Invest in Journalism
Today’s media is often referred to as The Fifth Estate or The Fourth Power when talking about print – pretty lofty labels when you see the proliferation of listicles and cat memes infiltrating news websites and social media today.
It is also dubbed the fourth branch of the government by some because it is seen to be as powerful as any other branch within the government – not necessarily from a bureaucracy perspective, but from the viewpoint of importance and balance of power.
In a democratic society, each branch within the government plays a very key role in the operation of a state. By placing media on that same level, media is credited with performing a critical function in the running of a society.
Italian Renaissance historian, politician and author of The
Prince, Niccolò Machiavelli, once said that “It is better to be feared than loved, if you cannot be both.” But he also stated that one should avoid being hated. Interestingly, media is one of the few institutions that invokes all three from those who connect with it.
News consumers love the media for the most part, corrupt individuals, groups and businesses fear being targeted and exposed by it; governments often loathe it. They may pretend to support media and agree in general that without it there is no state. But in non-democratic
regimes, government leaders lean towards either silencing media or maneuvering it into becoming their own propaganda machine.
The real power of media, however, comes in reflecting the society in which it operates, and in being an unbiased voice for it. Investigative journalism, considered the most fundamental part of media’s contribution to society, operates on several levels.
It can be at the level of a local community through watchdogs, at the state- or national-level where political corruption, mismanagement and abuse of power is unearthed; or it can be borderless, crossing national boundaries and the publishing houses that serve in those countries.
We saw this in the Panama Papers – an extraordinary example of collaborative journalism at its finest, where hundreds of media organizations and investigative reporters from around the world clandestinely joined forces for a year to expose the offshore holdings of the world’s political leaders, and hidden financial dealings of billionaires, celebrities, drug traffickers, fraudsters and more. If ever there was an argument in favor of more investment in investigative reporting, it is this.
And yet, we continually hear that editorial is being sacrificed to fund the massive overheads inherent with print or, even worse, to pad the pockets of commercial owners.
As a staunch proponent of publishers investing in their core competency of quality content creation, I’m heartened by what the Panama Papers have demonstrated to us, but will it have any effect on the newsroom bleeding that we continue to see? According to the American Society of News Editors (ASNE), newsrooms have been cut by 40% since 2003. Local and state reporting output has decreased by
80% since 2000. Can it get any worse?
More and more local communities, municipalities and even states are relying on non-profits to increase accountability, fiscal responsibility and transparency in government. But is it enough? I think not. It seems to me that only the largescale umbrella publishers with deep pockets will be in a position to adequately fund what is a crucial facet in the on-going safety and security of our societies.
We call today’s media The Fifth Estate because we believe media in all its forms has an obligation to serve humanity. The abandonment of investigative journalism by mainstream media in its transition to digital is not only a disgrace, it is a fundamental breach of trust between media and its audience. It’s no wonder trust in media has been trending in the wrong direction over the past decade.
The appetite for investigate journalism has never been stronger. It’s time for media to recognize the power they have to influence and change things for the better. Make saving democracy and yourself a priority; go pick up a shovel and start digging. Because if investigative journalism continues to be sacrificed for all the wrong reasons, someday there won’t be any reason for media to exist at all.