Jonathan Thompson Notes on Principles of American Journalism J1100
Chapter 1: “The Mirror, the Watchdog and the Marketplace
Sri Lankan newspaper editor Lasantha Wickramatunga murdered, and he knew it was
He helped expose government corruption
He was threatened
Why did Lasantha write the article?
“free media serves as a mirror
Sometimes image is bad
Stand up for people who cant do it themselves
The Historical Backdrop
Steeped in Enlightnment philosophy, especially John Locke
• People, excercising readson, are best equipped to govern themselves and make
sense of the competing turths in the marketplace of ideas.
• Gov’t power must be harnessed in the service of the people
How does a free press help?
Press acts as a check on the gov’t
• In English law, this is called “seditious libel”
Bill of Rights
Declares freedom of speech and of press to be basic rights
“America had, for the first time, put the people before the state….”
What Democracy needs from journalism
The mirror Jonathan Thompson Notes on Principles of American Journalism J1100
Where society can see itself, warts and all
Supposed to bark when those in power become corrupt, forget their roots and waste
the people’s hard-earned money
The marketplace of ideas
The space where even unpopular causes and contrary views can get a hearing.
Five commonly discussed needs:
• Information dissemination: Press has to make decisions about what we need
to know to do our jobs as citizens in democracy, decisions that require editorial
• Accountability: Refers to democracy’s need for some way to hold those in
power responsible for their actions—actions that can affect all members of
• Representation: In a democratic system, all people, not just those with the most
education, money or influence, are visible to others and have the chance to be
• Deliberation and Conflict resoulution: Address democracy’s need for a forum
in which the interests of the public can be aired and debated and conclusions can
When these duties go unfilled, democratic life is jeopardized.
The 1947 Commission of Freedom of the Press or Hutchins Commission :
Freedom of the press is essential to political liberty…
13 leading public intellectuals
Found freedom of press was failing due to the journalists.
“Social Responsibility theory”
How does the press fulfill those democratic needs?
1.1 Journalism Informs, Analyzes, Interprets and Explains
First it informs. Jonathan Thompson Notes on Principles of American Journalism J1100
News is more than mere information, it is the result of processes and judgments
constructed through institutions devoted to newsgathering.
Persuading and selling is not the goal.
The goal is to share that information with others under the assumption that when
citizens are properly informed, they will make sound decisions.
• Example: New story in Ozarks, Mo.
• Company wanted to build on top of this mountain.
• Short news story led to protest and eventually the governer attacking the
company, and the company haulting the project.
• 4 lessons:
♦ 1. The power of producing a simple, short news story about something way
under your audience’s radar.
♦ 2. The amzing changes that can happen when the public is informed about
seemingloy routine events.
♦ 3. The ovjective journalist’s role as a reporter of straight news.
♦ 4. The value of setting up a beat and getting to know sources who may
contact you with tips.
1.2 Journalism Investigates
Hasn’t always. Investigative press we know today is late 20 century creation.
Stuff of investigative journalism…
• Documents, facts, eyewitnesses, adversarial tone at the heart of IJ,
• Have to be independent observer as well as impassioned adversarial watchdog.
♦ Example: Investigative needs to use documents to find information, and use
the interview process as an explanation time.
1.3 Journalism Creates a Public Conversation
Democracy requires a public forum where people can speak freely about gov’t
without gov’t interference.
Journalism must provide this public sphere. Jonathan Thompson Notes on Principles of American Journalism J1100
♦ Brought up issue of city making profit off of land
♦ Didn’t cause change but gave people information
♦ Supposed to start conversation
1.4 Journalism Helps Generate Social Empathy
Set boundaries of societal behavior
Must do more than informing about voting and bills
• Parents leaving kids in car
• Most people hate the parents
• Article gives parents side, shows it happens to every sex, race, age, education
1.5 Journalism Encourages Accountability
Accountability ought to be a two-way street in journalism
Must be a self-correcting mechanism-must fix itself on the fly
No information or person in infallible
“Fourth estate” or fourth branch of gov’t
2 types of accountability
• Horizontal: Refers to the capacity of instituitions to check one another
• Vertical: Seed to enforce standards of performance on officials.
• Dana Priest and Walter Reed Armu Medical Center
• Unhealthy living situation for recovering army men
• Hospital had “show rooms” but actual hospital was bad
• Took 4 months to gain trust to run story
• Helped soldiers recovering conditions Jonathan Thompson Notes on Principles of American Journalism J1100
Can Journalism Provide What Democracy Needs?
Our democracy, in general, is shaped by the views of people
Public should govern themselves but there are skeptics.
• “Public Intellectualist” Walter Lippmann thought self-governance was incapable
with bias newspaper and not smart people.
• Thought the press could make things worse because bias, education and
background would filter things before it got to where it needed to get to.
Was understandable after the propaganda of world war II, but John Dewey had a
• Dewey acknowledged Lippman might be right about the limited capacity of
people, he was wrong about democracy.
• If one sees democracy as an ongoing education of how to be a citizen, then it will
Lippman and Dewey in comparison to the metaphors and functions we’ve discussed
• Lippman argues the press could not act as a mirror or watchdog
♦ The press would have difficulty fulfilling the informing and accountability
• Dewey focused on the market place of ideas
♦ That journalists are to create conversation and generate empathy.
Must Journalism Provide What Democracy Needs?
Assumptions of the mirror, the watchdog, and the marketplace:
• All assume the press’s key allegiance is to the public, and not those that wield
• Assume that the press is free to act in all those ways.
♦ “Free” from government control
Hutchins Commision –A Free and Responsible Press—conlcusions
• 1. “provide a truthful, comprehensive and intelligent account of the day’s events
in a context which fives them meaning. Jonathan Thompson Notes on Principles of American Journalism J1100
• 2. “Serve as a forum for the exchange of comment and criticism
• 3. “Project a representative picture of the constituent froups in the society
• 4. “Present and clarify the goals and values of the society
• 5. “Provide full access to the day’s intelligence”
Press was mad that it threatened something constitutionally protected, but became
an important part of an ongoing conversation about journalism
Scholars argue media can’t be