Our View: Understand journalism and its importance

Published 10:19 am Tuesday, March 5, 2019

Who do you think pays journalists to write stories?

Hopefully, you know it’s the newspapers for which the journalists work.

Bonus points if you know newspapers get the money to pay journalists from advertisers andincreasingly, from you — the reader.

Email newsletter signup

Unfortunately, if you got that question right, you’re in the minority.

A whopping 60 percent of people said they think reporters are sometimes or often paid by their sources — the people about whom they write.

That’s according to a Reuters-Ipsos poll from December, conducted for Columbia Journalism Review.

Majorities of people identifying with both major political parties — 54 percent of Democrats and 70 percent of Republicans — thought the people they read about in the newspaper could pay for that attention.

That stat doesn’t so much reveal a problem with the U.S. population as it does with the journalism industry.

As journalists, our job is to be good communicators.

We aren’t doing a good job communicating if a substantial majority of people believe something so fundamentally false about what we do.

So, let’s briefly set the record straight about what journalism is, why reporters do what they do and why it matters.

Journalism is not simply telling stories; it is telling stories based on facts, and doing so with as much transparency as possible.

You know you’re reading journalism if you can understand from where everything in it came.

Reporters are trained to leave their perspectives out of journalism and source everything in their stories to specific people, organizations and documents.

That doesn’t mean we always get everything 100-percent right, and it certainly doesn’t mean we’re just robots or stenographers.

It does mean we are hard workers with a passion for making our communities better through truth. And we’re willing to take criticism and admit when we’re wrong.

By the way, what you’re reading right now is not news; it is opinion.

We do not source this editorial the way a news article would be, and it contains personal perspectives from the editorial board. That’s why it appears on the opinion page, not a news page.

You should not read the opinion page to get your facts in much the same way you should not eat ice cream for every meal of the day: It may be tasty and enjoyable in small amounts, but if it becomes a staple of your diet, you’re going to get sick and develop long-term health problems.

Journalism matters because there can be immense benefits for those who know the facts — and profound consequences for those who don’t.

Journalism makes it much easier for large numbers of people to know the truth about government action, crime, education, charities and more.

Al Cross, director of the Institute for Rural Journalism, recently wrote besides journalism — or news media — there are two other kinds of media: “social media, which have no discipline, much less verification; and strategic media, which try to sell you something: goods, services, ideas, politicians, causes, believes, etc.”

All three kinds of media can serve useful purposes. But none is as valuable, or under as severe a threat, as journalism.

Journalists must become better at explaining that. The future of our democracy depends on it.

About Fred Petke

Fred Petke is a reporter for The Winchester Sun, the Jessamine Journal and the State Journal. His beats include cops, courts, fire, public records, city and county government and other news. To contact Fred, email fred.petke@bluegrassnewsmedia.com or call 859-759-0051.

email author More by Fred