Why Journalism Matters

Journalism’s purpose, although multi-faceted and complex in today’s modern era, is to secure freedom in the form of knowledge and information. It is society’s defense against single-mindedness.

Take the fictional country of Oceania (intended to represent modern-day England) in George Orwell’s science fiction novel “1984.” In the society Orwell uses as a warning against totalitarianism, the all-powerful Party manipulates its media, betraying the purpose of media itself, to brainwash the people. The truth is forever hidden, masked in exaggerations and flat-out lies. Workers for the so-called journalism sector change their facts day after day according to the regime’s regulations. Orwell uses examples such as these to point out how limiting freedom of the press betrays the fundamental role of the media.

Currently in North Korea, the country’s hardships are hidden from the people. They are instead told of fabricated technological advances through figures such as current leader Kim Jong-un. Korean Central Television is the state-run TV channel North Koreans have access to, and it provides programs that praise former leaders Kim Jong-il and his father Kim Il-sung, reporting on the North Korean government party and military. A society such as this, without a free, operating press, is not a free society.

In 2020, the role of media is muddled, to say the least. Journalism has been denounced many, many times by President Donald Trump, so it’s not difficult to reason why the United States has such a complicated relationship with journalism and media as a whole. The danger of relying on one single source, or even one person, is that it further adds bias. For example, someone may see politicians’ criticisms against the media and choose from then on that the only reliable, credible source is that politician him/herself. This can lead to a vicious cycle of misinformation and gradual swallowing of information not proven to be credible; on a wide scale, this contributes to hyper-partisanship nationwide and a lack of desire to hear and consider other perspectives, an issue that is already prevalent.

 It would be easy to blame technology, to blame our near-constant access to many news sources, but it is human nature combined with Internet relevance that leads us to deliberately seek out information that confirms and/or exacerbates our preconceived prejudices and notions. In our race to make technology faster than ever before, journalism has suffered. Editing is an essential pillar of journalism, but it can be hard to balance its importance with the desire to be timely — at best, in order to better inform the audience and at worst to release information before other sources do.

All this being said, I am not under the delusion that every journalist is motivated by an all-consuming desire to do good. The Breitbart News Network, for example, features many journalists who are ideologically driven and, in doing so, has published various conspiracy theories and intentionally misleading information to promote a far-right message. The left-wing Facebook page Occupy Democrats, which its leaders promote as a political organization, is one of the least-trusted news sources, according to a 2017 survey among American readers. (Occupy Democrats was ranked below Breitbart and Buzzfeed as well). The organization has published unverified information, videos and general content with the clear intent of twisting the perspectives of its readers. The existence of bias (as these are only some of many examples) only emphasizes society’s need for objective journalism.

The organization Reporters Without Borders (RSF) is an independent NGO that promotes freedom of expression and information. According to their 2019 World Press Freedom Index, which ranks countries based on their levels of free press, the United States was ranked 48th, well below countries like Jamaica, Belgium, Portugal, Latvia and Ghana. North Korea comes in last in 179th place, and Norway took first. 

It’s presumptuous to reject the value of journalism. We have to consider the many journalists in the world right now who are risking their lives and/or well-beings so that we can be informed. Freedom and awareness (through exposure to relevant, accurate information) does not come without a price tag in the form of sacrifice and suffering.

Journalism is constantly adapting to meet the needs of its audiences and global circumstances in order to equip people to make decisions about their societies. In doing so, journalism fuels the free society we strive to maintain.