The role of a modern journalist, for all intensive purposes, should be to tell the public the truth. Even when the truth is upsetting. Even when it is disturbing. Even when it goes against all morals held by all good men. A true journalist should be a public servant.
However, more and more frequently it seems as though the role of journalism is becoming more selfish than selfless; less of a public service and more of a personal motive. The Toledo Blade’s three-month assault on Tom Noe. Newsweek’s report on Guantanamo Bay and “Flushgate.” It seems as though more and more frequently that the motives of the journalists whose names appear on those bylines are not to serve the public, but to beat the competition to the punch or to crucify a human being who by all means is not perfect, but does not deserve to be dragged through the mud day after day.
Journalists are asked to do what is seemingly impossible — they are expected to report events in an honest, unbiased nature. This goes against the grain of every human tendency. And alas, journalists are humans, too. But to accept journalists as human beings requires journalists to accept their topics as human beings, or situations that affect human beings.
Despite the fact that they are held to an impossible standard of human nature, journalists are by no means on a pedestal. They go home to their families and go to bed burdened with the same stains and sins as anyone else. Unfortunately, it is when certain journalists stand on oftentimes self-appointed pedestals that journalism suffers, and as a result, the public suffers, too.
When my friend was charged with involuntary manslaughter, journalists wrote the stories detailing the night she accidentally killed her newborn daughter. Admittedly, the situation was horrendous and tragic. But at the same time, there was a person, a human being, behind the red and puffy eyes in the mug shot featured on the front page, desperately regretting what happened, begging God to let her take it back, mourning the loss of her child. Journalists no longer focus on the humanity of it all — quite simply, it is whatever will make the most noticeable headline.
Journalism is a competitive and cut-throat field. And it’s understandable that oftentimes the only way to curb off the competition is to erase the humanity from the story and provide cold, uncaring black and white. There is a difference, however, between the black and white and utter disregard for the true essence of the story.
It’s rare that the reader (or viewer, depending on your media of choice) considers the fact that on the other end of the story is someone who is crying over the events that transpired. For example, the Tom Noe incident here in Toledo. Certainly some illegal events probably transpired, a few corners were cut and a few million dollars were lost. This is inexcusable, naturally. At the same time, does anyone consider the fact that behind this story is a man who built himself from the ground up, who worked for everything he had, and was ultimately a successful businessman of his own making? That he had a family in Toledo that was hurting to see the constant assault on him from the Toledo Blade, and later, the Associated Press?
No, the public doesn’t consider this. Media is ultimately impersonal. And that’s the beauty of journalism. It’s cold, it’s black and white, and it isn’t about the emotions that come with any newsmaking event.
But maybe it should be.
Maybe instead of considering what’s going to make a buck, or what’s the most sensational, journalists should consider what is the most fair to all involved — the subject and the public. Instead of crucifying people on the front page of the daily news, perhaps journalists should consider every angle, even if it’s dubious. Even if the angle’s obscure. Isn’t that what responsible journalism is about?
It is important to report the story but it is also important to be fair. Growing up in a small town and a small church, I was taught to say things only if they fell under all three of the following stipulations:
1. Is it true?
2. Is it fair?
3. Is it necessary?
Maybe if certain journalists began to consider these tenets, taught to children in a rural church, media would begin to lose its stigma and it could begin to remedy situations rather than directing an unwitting public as to which direction to point fingers.