Journalism, it seems, is more science than art – more exactness than brilliance. On the surface, it’s a man on TV with curt facts and a measured voice, a lady on the radio with pointed questions and investigative clarity. News presents itself as a backdrop of objective truths and point-form knowledge against which we judge a strange and alien world of events and developments. Yet, for all its appearance of transcendent perspective, journalism is perhaps as involved in the objects of its stories as the characters it depicts. Far from being removed from and above the gritty realities it deals with, journalism is at the heart of them, subject to and acting on the same forces that shape and determine them.
What I mean to say is not any lofty praise for high-minded individuals who take it upon themselves to investigate the world and, by reporting on it, liberate it. Rather, it’s merely the observation that journalists are a part of the world as much as they may try to separate themselves from it. What gets said (and left unsaid) in the news, the particular way in which issues are articulated has a certain obvious affect on those issues themselves. More importantly, though, is that those different modes of interpreting and articulating the world carry with them certain veiled abilities that are not as apparent.
When we describe a state of affairs, we contribute to a discourse every bit as much as we make one explicit. In recounting the conversation that’s unfolding we also implicitly define it, demarcate its boundaries, and tacitly (or perhaps even unwittingly) position ourselves towards a host of concepts and ideas within and without those boundaries. I’m not talking about or questioning the value of journalism, nor am I addressing anything as mundane as objectivity and bias in the media; all I’m saying is that the function of journalism in its capacity as a contributor to events rather than a bystander of them is too often overlooked. The role of the media is not to be taken for granted as a digestion and regurgitation of data: it is to be eyed with scrutiny and critical attention, always being interrogated in terms of what it has to say and the boundaries of it.
Moreover, it is to be assumed that even the most pedestrian account of an event contains within it the signs of certain critical decisions in the news-making process. For after all even purportedly harmless summaries of things convey an attitude and positioning towards their subject, and what we choose to underscore or brush off to the side in this process of articulation determines, by and large, the shape of a given discourse. It is in this capacity, in terms of these implied decisions and their effects, I would like to suggest, that journalism of all species (including opinion pieces nobody reads) be carefully considered and evaluated.