Journalism is in a sad state. In the U.S., the public rightfully bemoans the corporate feel of mass media, the seeming death of investigative reporting, and the blurred lines between political pundits and hardened, old-school newsies. Tune into Fox and you’ll get ultra-conservative, biased news, turn on MSNBC and you’re buying the same thing, but with the information skewed towards the very left.
Journalists' jobs are on life support, and the most inflammatory people seem to be the ones raking in the most money. News has become entertainment based on shock value. For journalists who want to write investigative, long form stories, there is a lack of support. If journalism can once again define itself as a necessity through substantial reporting (because quality journalism should be in high demand and it is a field that does require training), then I hope the money will follow. However, before we can expect money to roll in, there needs to be a serious overhaul in the support networks available to reporters. The very foundation of journalism in the U.S. and elsewhere is thin. The problem isn't just the current state of journalism — rather, the atmosphere is the result of shaky support. If we're going to talk about what's wrong with the content and what's wrong with reporters, we first have to talk about what's wrong with the system.
I recently spoke with a seasoned journalist and during the course of our conversation the topic of tabloid news culture came up. With a sigh and a downturn of her mouth, she admitted she understands how some photojournalists are drawn into that field. The pay for one good celebrity shot brings in a significant amount of money, especially at tabloids, which sometimes have depressingly high circulation and can pay a disgusting amount for one photo. As a young journalist, as someone who knows how hard it is to make ends meet on a writer’s paycheck, I can see how money can shove you into jobs in which you never imagined yourself. I am not naïve, but I’m also unwilling to let honest, respectable, intelligent reporting die without a fight and a few (metaphorical) right hooks.
What if, through a culture of news sharing, by reaffirming the power of journalism through alternative information sites and projects, we can reestablish journalism as a place of serious discussion?
There are journalists willing to take risks to maintain higher levels of professional integrity, but they lack a substantial support network, and are often criminalized for doing exactly what their job entails. When people are reporting something critical of their government, of the practices of massive corporations, or on any sort of ugly social truth, they are taking a gamble. It’s not just about continued employment, but for many people, it’s about their life and their freedom. We need safe avenues for journalists to report from their home countries without the threat of prosecution — and now, we may just have that.
Reporters without Borders, a French organization established in 1985 with the intent to protect and fight for journalistic freedoms globally, launched a digital safe to allow for the publication of banned or censored articles, following excessive editorial censorship in Guangzhou, China’s weekly Nanfang Zhoumo. The project, known as We Fight Censorship, “took the initiative…because it wants to make censorship obsolete, to show that depriving content creators of their freedom, seizing copies of a newspaper or blocking access to a website containing a video will not prevent the content from being seen throughout the world — quite the contrary.”
Stories that are uploaded into the “secure digital safe” are reviewed to ensure they meet the organization's standards before being made available to the public. All information on the site is uploaded and shared in its original language, with translation available. To further their mission, We Fight Censorship creates mirrors, or duplicates, of the site so that the public in the original countries in which the story was censored may view the content. The idea, according to the organization, is to take advantage of the Streisand effect — the more something is censored or suppressed online, the more it will be shared.
I sincerely believe that through the persistent efforts of journalists globally, and through the establishment of publishing platforms like We Fight Censorship, we can better the state of journalism. If we value the work of journalists, protect them from prosecution, and pay them for the risks they are taking and the work that they are doing, then maybe we can start publishing more stories about invasive government practices, negligent business models, minority groups, and community needs, and far less on Lindsay Lohan’s rehab stints or Amanda Bynes’ Twitter meltdowns.
Journalism has never been as pure as its intentions. Salacious, scandalous, “yellow” journalism has always been profitable. But what all of this means, hopefully, is reclamation of what journalism always has and always should have been about —to serve as a check on power. If you’re a journalist in the U.S., it is inevitable that you have heard people say the media is a “fourth branch of government,” that it serves the people first and foremost, and should educate the public about the goings-on of authority in order to create a more knowledgeable citizenship. However, if you work in news at all, you probably doubt the reality of such sentiments. If we want to make them a reality, we'll have to fight for it ourselves.