“A commitment to citizens is more than professional egoism. It is the implied covenant with the public…. The notion that those who report the news are not obstructed from digging up and telling the truth—even at the expense of the owners’ other financial interests—is a prerequisite of telling the news not only accurately but persuasively. It is the basis of why we as citizens believe in a news organization. It is the source of its credibility. It is, in short, the franchise asset of the news company and those who work in it.
Thus people who gather news are not like employees of other companies. They have a social obligation that can actually override their employers’ immediate interests at times, and yet this obligation is the source of their employers’ financial success.
This allegiance to citizens is the meaning of what we have come to call journalistic independence…. As journalists tried to honor and protect their carefully won independence from party and commercial pressures, they sometimes came to pursue independence for its own sake. Detachment from outside pressure could bleed into disengagement from the community….
A second factor in the growing isolation was a change in journalism’s tone. After Vietnam and Watergate and later the advent of 24-hour cable news, journalism became noticeably more subjective and judgmental. More coverage was focused on mediating what public people were saying, rather than simply reporting it….
Rather than selling customers content, newspeople are building a relationship with their audience based on their values, on their judgment, authority, courage, professionalism, and commitment to community. Providing this creates a bond with the public, which the news organization then rents to advertisers. In short, the business relationship of journalism is different from traditional consumer marketing, and in some ways more complex. It is a triangle. The audience is not the customer buying goods and services. The advertiser is. Yet the customer/advertiser has to be subordinate in that triangle to the third figure, the citizen….
Five key ideas about what we should expect from those who provide the news…[are:]
- The owner/corporation must be committed to citizens first….
- Hire business managers who also put citizens first….
- Set and communicate clear standards….
- Journalists have final say over news….
- Communicate clear standards to the public….
To reconnect people with news, and through the news to the larger world, journalism must reestablish the allegiance to citizens that the news industry has mistakenly helped to subvert.”