Why responsible journalism matters

May 26, 2010

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I saw this note from Indexed yesterday and couldn’t help but piggyback on it for a more elaborate post.

All of us know that journalists play an integral role in keeping people accountable. In bringing to the fore stories that would most readily be swept under the rug. In highlighting the unsung heroes. And putting corrupt politicians to shame. In upholding democracy. And being the voice of the common man.

Journalists are trained to be objective. To analyze, dissect, probe, and report on facts.

To give people something to chew on. To spur discussion. To enable change.

Journalists are supposed to be non-partisan. Not bring their personal biases into their professional lives. Weed out the sensation and focus on what matters.

Look for the story, not make one up.

Journalists are supposed to be ethical. Grounded. Gritty. Real.

In my decade-old career I have discovered most of this to be true.

In theory.

Most journalists in India don’t have the requisite training or knowledge to report factually. They just have an “eye for a story” — a story that’s sometimes concocted for pure business reasons, as Amit Varma points out in his recent blog post Match ka Mujrim.

When there was no story to be had, the media made it up, such as when, as Anand Vasu reported, “Dhoni’s effigy was burnt in his hometown Ranchi, … apparently it was ‘arranged’ by two channels.” The footage was good—so what if the burning was staged?

These so-called “journos” are nothing more than sensationalism whores. Pointing the camera into the face of anguish. Writing agenda-driven reports that are really shoddy opinion pieces. Driven by TRP ratings and the “need” to break the news before anyone else does.

Journalism is a business, not a service.

And like all businesses, it has its eyes set on the prize.

News producers like to say, “we’re giving the audience what they want.”


Do we, the people, really want to watch hours of footage on the balloon boy, or dwell over Tiger Woods’ infidelity?

Do we, the educated masses, really need to subject ourselves to Glenn Beck’s or Keith Olbermann’s rants and biased finger-pointing?CNN Twitter Bird Full Color1 Why responsible journalism matters

Do we, the social-media-savvy netizens, want to watch hours of reports on what folks like us are saying on Twitter?

Do we even care anymore how rapidly the standard of news reporting is slipping?

Probably not.

And therein lies the problem.

We have turned into passive consumers. We have failed ourselves by allowing media to treat us like a bunch of nincompoops.

Instead of expressing our anger over reports with sensational headlines but no real story to tell, we keep quiet. Some resort to well-researched blogs or Twitter feeds, but most lap up whatever is served with nary a complaint.

When we, the people, become complacent, why should journalists bother? Why should they pay any attention to where there’s real trouble? Why should they worry about the “public’s right to know” when it’s so much easier to do the fluff stuff?

Why should they care when we don’t?

Because they are journalists.

Because they took an oath when passing out of journalism school to be responsible; have integrity; be sincere, truthful, and accurate; be impartial; and be decent.

Because they have an obligation to democratic societies worldwide to provide a truthful, comprehensive, and intelligent account of daily events. They have to be conscientious, so we can progress, not regress.

Because if they don’t care, who will?

We can shift the burden of responsibility onto their shoulders, but truly, we need to sit up and take note of where we’re headed. We have to be accountable to ourselves and our communities. And we have to help straying journalists find their way.

So, the next time you see or read something that doesn’t qualify as responsible journalism, write a letter to the news producer, or the reporter, or the editor, or use your social media prowess to tweet about it.

Certainly that’s more important than telling the world what you had for breakfast.

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11 Responses to Why responsible journalism matters

  1. BillNo Gravatar on May 27, 2010 at 3:44 am

    Mansi, I don’t watch the news anymore because of what it’s become. I turn the local news on for the weather & that’s it. I enjoy reading the newspaper as overall I believe it’s better researched & more balanced. I caution though that all news no matter how well written or produced is biased as well pass information through our own perception. This is true regardless of how balanced the report is so we all need to remember that when reading or watching the news. I think it’s a shame that the evening news has become more of an entertainment show then a news program.

    That’s my two cents…thanks for your thoughts.



  2. letsgraphNo Gravatar on May 27, 2010 at 11:03 am

    good stuff..
    but i think even if you write something to them, they never pay any attention, which is the sad part..


    • MansiNo Gravatar on May 27, 2010 at 10:31 am

      True. But when a larger number of people protest, somebody’s bound to sit up and take notice. The social media is such a powerful tool but more people use it to publish irrelevant daily routines than using it to publicly lambast and humiliate errant journalists.

  3. ScoManNo Gravatar on June 6, 2010 at 8:38 pm

    I love a good graph, and that is a good graph.

    I think most Australian journalists are sensationalism whores, and that’s why I pay no attention to the news.

    Unless it’s on a show where comedians discuss the news. That I can handle.

    • MansiNo Gravatar on June 7, 2010 at 5:35 am

      Heh. I watch Jon Stewart on Comedy Central to get the “real” news. Everything else that passes for news on these 24-hour news channels these days is a joke.

  4. LizzieNo Gravatar on June 7, 2010 at 12:30 am

    Some professions, many, exist because we need them. We need our journalists to maintain integrity in the insanity because if they do not, how can we separate insanity from reality. We need voices of sanity, telling the truth, reporting the facts not telling us what to think about the pseudo-topic du jour.
    I don’t need talking heads and frenzied alarmists writing as if they were Chicken Little. I need and desire to know what is really happening, not what someone else thinks about it nor what they want ME to think about it.
    Excellent post, thank you.
    Stopped by from WOW, congrats on being the BON for the day!

    • MansiNo Gravatar on June 8, 2010 at 7:23 am

      Thanks for stopping by, Lizzie. Appreciate your insights. The business model for news, especially that on TV, has made the whole enterprise into a mockery. The longer we, the consumers, take it silently, the more media’s standards will keep degrading.

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  6. Jaky AstikNo Gravatar on June 9, 2010 at 9:24 am

    And what you do have to say about responsible film stars?

    • The SorcererNo Gravatar on January 12, 2011 at 9:01 pm

      They are not journalists. They get paid to do their antics on the tele.

      I don’t know if people observed it, but the parody version of the news (Gustaki maaf?) seem to be more accurate than the actual news :P .

      You could fingerpoint at journalists but if you REALLY think about, almost all of these media sources are owned and controlled by a corportate/group of corporates. They see revenue- they see ad. Only way to get the most out of their break is by sensationalising the news.

      Imagine this: Fish that can swim in fog!! <<<<— Bet this sentence catches your eyes faster than the comment above.

      That’s how media group works now. Carefully well-planned ads. Next thing I would hear from those "reporters" is "Warning: 1 car seriously Rammed against the truck because the driver couldn’t stop the car. If they used tyres from MRF with nylon grip, we wouldn’t be seeing this!!!".

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