A New Journalism for Democracy in a New Age
February 1, 2005
By Pew Research Center: Journalism & Media staff
Journalism does more than keep us informed-journalism enables us as citizens to have our voices
heard in the chambers of power and allows us to monitor and moderate the sources of power that
shape our lives.
In the past few decades this responsibility of the journalist in a free society has been made more
vital and more difficult by the revolution in communications technology and the economic
organization of journalism it has spawned.
The technology has filled the world with a flood of undifferentiated information that is changing
the audience for news and information from passive receivers to pro-active consumers who
decide what they want, when they want it and how they want it.
I say ‘undifferentiated’ because the system is now accessible to a mass audience at each end of
the communications process-the producer and the consumer.
As a result the world of cyberspace is filled with many views of reality-many of them designed
to distract us or to control and dictate our public behavior rather than inform our independent
This new competition requires a new journalism to assure that the view of the world in which the
people live is one constructed with the integrity and reliability self-government requires.
There are two aspects of this new age that journalists must think more deeply and more
creatively that I would like to talk about today.
The first deals with the impact on the producer end of the information stream; the second is the
impact on the consumer.
Those of you who are just beginning your career in journalism are assuming an obligation as
public witness. A public witness who clearly and without distortion describes the actions and
behavior of those who shape and direct public life.
To enter into the life of a journalist is to accept personal responsibility for the credibility of your
work and to serve the interests of the consumer of the information. You can do that only if you
fully understand how the system works.
Because of this importance of the journalist’s work to others in the community, to become a
journalist is an act of character. For the public’s ability to become a force in self-government
depends upon the integrity of your work.
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Don’t just take my word for this. Here is how James D. Wolfensohn, president of the World
Bank, describes the importance of the journalist’s work:
“What differentiates poor people from rich people, is lack of voice. The inability to be
represented. The inability to convey to the people in authority what it is they think. The inability
to have a searchlight put on the conditions of inequality.
“A free press is absolutely vital to that objective. Freedom of the press is not a luxury. It is not an
extra. It is absolutely at the core of equitable development.”
First let me discuss the problem of unlimited producers of information that itself conceals two
challenges for journalism in the public interest-an economic challenge and content challenge.
The economic challenge affects even the largest and most powerful news organizations. As these
organizations compete in a worldwide market the pressure to maximize profit and minimize
costs has led to short-term decisions that threaten to undermine their ability to do quality work.
At the same time new producers in the form of individual bloggers–the pamphleteers of our
time–many of whom are tempted to use their perceived stature as independent journalists to sell
the content of their journalism as we have just witnessed in recent weeks in the U.S. in the cases
of Armstrong Williams and Maggie Gallagher.
Neither of these erosions in the quality and integrity is readily recognizable to consumers.
Too often the public’s interest has been ignored in favor of personal bias or corporate profit.
One result of these changes in the U.S., in addition to the Williams and Gallagher examples, can
be seen in the recent scandals at CBS television news, the New York Times‘ Jayson Blair scandal,
and USA Today‘s Jack Kelley. Failures that challenged the credibility of the country’s most
respected news institutions. Challenges which, left unaddressed, will destroy the vital link
between the people and its press on which democracy depends.
Each of those failures of journalism was the result of a thinning out of the professional staff in
the newsrooms, and a failure of the top leadership to develop a newsroom culture that
encourages openness, that rewards critical thinking and an acceptance by each journalist of
personal responsibility for the credibility of their work.
The second aspect of the new world of producers is a new sophistication in information control
by people and institutions of power. Sometime early in the 20th century those with their hands
on the levers of economic and political power in democratic societies realized they are, at
bottom, in the business of communications. The realization that the success of their economic
plan or their political program depends on their ability to get the majority of the people to see the
world in their terms.
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As a result they have been involved in carefully focused and well-financed efforts to develop
ever more subtle and effective ways to manipulate public behavior and understanding of the
issues in which they have a vested interest.
In the meanwhile we in the newsrooms of the world have done little if anything to sharpen our
understanding of how words are being used to manipulate our reports; how we react to events
that are staged to determine what we deem important to cover. One of the reasons journalists in
the United States now support the Committee of Concerned Journalists is the frustration they feel
that news organizations in our country traditionally invest less money in the on-going training
and education of their workers than almost any other industry. As people and institutions we
cover work diligently to learn new and better ways to control or avoid our scrutiny we seem
content to plod along in the reporting and editing ruts we formed in the 19th century.
It is this problem on news production that bleeds over into the problem of consumers that
journalism in the public interest faces.
For many of our newsrooms too often work by rote, letting others decide what is important to
cover and how it should be covered-letting judgments produced by vested interests be given, at
best, equal display with documented, verified information produced by their own dis-interested
staff–or, at worse, become the only judgment presented.
