Guest Post by Hlengiwe Mahlaba
Although journalism is widely considered as a pathway to gaining information for the public, various criticisms have at times been leveled against journalists. One is the role of “public journalism” – the notion that journalists not only report the facts, but also help the public in finding possible solutions.
The other is the manner in which journalists have often come under fire conducting themselves by doing anything to get the “scoop”. However, the public seldom stops to think how they benefit from this information.
With all the running around tracking sources and gathering information that journalists do, is there still room for them to get personally involved in driving social change? Or does this place them in a compromising position, as they are “supposed” to stay objective when dealing with information?
Is reporting not a big enough job, coming as it does with the responsibilities of informing the public of matters in their interest and shaping opinion?
How hard is it separate your professionalism from your personal opinion? One can’t be objective at all times, yet it is expected of journalists to do so.
One may argue that journalists should get involved in the process for change, as they are also part of a community, living in a country. But a professional journalist should stay objective at all times, and getting involved in political matters may be seen as subjective.
Presenting the facts to the public is as good as the first step to change. Giving the public information that benefits them and making them aware of situations should be like pushing them into the direction for them to do something about it, for themselves. This allows the public to be motivated to do something for themselves and be active participants in the road to change.
Basically, everyone has a role to play, and journalists can’t play two roles at the same time. Journalism as a profession should be looked at in the same way as any other profession. It is not a light that can be automatically switched on and off. Journalists should always be aware of what is happening around them at all times of the day, even when their 9-5 responsibilities have been completed.
The question has been asked many times – how should journalists handle a situation, for example, if they happen to witness an accident nearby. Should they stop and help, or simply stop to take a picture? The sensible thing in a situation like that is to call the ambulance. However, taking a simple picture of the tragedy (to explain the situation) while waiting for help shouldn’t be a bad thing. The journalist can’t get involved – simply and obviously – because they are neither trained nor equipped to do so.
For journalists to be personally involved in social change is a contradiction in itself, because they will be gaining information objectively but finding solutions which they can only do subjectively. Where is the line then drawn? Is this what journalists studied to do? Help in finding possible solutions to our everyday problems is a job for government, and the role of the journalist should simply be to report the facts.
Journalists don’t choose what they witness on a daily basis, nor do they choose the information that they find. However, the drive and passion for what they do may not amount to how much they get paid, or the amount of effort they go through to keep the public in the know.
Making the public aware of what is happening is more than enough, simply because there are other things to be revealed each day. And being a hero in solving the problems is simply not part of the job description.