Five Functions of Journalism

A good journalist will collect facts, research and investigate the subject matter and based on a unique style, formulate language that tells a story. A story that will grab the reader to such an extent that both the unique style as well as the story are remembered and recommended. In this day and age, however, gone are the days where a paper landed on your doorstep bringing you the main source of news you looked forward to reading with your morning coffee.

What is Journalism?

I define journalism as language depicting news or presenting information through the media in one hand, or the study of such language in the other hand. Good journalism involves the style of presentation, the way language is painted across the page, or presented through any source on television or radio. A good journalist will collect facts, research and investigate the subject matter and based on a unique style, formulate language that tells a story. A story that will grab the reader to such an extent that both the unique style as well as the story are remembered and recommended.


Function No. 1 – Information

With the Internet, anyone can publish anything whether it’s self-publishing, posting videos or pictures, writing blogs, commenting on blogs written by others, or generating a website that allegedly has all the answers. Gone are the days where a paper landed on your doorstep bringing you the main source of news you looked forward to reading with your morning coffee. Gone are the days where people relied solely on local news channels for their daily reports because cable news running 24/7 became a major competitor.

With all the current methods of contributing to the supply of information whether it’s trendy or simply trying to meet public demand, we’re in a fast paced society and I always wonder if some stories used to be a bullet point list of facts tied to a good photo and there you go. All anyone has to do in today’s world is read the news on a favorite site and if it’s worth sharing, right-click, copy, and paste it in an e-mail, blog or social website. I also wonder if deep investigative reporting still pounds a good journalist’s heart.

Readers with a short attention span can capture a dozen images on the Internet and already know the story just by reading captions and not all these images necessarily depict high quality photojournalism. The point is, however, these readers don’t need to read the whole story.

Make an announcement on the Internet, and it spreads like wildfire and immediately becomes news. But, was it factual and was it verified? There doesn’t even have to be more than three paragraphs supporting the announcement. Does that mean an interested reader has a short attention span?

The Internet continues to effect print media. The really good journalists must feel challenged in today’s society with the subject matter they have to work with to produce an acceptable piece that will invite and interest their readers. I can imagine the pressure they are under just to deliver good news that is highly viable.


Function No. 2 – Increasing Public Awareness

A good journalist who is well-trained will gather up facts, information and research and write on subjects to increase awareness amongst readers of all demographics. A good journalist will develop personal style so it even becomes recognizable with a readership base.

What has been referred to as citizen journalism is a means where communication on a variety of subjects soars through social media.

According to, author, Robert W. McChesney, states in his book,The Problem of the Media, that

“Democratic theory posits that society needs journalism to perform three main duties; to act as a rigorous watchdog of the powerful and those who wish to be powerful; to ferret out truth from lies; and to present a wide range of informed positions on key issues.” McChesney also stated that “Each medium need not do all these things, but the media system as a whole should make this caliber of journalism readily available to the citizenry.”


Function No. 3 – Interpretating the Facts

People generally believe what’s in a newspaper because it’s printed language. It’s healthy to question what is read as information is gathered from different resources before establishing an opinion. A reporter tries to provide facts in such a manner so as to persuade the reader to interpret the information based on the way it’s being delivered. A good reporter needs to also be able to verify gathered facts.

An article run on in November 2010 entitled The End of ‘Objectivity’ written by James Poniewozik concluded with an appropriate closing:

“The days of pretending that journalists are dispassionate infobots are ending. And that’s good: trust built on openness is stronger than trust built on an agreed-upon fiction. We are seeing the death throes of the unsustainable concept of ‘objectivity.’ Long live the real thing.”


Function No. 4 – Encouraging Decisions, Influencing Change & Shaping Public Opinion

Whether it’s print media or an on-line source, buyers are influenced very much so by advertising, alone, e.g., hair styles, trendy seasonal wardrobes, and many, many other products such as pet food. People do believe what they see in print, so language is a good tool of persuasion, marketability or manipulation, whatever term you frequent the most.

Think about how the public mindset was transformed during and immediately after the September 11 attack by the mass media. This circumstance greatly influenced change for many people regardless how complacent many others have become. This circumstance also shaped a lot of opinions as a result and those opinions have evolved. The media journalistic reporting each anniversary is absolutely incredible, but they also have the time in between anniversaries to prepare.

With elections coming up and all the effects which are reported on routinely will very much so encourage the public who they might consider voting for by providing facts and drama. Watch the behavior of all the cable news network channels to gather your information, however, before deciding.

