Journalists have always held a special place in my heart – noble pursuers of truth, keeping the electorate informed and providing a sense of community; thankless guardians of democracy, holding any and every holder of power accountable for their actions; a voice for the voiceless, providing the last best hope for countless victims of tyranny and injustice; the Fourth Estate, of no less value than the legal system.
Journalism does not merely entail the recollection of what has happened that day. The journalist bears witness as the eyes and ears of society. Good journalism is about truth and justice. An effective press is not polite – it is robust, sceptical, and combative. The writer Finley Peter Dunne once said that “the business of a newspaper is to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.”
To whom does one turn when injustice runs rampant, when no one listens or cares, when one’s political, legal, and law enforcement systems are crippled with corruption and inertia? To the journalist. Yet journalists are often victims themselves – Anna Politkovskaya, Daniel Pearl, Hrant Dink, and countless others, in places such as Iraq, the Philippines, Mexico, Russia, and Colombia. Journalists run towards the monsters that others run away from.
These journalists understand the risks, the difficulties, and the low pay, but they also know the underappreciated, yet crucial role that they play in society. They know that the news is not Coca-Cola – journalism is not merely a consumer good, but a public good. They watch with weary eyes the new challenges of their profession – the public’s deteriorating attention span and declining trust in journalists, the rise of infotainment and corporate ownership of an increasingly profit-driven news media, and the prevalence of “news” stories about celebrity and political gossip, sex scandals, and weight-loss tips.
Yet they realize that the sacred role of the press remains the same, as always – a commitment to the truth, a monitor of power, a forum for public debate, and the sentinel of freedom, justice, and democracy. They understand that truth means more than mere neutrality, balance, factual accuracy, or fairness. It is perhaps impossible for a person to be objective, which is why one’s method must be. The daily bombardment of news that we are all afflicted with renders the role of journalists even more important, as those who provide order, clarity, and verification to this nebulous typhoon of information.
My hero has long been the journalist. The critical polemic of George Orwell; the philosophical critical thinking and progressivism of Walter Lippmann; the beautiful literary style of Ryszard Kapuscinski; the bold investigative journalism of Seymour Hersh; the angry, cynical passion of Robert Fisk. I have always looked up to such figures. I can only humbly dream of one day joining their ranks as a fellow unsung hero.