Thursday, September 01, 2005

Essential reading for journalists (and citizens)

The Elements of Journalism (or click here for the digital version.)

I picked this up yesterday and have made my way through about half of the book. This is the most definitive explication of the meaning and value that journalism has for a democratic society that I've encountered, and is essential for understanding why we need a free press and for diagnosing where our press has gone astray. I'll likely refer back to this book and talk about it more in future posts, but for now I'm just going to share what the authors identify as the core of journalistic principles. From the introduction (bold emphasis mine):

There are ... some clear principles that journalists agree on -- and that citizens have a right to expect. They are principles that have ebbed and flowed over time, but they have always in some manner been evident. They are the elements of journalism

The first among them is that the purpose of journalism is to provide people with the information they need to be free and self-governing.

To fulfill this task:

  1. Journalism's first obligation is to the truth.

  2. Its first loyalty is to citizens.

  3. Its essence is a discipline of verification.

  4. Its practitioners must maintain an independence from those they cover.

  5. It must serve as an independent monitor of power.

  6. It must provide a forum for public criticism and compromise.

  7. It must strive to make the significant interesting and relevant.

  8. It must keep the news comprehensive and proportional.

  9. Its practitioners must be allowed to exercise their personal conscience.

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