I realize not every person has cable news. Every time I watch local news, these channels help shape my opinion not to watch them anymore because it’s utterly poor reporting and depressing. It’s like they are reading headlines that almost always seems to involve a death. And, oftentimes, it doesn’t seem to be a high enough overview of what’s actually going on in the world. I promote cable news and reading everything on the Internet (a reputible site).


Function No. 5 – Entertainment Journalism

Two years ago, writer Rick Ellis had an article on entitled, “The Sad State of Entertainment Journalism,” with an opening paragraph that reads:

“When people ask me what I do for a living, I usually tell them I’m a journalist. I don’t describe myself as an entertainment journalist, even though that title covers the bulk of my output over the past decade. Calling yourself an entertainment journalist has roughly the same intellectual heft as describing yourself as the writer of a line of Angelina Jolie trivia books.”

When he discussed sensationalism of specific entertainment shows to increase ratings, it’s really the formula these programs follow in giving viewers what seems to appear what they want. Ellis’ argument was essentially that it’s not really great journalism.

Entertainment journalism, however, has been growing at a high speed, but I think that’s attributed to the fact we live in a pop culture society that is purely entertained by media coverage of favorite actors, singers, etc., which isn’t trying to go out on a limb to redefine news or good quality reporting. One anecdote would be if you want a really great hamburger, you grill it yourself and if you want something mediocre, there’s a drive-thru on every corner now. Perhaps the silver lining is the fact a reporter has the opportunity to meet a lot of celebrities.


“A Voice for the Dead” by James E. Starrs with Katherine Ramsland

My quick spin on this book was it provided a nice reading experience of a true performance of a forensic scientist and investigator as he sought the truth from the grave as demonstrated in this book.


Click here for image source.


James Starrs has led a remarkable journey throughout his life. He has been an educator in the fields of law and forensic science. He has used his thought provoking abilities to uncover and bring forward significant information based on his exhumations.

Through the use of advanced technology, which obviously includes DNA testing, Professor Starrs takes his readers into his world by providing a true accounting of his exhumation projects. As costly as these projects are, his analysis based on his forensic analysis with the help of his colleagues have provided an avenue of exploring historically documented “facts,” in such a manner that in searching for the truth, the reader won’t be able to put the book down.

The intrigue of the core subject of this book is spelled out, in part, with the dedication page which succinctly states, “To the ones whose voices have not yet been heard but deserve to be.”

Starrs image

Click here for image source.

Click here for more biographical information on Dr. Starrs.


One of Professor Starrs projects involved an incident that occurred over 100 years ago in Colorado relating to the fact that while Alfred Packer and five others endure a wintry expedition, only Packer survivevs. While cannibalism was said to have occurred by Packer’s recounting the experience of survival in the snowy mountains near Lake City, Colorado, it remains to be determined whether the act of cannibalism can be proven.

What Professor Starrs brings to the surface is curiosity and wonderment for the reader. He takes you through the whole journey from the beginning of crew or team gathering into what they find based on all their respective skills and expertise. This journalistic style continues throughout the book.

A Packer

Alfred Packer (Source: Wikipedia; public domain).


One of the most interesting cases in Professor Starrs’ book is about former CIA Agent, Frank Olson. I did recall watching a news documentary about this story prior to reading this book. Professor Starrs was clearly on a mission to determine whether Dr. Olson had committed suicide from a 13th floor of a hotel building, or if he was pushed out the window.

Dr. Olson’s oldest son never believed his father had committed suicide. Dr. Olson’s body was exhumed for the purpose of determining how his death occurred. I found this segment of the book involving the subject of a biological warfare programs surrounding the subject of LSD testing on individuals to be both intriguing and interesting. The nail biter is turning page after page with diligent reading to reach Professor Starrs’ conclusions.

As reported by the Associated Press in November 2012, two of Dr. Olson’s sons are suing the government for their father’s death. See this story here. The Olson sons have a site called the Frank Olson Project, a site in which you can read Chapter 3 of Professor Starrs’ book. This chapter and the family site are very compelling to study and research.

Click here for a profile of Dr. James Starrs.


Who Invented the Mugshot?

Meet the inventor of the mug shot: Frenchman, police officer and biometrics researcher who developed anthropometry which was beneficial to police officers in criminal identification.

One can only see what one observes, and one observes only things which are already in the mind. Alphonse Bertillon (4.24.1853 to 2.13.1914).


