Extra! Extra! Read all about it! Journalistic credibility

By Sujay Kumar

“Electronic and print-media institutions have been burnt, bombed, sealed and coerced. Countless journalists have been harassed, threatened and killed. It has been my honor to belong to all those categories and now especially the last.” – Editor of the Sunday Leader

Jan. 15, 2008 7:21 p.m. Current Mood: Optimistic

“So I finally decided to conform and start one of these blog things, LOL. On a serious note, I heard something about an editor in Sri Lanka being killed.”

It’s true that there are many blogs on the Internet suffering from the lack of professionalism as showcased in the fictional entry above. It’s a common misconception, however, that the entire blogosphere is a realm of wannabe journalists publishing poorly written diaries.

Anyone can use Web sites such as WordPress.com and Blogger.com to begin publishing in minutes, but there are some citizen journalists who have moved past the initial rush of Xanga and MySpace and have established themselves as “credible.”

Unfortunately, the issue of credibility gets complicated here. For a professional journalist, the stamp of a name and affiliation means everything. For a sometimes anonymous blogger publishing from the comfort of a bedroom, this is not always the case.

But essentially, these citizen journalists champion the idea of free speech. It’s refreshing evidence of a rejuvenated public interest in reporting the news.

Without question, the fact that an increasing number of people in the world feel comfortable at least trying to express their views on politics, the state of the world or absolutely anything else, is a positive thing.

Professional journalists shouldn’t feel threatened by the rise of the blogger. Of course, the emergence of technology in the professional realm is what has allowed good journalism to infuse everything and reach a more universal audience, while also giving rise to blogger-palooza.

While the citizen journalists continue to increase, it’s up to professionals to maintain integrity. It will remain necessary for them to adhere to core principles and set examples for those who are aspiring reporters.

The media’s ability to sometimes successfully act as a check on the government is showcased in, well, the media.

“All the President’s Men” and “Frost/Nixon” chronicle how the hard-hitting reporting of Woodward and Bernstein blew the lid off of the Watergate scandal, and “fluff” journalist David Frost’s 1977 scintillating inquisition of then-former President Nixon, respectively.

This is not to say that citizen journalists have not helped break stories that are of great significance. In 1998, the Drudge Report reportedly broke the Monica Lewinsky scandal. And it’s indisputable that during times of catastrophe, blogs assemble at a moment’s notice to spread information.

The Jan. 12, 2009, edition of The New Yorker featured a piece titled “Letter from the Grave,” which struck me as containing a remarkably pure and comprehensive doctrine for professional and, in today’s age, citizen journalists.

Lasantha Wickramatunga, the editor of the Sri Lankan newspaper the Sunday Leader, prepared a letter to be published in the event of his death. On Jan. 8, Wickramatunga was murdered on his way to work, an act he anticipated as the work of the oppressive government that his paper had openly criticized.

As Wickramatunga defiantly stated in his final story, “The free media serve as a mirror in which the public can see itself sans mascara and styling gel. From us you learn the state of your nation, and especially its management by the people you elected to give your children a better future. Sometimes the image you see in that mirror is not a pleasant one. But while you may grumble in the privacy of your armchair, the journalists who hold the mirror up to you do so publicly and at great risk to themselves. That is our calling, and we do not shirk it.”

It is to this notion that the spirit of all journalistic endeavors, professional or not, is dedicated.

Sujay is a senior in biochemistry. He thinks the brother in Slumdog Millionaire went from looking like Kenan, from Kenan & Kel, to Michael Jackson.