Monday, January 02, 2006

The Role of Journalists

The media is full of their ‘end-of-the-year’ lists and summaries. Much of the material is about the natural disasters during 2005: the tsunami in the Indian Ocean, the Asian earthquake, New Orleans floods.

Some months ago, I wrote briefly about the disconnect frequently felt by people when hearing of major catastrophes. The impact of these events feels overwhelming, numbing, and we don’t know how to react as individuals. How can we possibly help so many people? We have different levels of empathy that is inversely proportional to the scale of the event.

A columnist from the Helsinki newspaper had an interesting perspective on the role of the media in this. The above title is a link to the full article, but here is an excerpt:

Physical or psychological closeness is an important criterion of news. Journalists do not make news items simply of what is large and important, but also about matters that touch them and touch their audience or readers. In the case of the tsunami, the dreadful fate of the Finns naturally left nobody unmoved.

And yet responsible journalism demands something more. The task of foreign correspondents and reporters is to help the readers to see the world in a broader context. To provide an opportunity to feel strongly about matters that are more distant and less familiar.

The writer, the journalist, the broadcaster are not just purveyors and repeaters of the news. The media should bring more to the story than just the facts: the truth can be told in other ways, in other images, using different words, even if the truth has different definitions for different people. There is a difference between fact and truth.

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