Alphonse Bertillon was born in Paris, France. He had attempted a number of jobs before being called to serve with the French army at the age of 22. After serving in the army and not having a high level of education, his father and a medical professor Louis Bertillon, had influenced his hire into the Paris police. Bertillon’s brother, Jacques, also became successful including stepping into his father’s role after he died. Bertillon’s mother, Zoé, died very young at the age of 34 from the effects of a fever she was unable to break.

Some may have considered Bertillon to be a bit aloof since he wasn’t gifted with social skills. He was intelligent and he presented himself well. While working as a clerk for the Parisian police, it was Bertillon’s chief goal to help promote a system that could identify repeat offenders more expeditiously. Bertillon developed a method of identification which became known as Bertillonage and although repeat offenders could become identified, in time, this process was proven to be flawed when measurements were not taken accurately. For example, although consideration was given to a host of different measurements of any one particular individual in comparison to one element of measurement such as head size, imagine two people having the same measurement across their foreheads. Ultimately, this method would be replaced by a more effective measure known as fingerprinting. Noteworthy, Bertillon didn’t just rely on body measurements; he also used other physical characteristics such as scarring and personality factors.

Bertillon actually had developed a good idea to create a system that could identify someone who might be a repeat offender which, again, was a large part of his goal. It was found, though, that a person’s measurements could change just through the process of aging. Once fingerprinting came along, some of his fame was extinguished although he did incorporate the fingerprinting process into his method of identification. Fingerprinting, however, is quite unique per person.

In being a product of a prestigious family and the fact there were other physicians in his family, Bertillon was never considered to be another diamond. However, that being said, through the use of his experience with the police department, he became a criminologist and this would bring him fame in another type of laboratory.

Bertillon died at the age of 61 in Switzerland. Although his method soon faded after fingerprinting was adopted, he or his ego didn’t embrace the replacement identification method. Regardless, Bertillon is still viewed as the one who broke new ground into criminal identification.


The photo above depicts a classroom where the subject of Bertillon’s method of criminal identification is being taught. (Source: http://Wikipedia.)


The study of the characteristics and traits of a human being for identification purposes is the simple explanation of biometrics. There are different types of biometrics dependent upon the need. Obviously, with computer science, this method is an identifier of sorts that reaches into a database of information. Through Bertillon’s research, he developed anthropometry which is further described below.


The illustration above is from an article entitled, “The Speaking Portrait,” from “Pearson’s Magazine,” published in 1901, which depicts Bertillon’s principles of anthropometry. (Source: http://Wikipedia; this image is in the public domain because copyright has expired.)


Anthropometry is essentially a technique used that would measure a person, hence the study of body measurements. In the 1880s, Bertillon opined that every individual would have different measurable physical characteristics.

The measurements also included other elements such as eyes and ears. This information was stored on cards which also contained a photo of the offender and processed into a filing system. Because Bertillon was able to identify over 200 offenders in 1884, other countries adopted his method. When this method was used in the United States, the centralized filing system of Bertillon cards was housed in Chicago.


The image above was a self-portrait taken of Bertillon August 22, 1900. (Source: http://Wikipedia; this image is in the public domain because the copyright has expired.)


Bertillon also developed the standard of an offender’s mug shot and taking pictures of evidence prior to a crime scene being touched. Bertillon helped to shape other types of forensics practices, one of which could include examining whether a person’s signature on a document is forged or not essentially known as handwriting analysis today. He also contributed to the subject of preserving footprints.

Before Bertillon’s method of measurements was used, other than a system that wasn’t well organized, notes, photographs, or other less measures were used to try to identify or catch a criminal. Bertillon’s method was used for nearly three decades before fingerprinting came into use and at least his method was a form of advancement as well as an improved system. His development of the mug shot, however, is still deployed today.


The above image is an example of a Bertillon card identifier. (Source:  This image describes John Welshouse, a sailor, who was arrested at the age of 29 for violating the White Slavery Act in New Orleans, better known as prostitution. He received one year and one day for his sentence to have expired on January 22, 1915. Interestingly and unrelated to the main subject, Welshouse’s wife made inquiry of him to the prison’s warden, who wrote back indicating his sentence was reduced and he was provided transportation to Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

The image is an example of one of Bertillon’s “cards” which has all the indicators represented of measurements taken to secure Welshouse’s identity and obviously, the mug shot image is of great benefit.