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Why Journalism Matters

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Independent Journalism and a Free Society

Journalism is an essential element of a free society. Vibrant, independent and robust journalism is critical if citizens are to have the information they need to govern themselves. The founders of the United States recognized this, protecting free speech and a free press in the First Amendment to the Constitution:

Congress shall make no law . . . abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press.

Thomas Jefferson, in fact, once said that newspapers were more important than the government itself:

Were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.

Among the most important roles journalism plays in a free society is like that of a watchdog, keeping an eye on those in power and warning the public about abuses and dangers. In this way, journalism can help keep both government and corporations in check.

In times of war, protest, natural disaster or economic strife, the watchdog function is particularly important. In many cases, abuses or mistakes by those in power can have devastating consequences for everyday citizens. Thus, journalism must remain strong and fearless in covering such important issues.

However, journalism also plays an important role in the day-to-day functioning of society. The news of the day can help people make decisions about which candidate to vote for, how to best care for their health, what schools their children go to, how best to handle their money, where to go to get help, or even whether to carry an umbrella. “News satisfies a basic human impulse,” note authors Bill Kovach and Tom Rosenstiel. “People have an intrinsic need–an instinct–to know what is occurring beyond their direct experience.”

Even as the economic structure of the journalism industry has changed profoundly over the past two decades, society maintains a need for strong journalism that is independent from government or corporate pressure.

MORE INFORMATION:

The American Press Institute provides a list and analysis of the ten elements common to good journalism from “The Elements of Journalism” by Bill Kovach and Tom Rosenstiel.

What does journalism mean for democracy? from the Franklin Center for Government & Public Integrity.

The Committee to Protect Journalists is an independent nonprofit organization committed to protecting press freedom around the world.

Reporters without Borders helps protect freedom of expression around the world by fighting internet censorship and supporting journalists working in dangerous areas.

The Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ) is dedicated to promoting freedom of the press and high ethical standards for journalists.