My Reflection on the Book “The Elements of Journalism”

 Book Cover: The Elements of Journalism
          As a person whose long-year previous training is in physics, and who is now a beginner to enter the field of journalism, I think this book plays a role of a helpful guide leading me to this field with simple language and approachable style of narrative. Here is some of my reflections on this book:    Based on large amount of empirical cases, deep investigation and thorough explanation, the book “The Elements of Journalism” by Bill Kovach and Tom Rosenstiel illustrates key principles leading to good journalism practice, reviews the evolution of media core values from historical perspective and discusses the challenge and dilemma modern journalists are facing. It is an effective guidebook that helps beginners to form a correct picture of how journalism should look like, understand the purpose and obligation of journalists and grab the skeleton of good journalism practice. The book summaries ten principles as the elements of journalism profession, in which the first nine principles are concepts and practice skills for journalists and the last one is to let citizens know what they should expect from news and their rights and responsibilities.     By reviewing the root of news and history of journalism, the author reveals that the primary purpose of journalism is relatively consistent through history, which is “to provide citizens with the information they need to be free and self-governing.” Journalists should focus on widest social communities—not just on special interests’ groups, such as expert elite or politicians. They should also represent the public, “voice for voiceless,” and be responsible for promoting democratic freedom. However, as the twenty-first century begins, new challenges, such as the rise of market-based journalism, have threatened the obligation of journalists. Deadline pressure and business pressure make media practitioners more driven by commercial interests rather than the original purpose of providing the truth for citizens.     The first principle mentioned in this book is journalists’ obligation of truth. The author explains there that the truth is not “in the absolute or philosophical sense,” but in a practical or functional form. The journalistic truth does not only mean journalists’ reporting correct names, places and events, but also mean that the publishing accounts should be “substantially true.” Besides, the interpretation of journalists in news reporting should also be true and avoid any kind of misleading or misinterpreting. The author also mentions that journalistic truth is a “sorting-out” process, which inspires me of applying this method in my reporting. Just like what the author explains, the first report of news stories may only “signal a new event or trend,” which may stay in the surface level of accuracy. Thus, further verification and follow-up stories are indispensible for gradually reaching the truth. I suppose that successive reporting can be an effective way in guaranteeing the truth of news.

     The second principle is about journalists’ loyalty to citizens. When journalists are doing reports, it is important that they should be independent from any non-citizen-concerned factors, such as media ownership influence or commercial interests. Their coverage should be straight and objective, avoiding “self-interested or slanted for friends” or people who buys an ad.

     Chapter four is the part that I am engaged in most during reading this book, and there are several practice skills that I suppose are very useful in journalistic practice. The chapter mainly talks about the third principle—“The essence of journalism is a discipline of verification.” The methodology of Verification is essential for journalists to build the credibility among citizens. The author also mentions that the frequently discussed terms like “bias,” “objectivity,” “fairness,” “balance,” should have new meanings. Different from the common opinions, the author suggests replacing the word “objectivity” with “thoroughness, accuracy, fairness and transparency.”  And the author also argues that it is hard to avoid bias, which is part of human nature. I especially agree with his thoughts that “Fairness” and “balance” are not aims, but means that assist us to achieve truth. As the author illustrates, some stories cannot be equally split or have an equal number of quotes from different sides.

     The fourth principles relates to maintaining independence from those journalists cover. This principle has been mentioned once when the author talks about the obligation of truth. In chapter five, the author expands the scope of journalists’ independence and discusses it in great detail. Journalists should be independent from commercial interests, media ownership and those people or events they cover. When they select stories, they should also be independent form bias of class or economic status.

      Besides, I have also enjoyed learning professional skills as a journalist from the book “The Element of Journalism.” For example, the author mentions in the first chapter, the primary purpose of journalism is relatively consistent through history, which is “to provide citizens with the information they need to be free and self-governing.” Journalists should focus on widest social communities—not just on special interests’ groups, such as expert elite or politicians. But deadline pressure and business pressure make media practitioners more driven by commercial interests rather than the original purpose of providing the truth for citizens. These phenomena make me realize that sometimes, we need to strive to keep the purpose of journalism in mind and keep the obligation of journalism in practice, no matter what kind of pressures are. Because informing citizens of truth is the root of journalism, which if we give up, journalism will lose its essence and is not able to positively contribute to the society.

     Also Chapter four is the part that I am engaged in most during reading this book, and the argument that author has made that it is hard to avoid bias, which is part of human nature is what I especially agree with. I also agree with his thoughts that “Fairness” and “balance” are not aims, but means that assist us to achieve truth. As the author illustrates, some stories cannot be equally split or have an equal number of quotes from different sides. I think these ideas can help me reasonably understanding the word “objectivity” and avoid pursuing it stiffly in my practice. Because, as the book states, sometimes balancing stories which cannot be balanced equally is not a true reflection of reality. Thus, when I do my reporting coverage, my balance will follow the nature situation of the stories and assign quotes from different sides in the proportion that best reflect the true pictures.

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