Media owners have always been interested in following the audience to make journalism a viable business, for which they want news, political, economic or business that would bring in advertisement revenues. In the midst of fierce competition which has been taking the advertisers away from them, media owners have come to a stage of bundling any kind of content that would attract the audience. The crux of the problems there is a conflict between those who run media and those who run journalism.
If journalism has to win and survive, in my opinion, we have to look for alternated sources of funding model other than advertisements. It is the dichotomy between journalism as a business and a credible content that present reality in a pure academic form without adding flavor. Journalism and journalists would first have to find a business model that attracts sufficient funding but not based on its attractiveness to the advertisers but attractiveness to the audience they are serving. This is only possible if a journalist, without taking any position, holds people and organizations accountable for this differentiation, in a clear and unbiased way.
There are a number of ways that a journalist can hold people and organizations accountable for their actions without taking a position. To start with, journalists working on a story must be determined to stay objective, throughout the period of research and investigation. To avoid taking a position, both or multiple sides of the story must be presented. If people or organizations are involved in wrongdoings, then their view as well as the views of those facing the repercussions of their actions must be made clear. It is not up to the journalist to help shape the reader's perspective, especially, while reporting a story or doing a feature, therefore, one should avoid taking a stand. In cases, where transgressions have been obviously committed, reliable sources could help make those clear and garner readers support for those suffering from them. Even then, the alleged perpetrator must be allowed to present their points of view. Sometimes, simply pursuing a story, because personal interests could be at stake, amounts to taking a position. In journalism, like in law, facts can be presented to support or disprove an incident, an action or a decision. Being aware of this, can help journalists understand that facts have to be presented not as one would like them to be read to fit a notion or a brief, but as they have occurred.
An understanding of the purpose of journalism and why it exists, is essential when it comes to furthering an understanding. Since 1997, after the statement of purpose was released journalists feel guided by a broad framework of understanding. Out of the 9 points highlighted by the Pew Research Centers Project for excellence in journalism, 2 are particularly relevant to the subject.
• Journalism must pursue truth in a practical sense by which it is implied the basis for such a truthful reporting is professional discipline.
• Its first accountability is to the citizens to whom it makes such contents.
As a journalist one must always tread the path of breaking news carefully. In an attempt to break news or create exclusive stories, many journalists leave objectivity, professional ethics and personal integrity behind. Journalists must develop a code of professional morals and stick to them through their career. They should remembers these codes when they cover different beats, like crime, politics, business, entertainment, climate change, global warming, celebrity scandals etc. Exaggerating facts, presenting just one side of the argument or sensationalizing stories is bad journalism and one must steer clear of the factors that lead to it. For instance, while covering climate change policies at the G20 summit, a journalist must present both sides of the story - the pros and cons of related policies being conceived by the G20. The environment journalist covering the story must remember at all times, that one is not an environmental evangelist. At the same time, journalists have a responsibility to alert citizens to the impending dangers of a bad climate change policy and they must do so carefully, without alarmist tones to the story. On sensitive issues it is also important to tread carefully again, for instance, while covering a celebrity divorce and a custody battle where children are involved or while talking about the personal health of a global CEO.
Although the editorial team and journalists may be accountable to the shareholders of the company and must attract advertisers to ensure that they thrive as a business, the priorities of the journalists must be clear. In that, they must be aware that their first responsibility is to the citizen for whom they are creating the news. The negative consequences of fulfilling this responsibility, if any, on their company, must not hold them back. The principles of the Pew Research talks about creating common knowledge for people to relate to, across spheres, including politics, business or anything that matters to citizens. The ultimate objective of the journalist should be to make citizens aware and proactive and only a true journalist can say how easy or difficult it is to accomplish this objective.
Follow Preetam Kaushik on Twitter: www.twitter.com/kaushikpreetam