Anyone who may doubt the importance of a free and independent press needs only to look at how the presidential election was covered. Our Founding Fathers put forth the 1st Amendment of our Constitution with the expectation the press would hold every institution accountable (themselves included).
The press is as vital an institution to the protection of our constitutional-republic as a disciplined and ethical military. The institution of the press our Founding Fathers envisioned is in danger of becoming null and void, and only the members of the press can cure what ails the institution, to commit to the maxim “cura te ipsum (heal thyself).”
Some of you may be say, “but Jeff, are you not part of the press?” The answer is yes, and like a journalist, I try to hold myself to the standards expected as a benefactor of the 1st Amendment. The simple reality is I am tasked with providing an opinion. However, I am still obligated to be factual and genuine in that opinion. Those of us who write opinion pieces do so in an attempt to reset the conversation, to offer the reader a perspective they may not have considered. As I have found through the many comments and emails, you as readers expect me to be honest. You may disagree with me, but you should know I take that disagreement to heart, and reflect on your concerns. A reporter, an investigative journalist and their editors have a higher obligation. When those who serve in the press lose sight of their obligations, they place our integrity as a nation in jeopardy.
The 1st Amendment carries with it all the weight of not only the new nation in which the amendment was first conceived, but becomes even more vital in a modern world overstimulated and easily distracted. A free and disciplined press is needed more today than at any other time in our country’s history. Facebook, Twitter, fake news sites, biased bloggers, are adding to the lack of faith the public has with the media, but each of these outlets has grown because far too many in the journalist profession have lost sight of their true purpose in a society committed to liberty. The purpose of the 1st Amendment and the protection it was intended to provide is simple: a vigilant, incorruptible press.
Journalism in America, and around the world, is in need of a renaissance, a rebirth as to its real purpose. A free press is meant to be the watchdog, a spotlight that holds business, government and those seeking office answerable for any misdeeds or failings.
Journalists must commit themselves to a similar ethos as that of a scientist or criminal investigator; to follow the facts. People who profess to be journalists must stop seeking the story they want to find, and seek the story the facts expose. As a journalist, you are not in search of the truth, but like an archeologist and criminal investigator, you must be devoted to the facts. To paraphrase Indiana Jones – “…; (Journalism) is the search for fact, not truth. If it’s truth you’re interested in, Dr. Tyree’s Philosophy class is right down the hall.”
For our country to lose faith in our press is for us to lose faith in the very institution meant to serve as the watchdog against corruption. Without watchdogs, tyranny and venality no longer need worry about sneaking around in the dark of the night, but are able to walk around in broad daylight, unmolested.
Reporters have gained a reputation almost as contemptuous as that of lawyers. While some in the media pat each other on the back believing the mutual adoration of their peers is the only opinion that matters, only 32 percent of Americans have a “great or fair amount” of trust in the media. I am not naïve, and fully understand personal beliefs and attachments stay with all us. Nevertheless, as a journalist, you must detach yourself from anything that prevents an unbiased commitment to the facts.
Hanging on the wall of the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., is a plaque. Inscribed on that plaque is the Journalist’s Creed, written by Dean Walter Williams, the first dean of the Missouri School of Journalism. I wonder how many in the press know this creed exists. By no means is this creed perfect, but it is as good a place as any to start a renaissance:
I believe in the profession of journalism. I believe that the public journal is a public trust; that all connected with it are, to the full measure of their responsibility, trustees for the public; that acceptance of a lesser service than the public service is betrayal of this trust.
I believe that clear thinking and clear statement, accuracy and fairness are fundamental to good journalism.
I believe that a journalist should write only what he holds in his heart to be true.
I believe that suppression of the news, for any consideration other than the welfare of society, is indefensible.
I believe that no one should write as a journalist what he would not say as a gentleman; that bribery by one’s own pocketbook is as much to be avoided as bribery by the pocketbook of another; that individual responsibility may not be escaped by pleading another’s instructions or another’s dividends.
I believe that advertising, news and editorial columns should alike serve the best interests of readers; that a single standard of helpful truth and cleanness should prevail for all; that the supreme test of good journalism is the measure of its public service.
I believe that the journalism which succeeds best – and best deserves success – fears God and honors Man; is stoutly independent, unmoved by pride of opinion or greed of power, constructive, tolerant but never careless, self-controlled, patient, always respectful of its readers but always unafraid, is quickly indignant at injustice; is unswayed by the appeal of privilege or the clamor of the mob; seeks to give every man a chance and, as far as law and honest wage and recognition of human brotherhood can make it so, an equal chance; is profoundly patriotic while sincerely promoting international good will and cementing world-comradeship; is a journalism of humanity, of and for today’s world.