Journalism’s functions in a democracy

October 7, 2008

What are the func­tions of journ­al­ism in a demo­cracy? In an art­icle prob­ably drawn from his forth­com­ing book, Why Demo­cra­cies Need An Unlov­able Press, (order yours now) Michael Schud­son gives six:

  1. Inform­ing the public
  2. Invest­ig­a­tion
  3. Ana­lysis
  4. Social sur­veil­lance
  5. Pub­lic forum
  6. Mobil­iz­a­tion

But the key quote for me (and the reason, incid­ent­ally, that I find the rationale for BBC journ­al­ism so polit­ic­ally ener­vat­ing) is this obser­va­tion on the US media:

[T]oday’s object­ive, information-providing, and non-partisan invest­ig­at­ive func­tions of lead­ing news organ­iz­a­tions may have de-mobilizing effects. They provide people with inform­a­tion, but they do not advise them on what to with it.

If any­thing they seem to imply that noth­ing can be done, that politi­cians are only inter­ested in their own careers.

The under­tone of cyn­icism in news reports may well be a factor in encour­aging an under­tone of cyn­icism in the gen­eral public.

And so we’re de-mob happy…