When Guardian Australia turned four years old recently, we commissioned the journalism academic Margaret Simons to write a clear-eyed account of the media landscape in Australia.
She drew on the research she and her team at the centre for advancing journalism at the University of Melbourne are conducting, investigating the impact of journalism on the operations of democracy and civic society.
As part of that story we put the call out to you, our supporters, to tell us why journalism still matters in 2017. The answers – which came in their hundreds – were considered, smart, and showed great depth of knowledge about the challenges facing today’s media. We can’t publish them all, but here’s a small selection of edited responses.
Perhaps more than ever good journalism matters, as the population fragments along small party lines with disparate ideologies based on wild assumptions. Opinions rather than facts are raised to appeal to voters. If there is no thoughtful journalism, who will contest the facts? Fact checking is a hallmark of good journalism. Challenging assumptions rather than voicing one or other political party argument.
Good journalism, like history, is a country’s memory or modern cultural conscience.
Many people have been hurt by journalists invading their privacy in the name of the “public interest” – whatever that is. And we have sympathised with those people against the journalists for a very long time. It seems disingenuous to make out that articles written by professional journalists are impartial and provide balanced views – I’m assuming you have read the Australian? So we have turned to our own versions and opinions through blogs, online forums, Facebook and Twitter and we all understand that they are inherently biased but when they strike a chord, we become loyal followers.
The same can be said of good journalists so it IS about trust, integrity, non-biased, balanced and honest reporting. It should never be about chasing a catchy headline, persecuting an individual who is already under investigation, misquoting and deliberately misrepresenting people and facts. If we knew that there was a clear code of ethics and that a journalist would be sacked or deregistered in some way if they violated that code, we would have more confidence.
The Guardian is one of the few shining lights among the swamp of the mainstream media. I feel that I can have high confidence in the integrity of the reporting and editorial staff. Does this mean it never fails? Of course not and any reader needs to maintain an intelligent skepticism on any news received. But certainly when I want to know what is going on in the world the Guardian is the outlet I look to and I’m happy to financially support its production to the extent I can.
Truda M Straede
I believe that this article, and the underlying research, emphasises again the need for TRAINED observers and reporters to penetrate all the workings of our society. Without these ears to the ground, “reports” become little more than hearsay, and many happenings are simply missed.
In a way, trained reporters are like the “initiated elders” of our first people, the holders and transmitters of the true culture, those who are truth speakers, whereas social media “news” resembles more a game of Chinese whispers, where each transfer of “information” differs from the last, due to omission, distortion or misunderstanding. While amateur observers and recorders may do quite a good job, it is unlikely that they are able to set their stories within a firm historical and political framework; the weighting of the observed facts requires training, and experience.
I rely on journalists to tell me what’s going on in the world, to unravel complexity, to report on science, arts and technological developments, to hold politicians, corporations, governments and institutions to account, to get behind slogans and platitudes to real meanings, intentions, implications and consequences, to expose corruption, lies, exploitation and vested interests, to give voice to the most vulnerable and powerless members of society, to foster and facilitate robust debate about important social, environmental, economic and political issues, to encourage reflection about our morals, ethics, rights and responsibilities, and to occasionally step back and look at the bigger, long-term vision about where we are going as a society.
I cannot imagine how fragmented and dysfunctional our society would become without journalism. I don’t know how we retain and support journalists, but there is clearly considerable public value, like health, education, justice, infrastructure etc, so perhaps journalism needs to be publicly funded in the same way, at national, state and local levels. Corporate monopoly ownership worries me.
I am 65 years old and I have witnessed the degradation of news and current affairs reporting to the point where it has become non-sensible to read. It is now so heavily influenced by powerful lobby groups and other persons/groups with vested interests and also by shortsighted politicians more concerned with the 24-hour media cycle and their resultant popularity than in addressing the true medium- and long-term needs of our nation that the coverage is so tainted and far removed from being either objective or truthful that it is ridiculous fanciful rubbish.
Several obvious examples include our federal government’s comments on how wonderfully they are protecting the Great Barrier Reef, how the continuing development of new massive coalmines is “good for humanity” and how we (Australia) are not responsible for the abominable treatment of asylum seekers on Manus Island and Nauru not to mention the immense disconnect between our country’s stated position on climate change and our actual conduct in that regard. I turn to Guardian Australia because I can read accurate, reliably truthful coverage of these and similar events. There are many articles in Guardian Australia that broaden my outlook and cause me to modify my view on many issues. There is good honest reporting which restores my faith that I am not the only mushroom who refuses to be buried by all the bullshit. I am very pleased that I have found Guardian Australia and am proud to continue my financial support of it and the fearless, truthful reporting that it provides.
High quality journalism is more important than ever and it has to be clear, accurate and informative. I sometimes feel that the development of the internet and associated social media have become the modern equivalent of the Tower of Babel – everyone has something to say but it is not necessarily important or relevant. It is also a situation where there is so much information that has dubious sources and can therefore obfuscate and confuse the audience. This leads to communication being misunderstood and hard to make any sense of.
It is an environment that is ripe for propaganda and this I feel is what the Trump administration is using to fool and persuade a lot of people who only can cope with a 140-character message. The world is a complex place where the marketeer has triumphed over sense and science. Let’s face it, when the leader of the US is a salesman, what can we believe as fact? Hence it is essential for journalists to be “crap detectors” and only provide worthy, intelligent, researched, analysis of the geopolitics and domestic news. So in essence we want quality, informative and analytical journalism (not opinions) that allows the reader to logically assess what is happening in the world.
Good quality journalism matters more than ever and I subscribe to the Guardian for that reason. I hate the fact that the collapse of advertising revenue has forced print newspapers to decline and driven journalism more into online publications, where people tend only to read what reinforces their world view. This is exacerbated if content delivery relies on subscription. I hope the Guardian can maintain its high standards whilst trying to appeal to as broad and inclusive a readership as possible, and also that commercially it aims not to just rely on the support of its dedicated readers.
I don’t have a detailed, intellectual answer for you, but the amount of research and effort that the Guardian appears to put into its stories – and features – keeps all its readers informed and knowledgeable. A search for the truth should always be considered as honourable. I understand that people find journalists irksome, but I think they also forget that they’re there for a reason.