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.

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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.

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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 turnyourtvoff.com, 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.”

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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 time.com 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.”

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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).

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Function No. 5 – Entertainment Journalism

Two years ago, writer Rick Ellis had an article on allyourtv.com 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.

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One response to “Five Functions of Journalism

  1. I think investigative journalism often works better in book format, where the reader has granted the writer the space to set down the arguments in persuasive detail and also to present the case from different viewpoints. I agree that the journalist doesn’t have to be impartial – just open and rigorous.

    Similarly, every good journalist should, by default, look for the weak spots in the establishment: but this isn’t of course the same as being ‘anti-establishment’.

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