The Foundation of Journalism

New media changes the way we receive and produce news. But what will the future of journalism be about – new tools and techniques, or accuracy and good reporting? At Medill, this question is currently fought out.

With a plan dubbed “Medill 2020“, the Dean wants to adapt the school to the changing media landscape. Journalism students will devote more time to audience insight and learning the technical skills needed in a 21st-century media envrionment. Also, the journalism and marketing programs will work together more closely to teach the future multi-media pros how to market their content to an audience and to media outlets.

Not everyone is happy with this vision. Quite a few faculty members, even in the short time I have been here, have expressed their concern that the basic journalistic skills they want to teach students will be lost among the flashy new techniques. Essentially, it comes down to a simple question: What should journalism be about?

For me, the answer is simple. Journalism is storytelling based on facts. It should engage people, open up new perspectives, tell them about the world around them. It should inform without being dull, and entertain without being sensationalist.

Journalism should point a finger at injustice, and it should hold those in power accountable for their actions.

In the words of one of my instructors: It should afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted.

With this perspective, all the new media techniques are only an add-on to what really matters. That is good reporting, asking the right questions of the right people; Being able to write a story that balances conflicting facts, that shows the effects of government or private action. And while speed and a 24-hour-around-the-world news cycle push reporters to have the latest story before everyone else, we should not forget the trust placed in our profession.

We need act ethically and hold ourselves to high standards of truthfulness and balance. Failing to meet these standards is far more damaging than having a story two minutes after your competitor. Bloggers rightfully take journalists to task for being inaccurate, ill-informed, making embarassing mistakes and jumping to unwarranted conclusions (so does Jon Stewart).

Therefore new media are just a new tool with which to carry out the old task of informing audiences, a more powerful way to tell a story through audio, video, pictures, words and graphics. But the basis remains the same, and that is why I am here, that is what I want to learn. Therefore, I really hope Medill will not turn away from teaching its students reporting, writing and ethical standards, and how to apply those in a changing media world. These skills are the foundation of journalism.

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