. It's a window to the world.
8. Routines gain meaning.
7. History's first draft is recorded.
6. Perspectives take shape.
5. Powers get monitored.
4. Scoundrels are shamed and heroes celebrated.
3. Freedom is protected.
2. Communities stay connected.
1. Lives are changed.