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The Mission of Journalism: The Pursuit of Truth
Journalists, Professor John Pavlik says, pursue the truth and thereby hold the powerful accountable for their actions in civil society. In a new paper, he offers ten core principles to guide journalism educators and journalists.
Journalists, Professor John Pavlik says, pursue the truth and thereby hold the powerful accountable for their actions in civil society. In a new paper, he offers ten core principles to guide journalism educators and journalists .

“The rise of fascism, the advance of digital technology, the erosion of the economic foundation of the news media, and the increasingly globalized nature of journalism and media” are significant forces that have imperiled journalists and the practice of professional journalism, SC&I Professor of Journalism John Pavlik said.

In this climate, when careers in the media industry seem uncertain and even dangerous, how can journalism educators successfully train, inspire, and launch the next generation of journalists? How can current journalists best adapt and thrive?

To provide a guide for educators and practitioners, Pavlik has published “Speaking Truth to Power: Core Principles for Advancing International Journalism Education”  in the 75th Anniversary Special Issue of the Journalism & Mass Media Educator published by the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication.

Describing in detail the root causes of the economic problems facing the media industry, Pavlik explains they stem from the impact of the internet and networked mobile communications that have “fueled an exodus of tens of billions of dollars in advertising revenues from legacy news media to 21st-century digital platforms such as Google, Facebook, and Twitter.” One of the end results of this phenomenon, Pavlik wrote, is the demise of local journalism resulting in news deserts and layoffs.

Another problematic issue journalists face is the way the press has been vilified – journalists have been accused of creating “fake news” and they have even been disparaged by world leaders, including the President of the United States, who has referred to the press as “the enemy of the people.”

To provide journalism educators and journalists with guidelines to apply to revise their pedagogy or craft to withstand, and even prosper, in the face of these challenges, Pavlik and his colleagues Prof. Peter Laufer of the University of Oregon and Prof. Adnan Abu Alsaad of Dilja University College in Baghdad, Iraq, propose ten core principles for international journalism education. The principles include practical steps educators can use to teach the next generation of reporters, as well as the newest technologies students need to learn and practicing journalists can take advantage of now to enhance their storytelling and reporting.

The 10 principles are “(a) the pursuit of truth (defined in terms of the alignment of a narrative with reality), (b) original reporting (primary, not secondary, newsgathering), (c) storytelling excellence (quality of presentation of the news), (d) freedom of speech (public communication without government censorship), (e) independence (commitment to the truth and the public, not sources or organizations), (f) emerging media (new technology of communication), (g) accuracy (precision), (h) inclusion (diversity and involvement of all viewpoints and persons and making them count), (i) context (situating the news, historically, culturally and beyond), and (j) ethics (a moral compass).”

In addition to these specific principles, Pavlik advises that faculty and practitioners view their roles, and the application of the principles, as supporting global “civil societies,” not necessarily democracies, so the guidelines are applicable to the practice of journalism in every society in the modern world.

Especially critical, Pavlik points out, is for the media to “take action to ensure representation in the news media work-force, both reporters and management, of persons of diverse backgrounds, ethnicity, and gender and to build an inclusive news ecosystem.”

Using new technologies such as drones, Pavlik said, can help journalists maintain the public’s trust in journalism and reap financial benefits. “Drones can play an important part in newsgathering, Pavlik said, “by providing a low-cost avenue to capture aerial perspective on events and situations on the ground, from natural disasters to traffic problems to brush fires.  Such aerial perspective can keep the public’s trust by helping provide a more contextualized view of important news events or issues.”

Pavlik urges his student and professional journalists to “effectively embrace content forms optimized for the internet-connected age, including multimedia, geolocation, augmented reality, virtual reality, and mixed reality, and at the same time protect user privacy and the security of news content.”

Using data science tools and algorithms, Pavlik said, can help journalists enhance their newsgathering and telling skills. “Journalists are employing new methods of news gathering by applying data science tools and principles including the application of advanced algorithms to assist in the accurate and timely processing of massive data sets.  An example from 2019 involved the Mauritius Leaks.  In this story, the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists used advanced algorithms to help analyze 200,000 documents from an offshore law firm headquartered in Mauritius. 

Using these technologies and tools, Pavlik said, can even help offset the rise of global fascism, because “the use of these methods will help journalists report on stories that are vital to democracy and can help to keep the public informed. Governments, business, and other organizations increasingly operate on a scale and scope that transcends political boundaries, and journalism must keep pace in its investigations. Only by conducting independent investigations and reporting accurately and critically in a trans-border fashion when needed can journalism fulfill its mission of holding the powerful accountable for their actions.”

Pavlik applies the 10 core principles to his own teaching curricula at SC&I. In his course Media Ethics and Law, he explains to his students that their first priority as journalists will always be the pursuit of truth. “Truth is an abstract idea, and one that while we all may agree exists, defining it in concrete terms requires an agreement on basic facts. In their pursuit of truth, journalists conduct reporting, or news gathering, using a range of methods to gather facts, drawn from reliable sources. This evidence enables journalists to write or otherwise produce stories or news content that is accurate or truthful to those facts.  Journalists also check and double-check all factual assertions in an attempt to confirm truthfulness,” Pavlik said.

Pavlik also strives to empower his students to always “speak truth to power” by making sure he provides them with a firm foundation in the knowledge of the core values fundamental to journalism, media, and society.  “In Media Ethics and Law, I teach students about the value of truth and how it is essential to helping maintain an informed electorate, a cornerstone to a healthy democracy.  I teach students that the First Amendment, and its protection of freedom of speech and press, is fundamental to every other freedom,” Pavlik said.

The pursuit of truth can be a challenge for today’s students, Pavlik said, because they might be tempted to just “google” everything in search of answers and information. To address that, Pavlik said he advises his students “to utilize a diverse and inclusive array of sources on every story and for every fact.  Through a diverse and inclusive set of sources, journalists can produce news stories and other content that is more reliable, and thereby truthful, and which the public can trust.”

One of the greatest challenges journalists currently face is striving to balance the pursuit of truth when they are being asked to meet shorter and shorter deadlines and satisfy the public’s insatiable desire for constant updates in real-time. Pavlik said, “This balance is a great challenge.  With faster news cycles and ever-greater pressure to produce more news stories or content in less time and with fewer resources, journalists must utilize the available tools, including digital techniques such as algorithm-aided analysis of data sets, to operate efficiently and effectively.”

The importance of understanding and applying a wide range of emerging media is another critical lesson Pavlik stresses. “In particular,” Pavlik said, “I bring the emerging media forms of augmented reality and virtual reality into my teaching.  These are platforms I have researched extensively.  For students, they represent increasingly important tools for journalism and the media industries. From immersive journalism to cinematic virtual reality, these platforms will play an increasingly significant part of the mobile and wearable future of news and media entertainment in New Jersey, the USA, and the world.”

Ultimately, in this age of widespread news hacking, cyberattacks, and digital disinformation, Pavlik said he teaches his students the importance of protecting themselves by keeping “an open mind and a critical eye (and ear).  Interactive and online media platforms are central to how the public lives, works, and learns.  Journalists and media professionals need to understand these digital content forms to both utilize them in their storytelling as well as to be effective in identifying and recognizing misinformation and disinformation as they increasingly populate the social media ecosystem and beyond.”

Discover more about the Journalism and Media Studies Department at the Rutgers School of Communication and Information on the website




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