“In recent years, journalists have become known more for their coverage of celebrities and sensational stories than as crusaders for justice and the underprivileged”, expresses Peter Essick, photojournalist for National Geographic on the magazine’s official Instagram account. The passage appears under the strong and moving photograph of a young Vietnamese girl, who was born with severe deficiencies caused by the exposure of her parents and grandparents to Agent Orange, as she was being fed at a local home designated for children with similar stories.
Essick’s statement raises questions on the main role of journalism, a topic open for debate and personal opinion. The profession includes people who communicate through printed and virtual writing, film, photography and speech, as well as many other forms of expressions, and treats an extremely broad range of topics. So, what is the link between all these people? What is the main role of Journalism? According to Joseph Pulitzer (1847 – 1911), the Hungarian newspaper editor who gives name to the famous Pulitzer Prize, it is to “comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable”.
But this was long before the Internet took over; the number of newspapers, television channels, radio stations, magazines, blogs and websites exceedingly multiplied and we – the public – acquired the power to filtrate the information and classify it into what we wish to receive and what we would rather keep away from.
As a result, people with an inclination towards comfort, tend to choose soothing articles, reassuring videos and pictures on topics that do not shake them out of their comfort-zone. Meanwhile, the so-called afflicted, are attracted to news of the shocking, perturbing and uncomfortable type. This creates, therefore, a dichotomy in contemporary journalism, which is exaggerated to the point where stories on celebrities’ private life and those following the motto “if it bleeds it leads” are the ones being covered most frequently.
In the last few years, the profession of journalism is appearing very frequently linked to the idea of a crisis. This concept draws a relationship between the decadence and fear of disappearance with the Internet, cause of a shift in whom has the power to manipulate, to privatize and to control information. Power which no longer lies in the hands of States and corporations, but also on those of anyone who has access to Internet and a wish to say something.
However, would not the real decadence of Journalism lie in the fact that the voice and ideals behind the job have been hindered? That the sensationalist and superficial stories bombarding us nowadays have substituted the tales of the “crusaders for justice and the underprivileged”? Would it not be of more concern the fact that the comfortable are being comforted while the afflicted are being disturbed than the fact that, to a certain extent, there is no longer a monopoly of Information?
While the debate on the topic continues and the need of Journalism to adapt to the new forms of communication increases, the demand for information also grows. The real challenge is to find a way to afflict the comfortable in a soothing way, while putting at ease the disturbances of the afflicted – or in other words, to find a way for the different sorts of information to surpass the categories which divide the public.