Journalists can meet this new challenge only by applying our own enduring values as
aggressively to expose these artificial worlds for what they are-self-serving propaganda.
The public whose well-being as citizens depends on how well we do our work are becoming
disillusioned. The public–all of us–are ignorant of many things. But not stupid. They can see,
sooner or later, that we failed to ask the right question at the right time; to hold a public official
responsible or expose private corruption that threatened their welfare. In this new world of
unlimited producers why should they stick with us? Why shouldn’t they turn to a more exciting
source that agrees with their prejudices even if they don’t know the integrity of the work?
How do we begin the transition to the new journalism this new age requires?
Our first response should be to realize that our old notion of journalist as gatekeeper is obsolete.
The Internet has torn down all the fences. A journalist standing by the gate-opening it to allow
this ‘fact’ to pass but closing it to other information that has not been verified-looks silly because
on either side of the gate the fence is down and unfiltered, indiscriminate information is flooding
Instead of gatekeepers, journalists now become referees. Acknowledging that our potential
audience is flooded with unlimited information and no way of discerning what is of value, what
is true, what is propaganda, we must construct our work to offer them the referee’s advice: this
information has been checked and verified; this information has been found to be untrue; this is
self-interested propaganda; this is being reported but we have yet to be able to verify the
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Recognizing these new responses to help consumers construct their own news package, will
require us to be as focused and as constant as the challenges we face-but they have to begin with
a more professional approach to our journalism–an approach that instills in each journalist a
rigorous method of testing information so that personal, commercial and political biases do not
undermine the accuracy of their work.
As Machiavelli said, institutions in order to survive in times of change must return to their roots.
For journalists of public interest that means reaching back to the original goal of 18th century
thinkers that journalist’s pursuit of truthful information be guided by a more scientific,
transparent methodology of verification–a methodology that checks every assertion against the
record; that asks of every claim, “How do you know that?”; that demonstrates the source of
Such painstaking verification is vital in an information environment richer than the world has
And since our survival in this atmosphere depends upon our holding the public’s trust we must
build a more transparent relationship with our audience.
This fundamental idea of transparency is simple: never deceive your audience. Tell them what
you know and what you don’t know. Tell them who your sources are and if you can’t name the
sources tell them how the sources are in a position to know and what biases, if any, they may
have. In other words, provide your information so that people see how it was developed and can
make up their own minds what to think.
And be sure that transparency lets the public see we have kept an open mind–open not only
about what we hear but about our ability to understand. Some call this humility. We call it openmindedness. Don’t assume. Avoid an arrogance about your knowledge and be sure you submit
your own assumptions to your process of verification.
For as I said before, journalism must be an act of character. An act built on the authority, honesty
and judgment of the people. When people decide what news to buy, or what news to watch, or
what magazine to purchase, they are making a decision about the judgment, the character, and
the values of the journalists who have produced that news.
In many ways those values are revealed every day when we decide what we cover and how we
cover it-and what we don’t cover.
The people today have grown more skeptical–even cynical–about all the conflicting information
that pours over them in forms that look like journalism. Society gives journalists a certain degree
of access, status and autonomy but in return expects the irreplaceable service news of issues,
characters and institutions that affect their lives and their communities in a disinterested rather
than in a selfish manner.
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Our unswerving commitment to maintaining the public trust and making sense of the flood of
information available today is the only way journalism can retain the economic base to assure its
We cannot meet these obligations unless we consciously create a newsroom culture that rewards
critical thinking and discourages and exposes dishonest behavior.
Such a culture begins with a new focus on these issues by editors. One unrecognized impact of
the new competitive atmosphere has been to draw editors more deeply into management of the
newsroom at the expense of the more critical jobs of editing and mentoring young journalists.
Editors must develop more mechanisms of quality that place responsibility for the credibility on
each person in the newsroom: after-the-fact quality control such as analyzing complaints of
errors or questions of assertions and analysis; mechanisms like ombudsmen or public editors
who engage directly with the public.
But beyond these mechanisms we need to build into the newsroom culture forward-looking
quality assurance practices similar to those practiced by doctors in the best teaching hospitals. In
these hospitals every time there is a negative outcome of a doctor-patient interaction the doctor
involved appears at a meeting with other staff members at which each step in the procedure is
open for examination and criticism-criticism not so much aimed at finding fault, but to learn
from the mistakes. Every mistake or omission in our newsrooms should become another learning
experience and another opportunity to remind every journalist of their personal responsibility.
These steps may seem too troublesome to some. But the cost of ignoring them and risking
corruption of the information and knowledge we provide the public is too great. For how
journalism progresses and how democracy progresses will depend upon how well we discharge
Time and again history has taught us the heavy price we pay when the independence, aggressive
vigilance, accuracy and credibility of the press fails.
Events in Iraq today are a stark reminder to us in the U.S. that we have yet to learn that lesson.
