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Journalism in Crisis

What is the role of journalism? To be a watchdog? To challenge our leaders? To be a source of information? Yes, yes, and yes. Journalism performs all these functions on a regular basis, but what is their job during a time of war or crisis? War is not a common thing that a journalist can evaluate and commentate upon from the usual lens of their profession, it is an event that requires a different approach altogether. After watching “Buying the War,” we discussed in class what position journalists should take when a time of war or great crisis arises, and most of the class came to the consensus that yes, it is the job of the media to challenge the president and the military leaders of our country under these circumstances.

Behold the talking heads

I say that I agree, but encompassed in that opinion is a degree of restraint. I do believe that it is important for the media to keep our leaders in check in a time of heightened anxiety and emotion, but I also (being a journalism major myself) see the media as a drama-crazed machine that turns crisis and fear into headlines and ratings. The media has a responsibility during crisis times to keep a check on government, while at the same time calling for the unity of a nation. Some don’t see it this way; during the reporting of the September 11th attacks, some of the major news networks would not let their anchors wear American flag lapel pins in the interest of reporting on the event objectively. That is…and I’d like to use coarser language here, but I won’t…garbage. An interesting summary of that saga can be found in this article from the American Chronicle.

See his flag pin? Look real close...

The journalists of THIS COUNTRY have a prerogative to support and respect our government in whatever current form it exists, while at the same time questioning it in the interest of accountability. They should not stand idly by while the government hastily enters a war, but it is also not their job to recognize a potential for ratings and readers and tear apart the administration like a lion does a wounded gazelle.

I don’t have a whole lot to say on this issue, and I don’t feel that a lot particularly needs to be said; the role of journalism in crisis (in crisis, or during crisis? Did I intend for that to be a double meaning?) is simple…question the intentions and processes of leaders, but not at the expense of national unity.

When it comes down to it, I don’t think that’s too much to ask.

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  1. March 4, 2011 at 2:34 pm

    Interesting. What do you mean by “national unity?” Is national unity agreeing on the same policy? Or is it something else? If, during a crisis, the nation is not united on some policy (whether to go to war, for example), should journalists try to bring the country together on the issue? Get one side to agree with the other, for example.

    How would you as a journalist know whether what you are doing after a crisis is making the country more united or divided?

  2. David Law
    March 7, 2011 at 5:31 pm

    National unity doesn’t refer to agreeing on the same policy, it’s more about the citizenry pulling together to support our leaders in times of crisis. Journalists aren’t responsible for making people agree on certain issues, but there is a way to question the government’s actions without tearing their motivations apart. I don’t know if this makes sense the way I’m explaining it, but in my opinion, journalists have a true medium through which to bring people together in spirit, even if they don’t fully agree with the actions of our leaders.

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