Thursday, April 16, 2009

“What is Journalism For? My Personal Philosophy of Journalism.”

    When I initially began the journalism program, I was uncertain of journalism's role and purpose. I wanted to expand my writing techniques and style and explore research methods and current news. My first year of journalism school has given me the opportunity to delve deeper into the subject of journalism. My perception has evolved throughout this past year.

  Presently, I believe the role and purpose of journalism is to inform the public and help them to make their own decisions and judgments on past and present issues. I also believe that journalists can empower citizens to act on issues that are important to them. They can enable citizens to become involved in their communities.

  Another purpose of journalism that is especially relevant to me, is to challenge and at times change perceptions. One of the many responsibilities of journalists is to use their power and resources in order to succeed in challenging common misconceptions.

   One principle that is significant in my view of the role of journalism is verifying the facts. When writing a story, I first need to determine who I need to interview. Where will my information come from? How will I receive the information that I need? One of the first things I would have to figure out is what information is significant to the story? Bill Kovach and Tom Rosenstiel state: "How do you sift through the rumors, the gossip, the failed memories, the manipulative agenda, and try to capture something as accurately as possible." (The Elements of Journalism, p.79) Kovach and Rosenstiel mention the "tools in the discipline of verification." (p.79)I believe these tools are essential to accurately capture and verify the facts. For me, these tools are: seeking out multiple sources, gaining a diverse representation, continually asking questions and being transparent to and about your sources. Using these tools helps to filter out the gossip and misconceptions, in order to find the true facts. I also agree with Kovach and Rosensteil that "the discipline of verification is what separates journalism from entertainment, propaganda, fiction or art." (p. 79) For me, journalism should be more educational, more focused on facts and less on opinion, creativity and self-expression. I do believe there is a time and place for "infotainment," fiction and art, but I believe that the lines between these subjects have become blurred. The concepts that Kovach and Rosensteil outlined in forming a foundation for verification make journalism more concrete and the line between "infotainment" and the journalism profession can become clearer, if these tools are implemented.

    Another principle that supports my view is having a diverse representation of sources. By having a diverse group, it enables the journalist to connect a variety of people in the community and allows them to represent different angles to their audience. I believe that this is important in Civic journalism because it can make people feel interconnected as a whole. For example, I would like to see more people with disabilities covered in the media, as well as women's issues. I feel these issues are very limited or non-existent in the current field of journalism. As a journalist, I will strive to include these issues in the media. I desire to see people with disabilities represented in a variety of different professions and issues. I feel that the media tends to focus on disabilities rather than contributions to society. I would like to see more focus on abilities instead of inabilities. The media does not necessarily have to mention a person's disability, unless it is relevant to the story. As a journalist, I do not want to be categorized as solely being a representation for people with disabilities, simply because I have one. I want to cover a wider variety of topics.

     Remaining objective is an important principle in my view of journalism's role and purpose. I realize that I have my own values and beliefs, but I want to present the facts and remain neutral. It is important because I may think I know how people feel, but I want to listen to them tell their own stories. I hope to exercise humility in my work by considering other points of view and recognizing that I will not always have all the answers.

   Some of the challenges that I anticipate in my journalistic career are: finding opportunities for employment, not being taken seriously in the newsroom, as well as online, and overcoming physical barriers such as, not being able to get to sources directly or operate equipment in the newsroom or out in the field. In my pursuit to inform and educate the public, I may have difficulties communicating directly with my sources. Since I most often have an assistant with me, I am also apprehensive about interviews, since my assistants may occasionally take over my work in the interview process. In order to meet and overcome these challenges, I hope to have freelance opportunities. I plan to continually pursue job opportunities and search for them. I have yet to discover how I will overcome all of these challenges I will face, but there are always unique ways to accomplish goals.

    Some of the stories and issues I hope to cover and have a passion for are : First Nations issues and culture, women's issues, eating disorders, homelessness and single parenting, to name a few. My philosophy of journalism will assist me in searching for information on these issues because I am driven to inform and want to affect my readers by giving them the tools they need to act on these issues.

    I am somewhat unfamiliar with publications and organizations that I wish to pitch to, but I plan to devote some time over the summer to research options. A few publications I have already come across are: Psychology Today, Reader's Digest, Ability Magazine, People in Motion and The Tyee. Publications such as Ability Magazine and organizations such as People in Motion relate to my philosophy of journalism because they both concentrate on abilities rather than disabilities. They also educate people in society by showing them that people with disabilities can participate in everyday life. They help change perceptions by showing that there are many different ways of participating. Most of these magazines also have online publications and this will make it easier for me to access them. I also want to pitch to these publications because they deal with a variety of issues that relate to my interests. They are popular and my articles could be read by a diverse group.

