Let me start by defining journalism, which is a profession of writing or communicating formally employed by publications and broadcasters, for the benefit of a particular community of people.
It is always expected of a journalist to make use of facts to describe events, ideas, or issues that are relevant to the public. Journalists or news analysts or reporters gather information and report it to the people through the print and electronic means in order for us to remain informed about local, state, national and international events.
Journalists can also present their views on issues by writing articles or give his or her opinion on radio and TV discussions and report on the actions of the government, public officials, corporate executives, interest groups, media houses and those who hold social power or authority. Journalism is always described as the Fourth Estate as they are the link between Government and the people.
In journalism, we can refer to a story as a single article, news item or feature. A story is usually relevant to a single event, issue, theme or profile of a person. A journalist can be stationed everywhere and still be a journalist because he will be able to send his stories regularly to the paper or radio and TV and they are usually referred to as a correspondent because they are not in the same city or country where the newspaper, radio or TV is based.
The advents of modern technologies have made it easier for these correspondents to file in stories from the remotest part. All the actions and news in any part of the world can be reported within minutes by these correspondents and hence make the world a global village.
Most of the time, journalists are expected to be responsible and objective in their analysis and are supposed to refrain from personal biases or prejudices. However, this is one of the most debated of all journalistic values and many journalists today feel that the objectivity is just a myth.
Effective journalism is helpful, it always strives to minimize the efforts required of the receivers of its message. Thus it tells one story at a time under one heading. Editors know this and media research has confirmed that multiple tracks in a story tend to distract and confuse readers of a paper, listeners of radio and viewers of television with less information received.
Many times, editors overestimate rather than underestimate their audience and allow more tracks in stories. Many editors believe the chosen track or angle of the headline is just a conscious device to influence the audience. The angle is the last step in the long chain of selections that constitute the journalistic processes. The art of journalism is to make sure that life and reality remain when the process comes to an end at the moment of publication.
In Sierra Leone, we have journalists who practice different forms of writing. Some believe the ultimate task of the journalist is to convey the philosophy of life. Others see the mission of journalism as providing a good story whether news or report with intrigue, drama and a sense of immediacy. The last sets think their primary task is the exposé or what the Americans refer to as muckraking – divulging evils, misuse of power and the like. I believe journalism is not immune to the inconsistencies of fashion: for example, the presidential salary increase reporting from the muckraking tradition was held in high regard.
Regardless of journalistic tradition there are three social norms in the profession: 1.Be as objective as you can in reporting. It is difficult to stem all our biases and our own philosophy of life but we can approximate this goal. 2. We should always balance our report so that all sides of the controversial issues are heard. 3. Let us be fair, honest and not be misled by ideas, persons and practices with which we tend to disagree.
The second norm gives media the most problems and it tends to give minority views on event or an issue the equal voice as those given to majority views, and lay views the same attention as expert views. Even the odd experts the same weight as main-stream ones. Moreover, it runs counter to the dictum or cliché of effective mass communication, which is to tell one story at a time under one heading and to stick to this chosen editorial angle.
An opinion within the editorial office reverberates easily through the typically open landscape of news desks. This affects the process of news selection and presentation. The amount of self-censorship becomes considerable. Investigation into the climate of editorial offices is more than anything I can imagine illuminates the mechanisms of media power.
What I have so far of penetrating insights into this milieu comes from some of the court cases in Sierra Leone where the deputy editor blames the editor for the crisis and reporters saying he did not write the story.
The editorial office is actually an organization coupled to a larger media structure. So is the business office, with its managers and owners of the medium. According to my research, the Chesterton thesis that ‘journalism is the writing on the back side of ads’ indicates the importance of the latter.
My lecturer once said that in the developed world most of the scholars ignored the fact that media studies deal with so called antipoetic subsystems, which he refers to as media owners may disturb editors, but cannot run their daily tasks.
The journalists mostly said that they didn’t miss the editors, but they did miss the editing. They valued the collaboration of working with an editor, but not the arbitrary restrictions. This brings me to what is now referred to as ‘new journalism’. According to my own understanding of this new journalism is the way the story is presented: the pop sociology, the easy cultural generalities with few of the compensating attractions, the dramatic scene-setting and the imp.
There are merits and demerits of the new journalism: the merit is who really wants to read about the event as it is likely to be presented in standard report? For those who want to, standard newspapers will give you the traditional facts, which they consider important because these newspapers have considered these traditional facts very important over the years.
The merit of the new journalism is that it affords us the possibility of a wider view of the world, a glimpse of the variousness and disorder of life. The demerits to my own little knowledge are that these possibilities are so seldom realized, or at such cost to the reality-mechanism of the reader.
A story, let’s say an office fire, there is no need for a journalist today to relate all the traditional facts, but if he is to tell it as a real story, an account of an event that actually happened, I think there is a very deep requirement on the part of the reader that the objects in the account be real objects.
It’s commonplace by now that contemporary life doesn’t provide us with many stable navigational fixes on reality; and that we need them, and have trouble, privately and publicly, when we are too long without.
Families, schools, the government, movies and television cannot contribute much anymore to informing us of the actual objects in the actual room we move about in. Journalism should materially help us with this, but all too rarely what it does is either too conventionally timid, or, with the New Journalist, too often gives up the task of telling us of the actual arrangement of the objects, or at any rate of trying to find out, get close to it, in favor of the journalist’s own imposed ordering of these objects.
According to Tom Wolfe of the New York magazine he said the new journalism is something marvelous, exciting, dramatic a light of revelation, happened to old journalism in the hands of the young hotshots at Esquire and the Herald Tribune. Since then the novel has never been the same. A new art form was created. And so forth. I will try to go in depth next week whether the new journalism is popular or not.