Who can say how the decision by the American government–with the support of a majority of
the American public–to invade Iraq may turn out–only time will tell. But one thing we do know
for certain is that the public support for that decision was built by the government’s creation of a
virtual world of an imminent threat that did not exist. And brick by brick the construction of that
deceptive virtual world was aided by an American press that did not rigorously enforce an
independent journalism of verification.
So let me end by reminding us all of the role of journalists, do in a free society.
The first publications we would recognize as modern newspapers developed in Western Europe
in the early 17th century and made public opinion possible. Before those early publications there
was no common base of information upon which a public opinion could form.
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The voice of the people was a babble–unheard and unimportant in the councils of government.
Without their steady, reliable flow of timely information the creation, maturation and
continuation of a public opinion as a force in politics would not have occurred–self-government
would not have occurred. Journalism and self-government were born together. Journalism and
self-government will rise or fall together.
We need to remember each day we go to work to let the public know that we know it is because
of this special role a journalist plays in our shared society that we also have a special
If we are to effectively pursue the independence that our work requires, it is important that the
public understand and accept our role as a valid one and one vital to their own interests. The only
way to assure that in this world of unlimited competition for the public mind is for the journalist
to act with the responsibility their independence requires.
For all of us and for our continued freedom in a dangerous, anarchical world depends upon not
forgetting the past–not forgetting the values that have made self-government possible. For, in the
end, if history teaches us anything it teaches us that freedom and democracy do not depend upon
technology or upon the most efficient organization.
Freedom and democracy depend upon individuals who refuse to give up their belief that the free
flow of timely, truthful information is what has made freedom, self-government and human
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Facebook Mounts Effort to Limit Tide of Fake News
By MIKE ISAAC
The New York Times
December 15, 2016
The new fake news feature on Facebook, as the site makes an effort to flag articles that are not
For weeks, Facebook has been questioned about its role in spreading fake news. Now the
company has mounted its most concerted effort to combat the problem.
Facebook said on Thursday that it had begun a series of experiments to limit misinformation on
its site. The tests include making it easier for its 1.8 billion members to report fake news, and
creating partnerships with outside fact-checking organizations to help it indicate when articles
are false. The company is also changing some advertising practices to stop purveyors of fake
news from profiting from it.
Facebook, the social network, is in a tricky position with these tests. It has long regarded itself as
a neutral place where people can freely post, read and view content, and it has said it does not
want to be an arbiter of truth. But as its reach and influence have grown, it has had to confront
questions about its moral obligations and ethical standards regarding what appears on the
Its experiments on curtailing fake news show that Facebook recognizes it has a deepening
responsibility for what is on its site. But Facebook also must tread cautiously in making changes,
because it is wary of exposing itself to claims of censorship.
“We really value giving people a voice, but we also believe we need to take responsibility for the
spread of fake news on our platform,” said Adam Mosseri, a Facebook vice president who is in
charge of its news feed, the company’s method of distributing information to its global audience.
He said the changes — which, if successful, may be available to a wide audience — resulted
from many months of internal discussion about how to handle false news articles shared on the
What impact Facebook’s moves will have on fake news is unclear. The issue is not confined to
the social network, with a vast ecosystem of false news creators who thrive on online advertising
and who can use other social media and search engines to propagate their work. Google, Twitter
and message boards like 4chan and Reddit have all been criticized for being part of that chain.
Still, Facebook has taken the most heat over fake news. The company has been under that
spotlight since Nov. 8, when Donald J. Trump was elected the 45th president. Mr. Trump’s
unexpected victory almost immediately led people to focus on whether Facebook had influenced
the electorate, especially with the rise of hyperpartisan sites on the network and many examples
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of misinformation, such as a false article that claimed Pope Francis had endorsed Mr. Trump for
president that was shared nearly a million times across the site.
The site is trying to combat phony news, but says “the magnitude of fake news across Facebook
is one fraction of a percent of the content across the network.”
Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s chief executive, has said he did not believe that the social network
had influenced the election result, calling it “a pretty crazy idea.” Yet the intense scrutiny of the
company on the issue has caused internal divisions and has pushed Mr. Zuckerberg to say he was
trying to find ways to reduce the problem.
In an interview, Mr. Mosseri said Facebook did not think its news feed had directly caused
people to vote for a particular candidate, given that “the magnitude of fake news across
Facebook is one fraction of a percent of the content across the network.”
Facebook has changed the way its news feed works before. In August, the company announced
changes to marginalize what it considered “clickbait,” the sensational headlines that rarely live
up to their promise. This year, Facebook also gave priority to content shared by friends and
family, a move that shook some publishers that rely on the social network for much of their
traffic. The company is also constantly fine-tuning its algorithms to serve what its users most
want to see, an effort to keep its audience returning regularly.
This time, Facebook is making it easier to flag content that m ...
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