Lois Lane may have earned a reputation as an accident-prone damsel in distress, but the core of her character is a hard-hitting reporter with a penchant for landing the scoop. Real-world journalists are often driven by similar motives, and their thirst for the next big story is underscored by the role they play as gatekeepers of information. Today, journalists work in all kinds of mediums -- digital, print, mobile and more -- and that expansion of access has only increased their importance to modern society.
Staple of Democracy
Sometimes called the "Fourth Estate," journalism has played a critical role in the landscape of American democracy, beginning in the 1920s. According to the Society of Professional Journalists, the primary responsibility of journalists is to shine a light on matters of public importance with the ultimate goal of upholding democracy and the freedom of the people. To do this, journalists seek out information that helps the public stay informed about their communities, governments and those in power.
As the ancient biblical saying goes, "The truth will set you free." In this vein of thought, journalists are charged with seeking the truth on behalf of the public and then translating complex ideas, issues or events into understandable terms, according to the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. More than just presenting honest information, a journalist must make sure that her report is highly accurate and fair, giving voice to all sides of an issue. Journalists must also strive to work in a timely manner, often with daily deadlines, so the public can make informed decisions about pressing matters.
The purview of journalists includes tackling sometimes difficult subject matter. Striking a balance that steers clear of sensationalism and upholds the public’s right to know can feel like a tightrope act for reporters. Ideally, journalists present facts and statements that are untainted by bias with the purpose of allowing the viewer or reader to draw his own conclusions. They seek out expert sources and firsthand witnesses to serve as the heart of any story, and they construct a narrative that fairly represents those voices. Journalists accurately paraphrase sources, or quote them verbatim, and name them directly. This transparency is intended to provide the journalist’s audience with practical, highly informed data that empowers citizens, according to the Project for Excellence in Journalism.
Journalists aren’t just the well-coiffed anchors peering out from the television screen on the 10 o’clock newscast or the major cable network. Small communities need dedicated journalists and watchdogs more than most do, simply because critical issues are more likely to be overlooked there. When every news channel is covering a scandal in the White House, the community journalist is monitoring taxpayer-funded projects in Anytown, USA. Journalists on the community have been given a boost by web-based platforms that allow virtually any individual to project her voice into local and even national conversations. Solid investigative work by community journalists frequently provides a springboard for larger outlets to follow up.
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