The Political Imperatives of Journalism: Why We Do What We Do
Serving the Greater Good of Mankind Goal of Honest Journalism, Citizenship
March 11, 2006
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By: Dave Rogers
Why do journalists report the facts and why do they sometimes have outrageous opinions on various topics of public interest?
It's their job, that's why!
Because what may be accepted today often becomes heresy tomorrow. What seemed so right may end up being so wrong.
The reader, the viewer, the voter may realize they didn't pay enough attention to the facts or the opinions at the onset of a controversy. Therefore, all sides of an issue, no matter how foreign, must be examined. And it's the journalists job to help in that examination.
The United States once supported Fidel Castro and Saddam Hussein. Need we say more about the volatility and changeability of national policy?
Society gives the media what amounts to a public franchise in order to fulfill the mission of providing the facts and guidance if appropriate. A journalist is first and foremost a public advisor.
Both the facts and the opinion are to be presented in a non-partisan spirit. It may not always seem that way to the reader who has a particular point of view at that point in time, but that is the business of journalism as I have learned it over nearly half a century.
At various times a journalist may appear to be a conservative, a liberal, a Republican, a Democrat, a Libertarian or maybe even a Socialist. A goodjournalist will be all of those at different times, depending on the facts and the issues that need reporting or explaining.
People of all philosophical stripes need to be spurred into examining their consciences about their viewpoints. They must ask themselves why they are on one side or the other of an issue. Will that viewpoint stand the test of honesty and time? Is it the best for the most concerned? Is it in the greater good? Or is it narrow, partisan, self-serving, perhaps even dishonest?
This nation has traditionally been one in which various interest groups are at bitter odds. But ultimately the greater good is paramount. The opinion of the majority is dependent on the openness of the debate and the honesty of the reporters and the debaters. That tradition is currently being tested, both locally and nationally, on many issues. Vicious attacks are launched almost daily against the news media for reporting one or another version of the facts. Opinions are immediately suspectedto be politically motivated, even evil conspiracies.
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Some stories of past local events may help explain why the current complaints against the news media for insistence on reporting the facts and voicing opinions are specious.
In the early 1970s a nuclear power plant was proposed for Midland.
To examine this issue before the project got a license, Delta College sponsored a forum featuring a group of national experts on nuclear power.
Experts from the Atomic Energy Commission, Oak Ridge Laboratory, the University of Minnesota and other agencies with expertise in nuclear power came here.
The forum was televised on Channel 19. The dialogue was available on the public air waves to thousands of viewers in mid-Michigan.
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The experts unanimously warned against building the plant at the site proposed: It was too near a population base; the ground was near a stream and was unstable; there was a host of drawbacks.
What the experts said was not reported by the news media, except for one. The story was vetted by a legal team from a large corporation with the accession of the news media. The story went into print, although deletions were made. That news media outlet did its job; the facts were presented about a vital public issue.
But hardly anybody paid attention to what the experts said. Company officials had their minds made up; even the cost to the stockholders was subverted to their own solidified opinions that the project must proceed, regardless of expert opinions as reported factually by the lone news medium.
The reporter who wrote the facts about what the experts said was chastized by an official of a major firm involved in the project. The editor who handled the story was shunted aside when promotions were handed out.
However, two years later the firm was suing to get out of the deal. Many of the warnings by the experts had been proven to be valid. The company whose official was incensed by the initial reporting of the warnings no doubt paid a heavy cost for its involvement.
The utility that proposed the project had financed it through state backed bonds. Failure of the plant caused default on the bonds and brought the state as well as the company closeto bankruptcy. Ratepayers of the utility may still be picking up the tab for the fiasco even after several decades.
Why didn't utility officials listen to the experts? Why wasn't heed given to the story published by the one media outlet?
Those are the eternal imponderables of journalism and public affairs. The assertion of power in business and politics has little tolerance of the facts, as we have come to find over the course of American history.
About 25 years ago one news media outlet in the state had the temerity to suggest that a tax cut might be good public policy.
The outcry was widespread. Hysterical voices arose. The purveyors of that radical opinion were castigated far and wide. Personal charges were levied even by friends: people with opinions like that should be outcasts, perhaps even fired for even suggesting such an idea.
One voice among thousands. One suggestion of a tax cut. One shout in the darkness and wilderness. And outrage was the reaction.
Imagine the environment today. Is there any news media counseling AGAINST tax cuts? Public opinion has come full circle since those days of innocence a quarter century ago.
The point of these mini parables is that good journalism is not political. It is a necessary factor in the development of public policy. All sides of an issue need to be explored. It is not heresy to report nor opine: that is the job of journalism. Thinking politicians and citizens will recognize and honor that concept.
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Ask yourself: Are your opinions, your politics, your personal initiatives serving the greater good? That's the ultimate test of the honesty of your thinking and the integrity of your persona.###
Dave Rogers is a former editorial writer for the Bay City Times and a widely read,
respected journalist/writer in and around Bay City.
(Contact Dave Via Email at email@example.com)
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