Considering journalism values that endure

Posted on September 10, 2010 by Janet Coats

When I was at the University of Missouri School of Journalism last week, I spoke to students and faculty about my journey out of newspapers and into exploring the future of journalism.

One of the topics we discussed was journalism values – which ones endure in a digital age, and which were truly a function of the old media world? I told the students that I believed my generation bore some responsibility for slowing down the rate of innovation by resisting change in the name of values. What we thought of as being core values, too often, were really just practice – our preferred way of doing things.

What we should be thinking about as we move deeper into the digital age, I argued, are values that truly are values – the timeless core of our craft, not just the conventions we followed when we practiced journalism in print or on broadcast television.

I said I’d spent a lot of time these last few months thinking about three of those enduring values:

  • Engagement. Journalism only works if it engages with the community it intends to serve. When I was a beginning reporter, my first editor told me to bring a list of story ideas to him for review. He took one look at the list and said, “These are term paper topics. They aren’t news stories. News stories make you want to act!” That was true then, and it is even more true in an age when news and information come at us from a million different directions. Journalism challenges you and makes you want to do something – even if you don’t always act on that impulse in that moment.
  • Transparency. Journalism shows its math. I say this knowing that many of the larger news outlets trade in anonymity the way my 5-year-old trades in Bakugan cards. Journalism names sources. It tells you where it comes from so that you can make your own evaluations about its reliability and validity. It invites, even welcomes, challenge.
  • Meaning. To me, meaning is what really distinguishes journalism and makes it vibrant. Journalism takes transparency one step farther and illuminates connections. It shows the history of people and events and gives context. The wonderful part about a participatory, digital age is that we don’t have to rely on the memory of a journalist or a news organization to make those connections and provide that context; the community can contribute that as well, bringing new dimensions of meaning to the news that a single journalist or newspaper could never provide alone.

In the Journalism Accelerator project I’m now working on with Reynolds Journalism Institute fellow Lisa Skube, we want to model these values. We want to create a place where journalism innovators can engage with each other, where they can show off both their work and the thinking that went behind it, and we were can all work together to create meaning from the marvelous threads of creativity that are informing journalism’s future.

Those are three of the values we want our work to exhibit. What other values should a network aimed at connecting innovators to share and learn from each other embody?

  • Learn about these and other concepts used in TPF's approach to philanthropy.


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