    As mentioned previously, freelancing would be a great opportunity for me because I could send in my query letters when pitching my work. Editors could focus on the quality of my work, rather than preconceived notions based on physical appearance. It would be similar when I send my work into online publications. With freelancing, I could eliminate the face-to-face interview process. My query letter would provide all the necessary details an editor would need to make their decision. 

    The method of incremental reporting, as used by Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein in the infamous Watergate scandal, is a method that will be extremely useful to me in the journalism industry. When I find different information, I can publish right away and not wait until I have the entire story. This will be especially useful for me because I can get my work noticed. I will not have to always worry about time constraints and deadlines. I could publish my work in pieces. My readers would hopefully become intrigued by my articles and want to keep following along to find out more. This would allow my readers to feel closer to me because I would appear to be gaining the information at the same pace as they were. I would not appear to "know everything."Issues such as homelessness and the high needs of food banks would not be forgotten and would be on people's minds on a continual basis. Keeping stories such as these at the forefront would help keep people involved because these issues would not be brushed aside by our fast-paced society.

    The method of investigative reporting is one that will be useful for me in my career. Kovach and Rosensteil state that the newly added Pulitzer for investigative reporting in 1964 "[put] new emphasis on the role of the press as activist, reformer, and exposer." (p.139) This is a significant method for me because presently I feel that the media does not have enough investigative journalists. I feel that people may not know enough about issues such as funding cut-backs, especially for seniors housing, single parents, public schools and the medical profession. It is important for me to discover these hidden issues and present them to the public. This principle was also discussed by Kovach and Rosensteil in that "the earliest journalists firmly established as a core principle their responsibility to examine the unseen corners of society." (p.143) This is one of the principles I hope to continue to develop over my career as a journalist. This principle also relates to the "watch dog principle" illustrated by Jan Schafer, executive director for the Pew Centre for Civic Journalism, in her speech "Attack Dog, Watch Dog, Guide Dog: The Role of the Media in Building Community," presented at the Baton Rouge Area Foundation, October 21st, 1999. Schafer stated "the press is often doing more than simply covering stories -- they are often driving controversies, especially in looking at the personal and ethical behavior of public figures." Though this principle is valuable, it is not being practiced correctly at this time. The media often focuses on sensationalized public debate, causing both readers and public figures to mistrust the media. This principle will only work if journalists use it wisely and therefore change direction, gaining back the public's trust. 

    It is a common belief to many people that journalism is disappearing and does not have as much value as it once did. I do not believe this is the case. I believe that journalism is changing direction and needs various guidelines in order for it to become more efficient. Journalism is moving away from print newspapers to online news. Readers and journalists alike must be accountable in their representation of news online. In order for this to take place there must be some written guidelines. In my opinion, journalism should become professionalized. Those wishing to pursue a career in journalism should be required to follow a code of ethics, swear an oath stating that they must remain loyal to the citizens and maintain professional morals. 

   Though I do feel that a broad education and a journalism degree are both valuable to the profession of journalism, I do not believe that they are absolutely necessary. Those living in rural communities may be unable to attend university or college, but should still be able to submit their work and have it published, as long as it meets the editor's criteria. Editors could base their choices on the quality of a journalist's work rather than their qualifications. 

   Everyone must recognize that they have their own prejudices. This does not exclude journalism professionals. Journalists must be aware that prejudices are present in the newsroom. To counteract this, I believe we must be open-minded and discuss prejudices and learn from one another. This approach was demonstrated at the New Orleans Times-Picayune in 1993, when they published a series of articles on race relations. The staff members explored their own values and beliefs about racism and attended various diversity workshops to address these issues in a professional manner. According to Jim Amos, the New Orleans Times-Picayune editor at this time, these diversity workshops "got us to talk about race relations and what our opinions were and helped us break down some barriers." (Nelson, Jack "New Orleans Times-Picayune Series on Racism." Thinking Clearly: Cases in Journalistic Decision Making.) I am hopeful to see this occur throughout my own journalism career. I believe more of these types of workshops should be mandatory when dealing with issues of prejudice and racism and hope to have the opportunity to present some of these workshops in the future.

    Throughout my education in journalism so far, I believe I have begun to gain the tools I will need to be successful in the journalism field. Although I still have a vast number of things to learn, I believe that the foundation that I have already gained will remain the same. My philosophy on the role and purpose of journalism will still stay with me and I hope not to lose sight of the significant role that journalists play in society. One of the roles that I wish to play is to inform the public on critical issues and empower them so they feel as though they can make a difference on their own. During this process, I hope to continually change perceptions and educate the public on issues that affect them in their communities and the surrounding world. 

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