There will always be a public appetite for reporting on baseball, movie stars, gardening and cooking, but it’s of no great moment for the country if all of that work were taken over by amateurs or done by machine. What is of great moment is reporting on important and true stories that can change society. The reporting on the Catholic Church’s persistent harboring of child rapists, Enron’s fraudulent accounting and the scandal over the Justice Department’s Operation Fast and Furious are all such stories.
Because telling true stories is vital, the value of journalism can’t be reduced to other, ancillary needs. Journalism performs multiple overlapping functions, and there never used to be much urgency in defining those functions. In the period in which public speech was scarce (which is to say, all of history until now), journalism was simply what journalists did, journalists were just people hired by publishers, and publishers were the relative handful of people who had access to the means of making speech public.
We believe that the role of the journalist–as truth-teller, sense-maker, explainer–cannot be reduced to a replaceable input for other social systems; journalists are not merely purveyors of facts. Now and for the foreseeable future, we need a cadre of full-time workers who report the things someone somewhere doesn’t want reported, and who do it in a way that doesn’t just make information available (a commodity we are currently awash in), but frames that information so that it reaches and affects the public. —Tow Center for Digital Journalism.
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