The media’s duty is not to make the world better. Although some might believe that it is, the media isn’t meant to change the world directly. The media’s job is to inform the public of what people in power are doing.
Today, journalists are faced with a lot: a “dying” industry, a public who believes they care more about making a profit than about reporting the facts. But the questions that face journalism students are even bigger: Is it our job to make the world a better place? Should we tell the truth to power, even when it can hurt us?
The public needs to be informed in an unbiased way so that they can change the world. Now, unbiased doesn’t mean that there is no bias at all — that’s an unrealistic expectation. It means that journalists need to attempt to take as much of their own opinion and backstory out of the narrative as possible (unless the article is an opinion piece). The universal media bias is a bias toward the best story, but that doesn’t make it permissible for individual journalists to be biased.
The relationship between the public and the media is strained mainly because the public misinterprets the duty of the media. During an election cycle, this confusion can be harmful and negatively affect what people think of the media’s coverage. Throughout the current election cycle, candidates have disavowed the media for being biased, and while that is part of the problem, it isn’t the entire problem.
The public needs to understand that the media can make the world better by informing the public, but the media’s job is not actually to make the change. The media should indirectly change the world by giving the public the ability to create change.
Recently, it’s become commonplace for members of the media to push their own agendas in their articles and publications. Leaning toward one overall point of view or focusing on one topic isn’t ideal, but it doesn’t necessarily make a publication unethical. The line between being ethical and unethical is always moving and difficult to find, and journalists need to constantly reevaluate whether or not they are crossing that line.
I’ve found myself often questioning whether or not I’m crossing that very line.
This summer, the American University student government secretary resigned for her personal well being. I found out through multiple members of the student government that she was likely forced out by the president. As an elected official, he did not have the right to do this (and my belief in that was reaffirmed by a decision by the student government judicial board).
Rather than letting the situation play itself out, I could have chosen to open a judicial hearing against the president. I could have manipulated members of student government to open a senate investigation. But instead, I reported the facts as I found them. I allowed the elected officials on my campus to make the decisions about what to do.
Some student leaders on my campus question my choice to report on the facts, but the truth is out there. The duty of the media is to find the truth and report on it. That is the only job of the media.
To my core, I hold the belief that the public has a right to know when people in power are abusing that power. If the public isn’t informed, then they can’t create change. They can’t hold officials accountable and they can’t make the world a better place themselves.