A bug not a feature

Speak truth to power. Educate, inform, and entertain. All the news that’s fit to print.

Every now and then, I get asked to speak on journalism, and on its importance to society, particularly the import of investigative journalism. It’s a fun gig, so I’m happy to accept.

The conversations at these events are full of noble sentiments. Journalism is the fourth estate. Freedom of the press is essential in a democracy, that kind of thing.

Except I don’t really buy it. Journalism, most of the time, is a business. Someone somewhere is selling something. Usually the reader or viewer is for sale, bought by advertisers.

Somewhere along the line, the narrative changed. We put the cart before the horse, and decided journalism was about accountability. But it’s not. Competition between those businesses means everyone chases stories. A lot of the time, it’s celebrity gossip or unfocussed long lens images. But competition means we also look for political scandals, because everyone loves a good scandal.

Noble ideals about accountability aren’t really a feature of journalism. They’re a bug in the system. Granted, a beneficial bug, but a bug nonetheless. We shouldn’t assume the bug will survive as the system evolves.

Image via MorgueFile.com

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