The oath for journalists should be plucked from the last lines of the Declaration of Independence. To defend the rights of the press and the people, “we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.” How many American journalists do you know that follow such a creed?
If the journalism of the past 100 years dies, it deserves to die. It is not dying because the public wants to hide from the truth and shun good reporting. It is dying because the mainstream media seeks advertising dollars through click bait, slow websites, scare tactics and poor reporting.
Journalism, as an institution, has often chased trends. Journalism would benefit from looking back on its own history and realizing that the public evolves. Catchy headlines have lost their effectiveness. Similarly, Walter Cronkite eventually moved beyond news shows with a puppet lion named Charlemagne, and the Hearst Newspapers left their days of yellow journalism for better practices, eventually.
How did journalism miss the fact that the public outgrows trends? The institution missed the decline of westerns, disco and Who Wants to be a Millionaire. What’s true yesterday will not be true tomorrow. Looking for shortcuts, instead of reconnecting with the audience, has run organizations off the rails.
Quality became a luxury rather than a necessity. The strategy failed. Journalism entities, tied to corporate interests, found the first pieces of plywood to stay afloat when the ship started to sink, and now they realize that the wood is rotting.
Journalists need to be the loudest advocates for the importance of free press. They must go into classrooms and seminars to educate the public. Journalists must connect with their neighbors and find ways to make stories relevant to people’s lives. Journalism insulated to an office in a high tower in New York is as effective as writing a doctoral thesis with Wikipedia. If a story doesn’t resonate with the public, a journalist must find out why.
Journalists need to connect with the public and find the stories that matter to everyone. If a piece is so important, journalists need to present it in a way that makes the audience care. Those who hold power and operate in the dark should fear journalists. Journalism must see past the headlines in front of them to uncover buried facts.
Journalists need to stop breaking stories into two fractured sides—left and right, black and white, and right and wrong. Stories with only two sides fit into a couple of paragraphs or a sound bite, but lack authenticity. Journalism is about the unification of ideals.
The journalist must be the most vulnerable person in the piece. They must be willing to let their hearts bleed on the page when they cover a murder and let tears flow on the air when they hear about a tragedy. They must uncover stories of joy that matter and outduel those who wish to control the media.
I know so many people committed to the practice of quality journalism. I am optimistic that they will all find a platform to help keep the public educated. Treat the news as it exists in life, ongoing and evolving. Leave the audience with questions and the need for further exploration.
The lessons learned from the past century can be used as a gateway into new avenues for quality reporting and storytelling. The media matters far beyond a profit amount. Journalism is not a product to sell on a square screen; it’s everything that happens beyond our field of vision.