In the book The Vanishing Newspaper: Saving Journalism in the Information Age, author Philip Meyer states that journalists should organize to take a stand against violations of the industry’s founding principles.
And Christine Tatum, president of the Society for Professional Journalists, referred to Meyer‘s book in the August 2007 issue of the organization’s Quill magazine: “He simply thinks we should start naming names even if it means we’re criticizing specific journalists and news organizations,” she wrote. “I agree.”
According to Meyer, there's no time to waste. “Trying to reform investors, editors and publishers is a good idea, but let’s not wait for those people to change their ways,” he writes. “Those of us who practice or teach journalism at the ground level will make progress with greater speed and certainty if we also organize to reform ourselves.”
In its 2007 inaugural issue, The Sedona Observer invited local media to join in a new initiative designed to end the fragmentation and competition currently dividing members of the Fourth Estate. The good news is that several have responded with a resounding "Yes!" to participate in public forums on local issues and truth in media.
But before we go into further detail, let's take a step back into the journalistic past to gain some perspective.
In 1880, a distinguished New York Times journalist named John Swinton gave a speech before a group of his colleagues. The words he spoke carry an eerily timeless message for his media descendants today:
There is not one of you who dares to write your honest opinions and, if you did, you know beforehand that it would never appear in print. I am paid weekly for keeping my honest opinion out of the paper I am connected with. Others of you are paid similar salaries for similar things, and any of you who would be so foolish as to write honest opinions would be out on the streets looking for another job.
If I allowed my honest opinions to appear in one issue of my paper, before 24 hours my occupation would be gone.
The business of the journalist is to destroy the truth, to lie outright, to pervert, to vilify, to fawn, and to sell his country and his race for his daily bread. You know it and I know it.
We are the tools and vassals of rich men behind the scenes. We are the jumping jacks; they pull the strings and we dance. Our talents, our possibilities and our lives are all the property of other men. We are intellectual prostitutes."
Can any of us make the same claim? I certainly have experienced that contradiction, which is why I launched this paper, just as Swinton left the mainstream press to create his own publication documenting the labor struggles of his day.
Bound to the truth or bound to a paycheck?
As journalists we should be bound together to report the truth. The time has come for us to look closer at where and how we cast our journalistic pearls.
Let’s leave the disgraceful advertising control of our news agendas and the body-bag sensationalism to the profit-obsessed media. We must stand collectively as journalists first and as publishing employees second. Because our loyalties remain bound to the public interest.
Just as Michael Moore observes that health care should embrace human welfare before profits, so too should media focus on social concerns over revenues. Profit's fine as long as it doesn't mean paying people less or neglecting issues to please advertisers.
As journalists, we act from many shared principles. Yet we often work our beats in isolation from one another. We need to share information amongst ourselves and more widely through the media with the public at large.
Why does it take an annual conference, awards banquet or occasional seminar or to bring us together as a profession? Rather, we must gather on a regular basis in our communities, for our communities, to discuss the pertinent issues each and every one of us should be covering as well as to share the challenges we face as journalists today. Let's bring back the principles of the guild to unite ourselves as professionals, with a duty to our readers and society in general.
Our responsibility is not to fiercely territorial publishers, steeped in their own personal agendas, but to the essence of journalism: to report the issues for the common good – not to serve advertisers, power brokers, business groups or other special interests.
Questions? For more information, send your name, title, media outlet and e-mail to editor@SedonaObserver.com. All inquiries will remain confidential for obvious reasons.
The power of the pen belongs in our hands – and not in the grip of greed, manipulation and avarice. We welcome your participation in our upcoming meetings and forums. Plans are already underway for exciting collaborative efforts to address regional and community issues, with each of our publications offering a different and vital perspective.