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…

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