Responsibility falls on more than just journalists: media consumers need to call the shots

Jack Dodson

This is a call to arms.

Not with guns, that’s a little unnecessary. They won’t really help you with this, either. More for knowledge, for understanding. It’s about living up to that whole democracy thing.

There’s this list called “The Elements of Journalism,” put out by the Project for Excellence in Journalism and the Committee for Concerned Journalists. It’s a whole bunch of things that journalism should be, but the last statement is the truest of all: citizens, too, have rights and responsibilities when it comes to the news.

That gives the everyday person the power to shape what their news coverage is like. They should be reading the things they think are important; not just what’s placed in front of them and made to look interesting. People should be educating themselves by reading or watching the news. In its most fundamental form, journalism is about getting the knowledge out for the public good, and–point number two on this list–it’s about being loyal to the audience.

By reading only stories about what children Angelina Jolie adopted, why Charlie Sheen is “winning,” or a doll made of the princess-to-be Kate Middleton, you’re effectively saying to a news outlet that those are what you care most about. Especially in the age where articles are tracked y hits and times spent on each page, and on the side how many times they’re emailed, this is a dangerous practice.

Part of being a good citizen in the U.S. is having knowledge. Of course, it’s not required. That’s the beauty (and curse) of the system. But responsibility, ethics and law are not the same thing. Just because the person without the knowledge for the vote has the right to exercise their voice doesn’t mean they should stay that way.

It’s about using your voice, exercising your right. The first amendment does not just fall on the press. It’s a collaborative effort: that’s what makes democracy work. If consumers aren’t dictating the trends of media, who’s watching the watchdogs?

Of course, this is not to say that media don’t have rules and ethics they have to follow. There are many ways the press can improve; just look at the way huge events are covered. There’s almost always a problem with the choices journalists make. They blew the “looting” thing out of the water in New Orleans. Michael Jackson’s death was the biggest story for months. Most of this Middle East uprising coverage has been about Egypt, and much less focused on the other countries involved.

That’s all why there are these guidelines for journalists. They can do better. And they should do better. But it’s up to the people to make that clear–it starts at the base level, and with media, that’s the audience. That’s what it’s all about, the whole journalism thing. It’s about being educated enough to make decisions, and knowing what’s going on so you can reach an informed opinion. If you don’t fight for that, then what does any of it mean?

So write a letter to the editor. Think hard about which articles you want to look at in your ten minutes you get to spend reading the Journal’s home page. Remember your right–and duty–as a citizen.

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