Wednesday, February 01, 2012

Do journalists maintain the status quo?

Writing For The Media Today got underway this morning. It's our shiny new "converged journalism" module for third year undergraduate students on the BA in Journalism, Media and Cultural Studies. I took the first lecture, which is a practice-oriented look at what journalists do and how they do it.

You can never be sure about asking questions of large student groups (there are 90 on this popular module) – sometimes you get a silence so dense you have to break it yourself, sometimes you can coax answers and sometimes they just come. Today was one of the latter, very pleasingly.

To my question "What do journalists do",  the answers included some very useful examples ("They report on events", "They provide information") and one that opens itself up to a number of different answers: "They maintain the status quo".

Now, if you are of the Chomskyist school of thought, maintaining the status quo will mean manufacturing consent, making sure that the mass of people are given sufficient mental pablum to stop them rocking the boat. Bread, circuses and gossip (did @CherylCole have an affair with @harveyofficial or not?) provide all that.

But it is possible to look at it in a completely different way too. If you take "status quo" as meaning that the flow of democratic information is or should be fairly evenly balanced – ie that sources of social, cultural and economic power are sharing information in an open and transparent way with the mass of people – then you can indeed see it as the journalist's role to ensure that the status quo is maintained as far as possible. Journalists do that by investigating, researching, asking awkward questions, developing strong sources. They do it, in fact, by holding power to account.

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