Beware the 'Self-Appointed Media Critics'

March 13th, 2006 11:00 AM
Eric Newton, director of journalism initiatives at the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation in Miami and a volunteer judge for the National Journalism Awards, lists all the accomplishments of journalists in the past year:

Since you won't learn what everyday journalists do from watching talk shows, let's run down a list of what they have actually done this past year, drawn from the entries to the National Journalism Awards:

• Died in war zones so we can know what was really happening.

• Risked their lives to warn their towns when bad hurricanes were coming.

• Explained how Social Security works and how to fix it.

• Revealed how crooked public servants squandered public money.

• Got polluting businesses to clean their toxic dumps.

Naturally, someone in his position does not take kindly to media bashing.

Hardly anyone likes them. The bloggers call them "mainstream media." Liberals call them "corporate media." Conservatives call them "liberal media." Everyone else just dismisses them as "THE MEDIA."

Truth is, it's easy to bash journalists. Hollywood paints them as a yammering, amoral horde. That's entertaining, but wrong. The boring reality is that most professional journalists actually have ethics. They're good people. They try to dig out facts and stick to them. They hope to keep their corner of the world a little more honest....

Free societies need people who tell us when prisons are at double capacity, when schools are dropout factories, when too many teens get pregnant, when immigration laws aren't working and when people are being poisoned by lead in the water. Good journalists last year told us all those truths and thousands more.

Newton, though, says he appreciates blogs.

These days, anyone can be a journalist -- in print, sound or video. That's a positive trend. More news is good news. Anyone who wants to stick to fact -- to the fair, accurate, contextual pursuit of the truth - helps the cause.

Does this mean our democracy no longer needs professional journalists? Hardly. Giving everyone first-aid kits doesn't make us all doctors. Giving us all printing presses doesn't make us poets. As long as our society governs itself, we will need professionals who independently guide us to the facts we need.

Therein lies the problem, that journalists do not, as he claims, "independently guide us to the facts we need."

Instead, most journalists, particularly in the national media, report the news without independence of mind. They look at the world through the point of view of the liberal mores of the moment.

For the last paragraph of the piece, Newton attacks a strawman.

The media will change. Journalism will survive. But please don't celebrate by rushing out to hug a journalist. That would just scare them. It would be enough if, the next time someone is bashing "the media," you simply remind the world's self-appointed media critics that good journalism, like good citizenship, still matters.

Do the world's "self-appointed media critics" call for bad journalism? The criticism of Dan Rather was that he was pushing "fake but accurate" information. Bloggers do not push for shoddy reporting, but instead try to preach against it and highlight it whenever it is found. If he equates "good journalism" with liberal bias, then he betrays a bias himself.

Journalists do not deserve to be the self-appointed arbiters of public morality. No amount of money spent by the New York Times on foreign bureaus gives that paper the right to decide foreign policy.