Sunday, June 07, 2020

Editor's view: What journalists do, and how they should do it

By Jim Zachary
    Journalists play an important role during volatile times, mass protests and racial discord.
    Journalists give voice to the voiceless.
    Journalists write the first draft of history.
    Journalists share the pain, the angst and the frustrations of the people they cover, through their words.
    Journalists provide context.
    Journalists report on and help explain the positions of those in power.
    Journalists can provide a bridge between polarized communities and individuals through dispassionate reports.
    The role of the journalist is to chronicle events as they unfold.
    Journalists should be unimpeded by the authorities and should always have full access, free to report exactly what happens on the streets, in neighborhoods and in the halls of government.
    In turn, journalists should be professional and go about doing their jobs while maintaining high standards of journalistic ethics and conduct.
    The role the journalist plays is not in carrying signs, chanting slogans or marching in the streets.
    Journalists do their jobs with words.
    Their words can be powerful.
    Their words can effect change.
    Their role is to observe, to listen and to learn.
    Their role is to report.
    Their role is to speak — or write — truth.
    Their role is to tell the stories unfolding all around them.
    They are not present to take sides. Their side is the side of truth.
    Not everyone will like the truth they tell or the stories they share, but dedicated journalists persevere, not as activists, but as truth tellers.
    Sometimes journalists are attacked.
    Some have even been attacked by police — pushed, hit, shoved and arrested.
    That is wrong and police must be held accountable when they strong arm the press. The freedom of the press to cover and report is guaranteed by the First Amendment and crucial to an open and free society.
    Far more journalists are attacked in public spaces and on social media by people who simply do not like the truth.
    Simple straightforward reporting often conjures cries of “fake news” and “enemy of the people.”
    News reporting that people simply do not like is erroneously labeled “fake.”
    Reporters who are doing little more than chronicling the things they see and hear are called “enemies.”
    The women and men — the journalists — at your local newspaper are someone’s daughter, son, mother, father, brother or sister. They are people you know, people who live in the community. You might sit next to them at ball games or church services. They may be shopping in the grocery store beside you or eating at the table next to you in a restaurant.
    They cover your child’s school play or ballgame. They share news about a fundraiser of a nonprofit you volunteer with or write a compelling feature story inspiring philanthropy and incubating a spirit of generosity.
    They are, most certainly, not your enemy.
    Journalists do hold the powerful accountable and expose nefarious acts. They investigate corruption, keep an eye on the public purse and defend the public’s right to know.
    While they are not working in laboratories to develop a cure for a global pandemic or in harm’s way on the frontlines of a battlefield in a war-torn country defending freedom, they are providing vital services, viz. celebrating community, reporting facts and demanding accountability.
    Journalists are the friends of democracy, friends of justice — friends of the truth.

Jim Zachary is Deputy National Editor of Community Newspaper Holdings Inc., editor of The Valdosta Daily Times and president of the Georgia First Amendment Foundation. He can be reached at

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