‘Mission and service’ benchmarks in journalism

Extracts from, Malaysiakini’s Eric Loo | Jun 12, 08,

‘Mission and service’ benchmarks in journalism

To help gauge these benchmarks, I list below the common referents of ‘best practices’ that non-Malaysian journalists alluded to in a survey I did in 2006 for a book on ‘best practices of journalism in Asia’.

The referents range from quixotic views of crusading journalism, one that represents the plights of the disenfranchised, to the realities of investigative journalism that exposes public corruption and social injustices. ‘Best practices’ in journalism evolve when certain attributes, albeit non-exhaustive, work together, such as:

  • In-depth research and keen eye for statistical analyses.
  • Dogged determination for field interviews.
  • Penchant for the big picture ‘why’, ‘how’ and ‘what’ context of issues.
  • Healthy skepticism balanced by optimism with the good in people.
  • Understanding from experiencing the life of people in the stories.
  • Acknowledged obligations as a citizen first, journalist second.
  • Deep conviction that truthful stories can make a difference to society.
  • Acute sense of right and wrong.

None of the trace elements allude to journalists’ writing style, language or composition of journalistic texts – all granted as fundamental to professional journalism.  Instead, the journalists’ perceptions of best practices focused on the functional aspects of what they write, the impact they hope their stories will achieve, their conviction and sense of right and wrong that they bring to their stories.

Frontline correspondent, Dionne Bunsha_“anything that I am passionate about and which I have a strong background knowledge on turns out well.Anything that doesn’t make me feel strongly shows in the story.”

Glenda Gloria, editor of investigative magazine in Manila, Newsbreak, said to me, “It’s usually the romance that sustains us when the going gets tough. We became journalists not because we wanted to be famous but because we felt that this profession could somehow make the Philippines a better place to live in.”

As the last hope in producing a ‘new breed’ of mission and service-oriented journalists lies in education, how can journalism teachers imbue in students the higher values that are clearly absent in mainstream media, which tend to serve the interests of its proprietor and advertisers more than the welfare of the people?

I posed this question to Palagummi Sainath (rural affairs editor of The Hindu, and recipient of the 2007 Ramon Magsaysay Award for Journalism), when I visited his home in Mumbai in April 2006. This is what he said:

“There have always been journalists who did not and do not believe in the service of power – those who cut through the hypocrisy of pomp and stated the uncomfortable. I’ve always thought that the boy who said: ‘The Emperor has no clothes!’ and who pointed to a pathetic but powerful moron who was simply starkers was one of the fine early journalists. He dragged into the public domain what others knew but would not say. Once he put it there, it made life simpler for everyone except the Emperor.

“Journalism teachers are not a homogenous group_

  1. There are those who squawk from textbooks (mainly establishment American books), rattling off principles that were never followed or applied to the powerful.
  2. There are those with a total emphasis on craft, teaching unburdened by moral responsibility.
  3. There are those who have taught their students to think and reason and question, who emphasise the ‘why’ of it.
  4. And, some who also teach their students by personal example. So there are different kinds of teachers.

“Journalism teachers have to decide who they wish to make their students responsible to – readers and people, or bosses and balance sheets. All this happens in a context. As corporate power tightens its grip on the profession, I’d like to see us make the students more and more subversive, undermining of the established order.”

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