The social responsibility of journalism

One thing I’ve taught in journalism classes is the concept of community journalism.  It’s that responsibility of journalists to report on topics to better their communities.  Sometimes that community can be much larger than a certain geographic area.

Stories that can help people are just as important as reporting the latest headlines.  The press is still powerful, even with the Internet.  And, like Peter Parker’s Uncle Ben said, “With great power comes great responsibility.”

I was reminded of this recently through another blog — this one from Al Tompkins at Poynter.  His post discussed a conversation he had with the mother of a serviceman who committed suicide after returning from Iraq.  She wanted to compel journalists to write articles about resources available to veterans for mental health assistance.

While journalists don’t like to be told what to write, we are also responsible to our readers.  Good writers and editors focus on what their audiences want and need to read.  I agree that listening to readers’ suggestions are important.  And this topic, in particular, is a big one.

I have written numerous articles about Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, specifically in relation to war veterans.  It is a topic that I care about.  It is a topic that is not discussed often enough.  And if the VA is lacking in its response to veterans’ needs, who better than journalists to bring it to light?  Who better than journalists to give desperate veterans information on where they can go for help?

We have a social responsibility.  We must take that seriously and be careful to not sensationalize.  We must remember our true purpose: to serve those who read our work.  Articles written for any other reason are not worth the ink they take to print.

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