What Do We Need from Journalism?

Given the pace of change today, we need journalism that helps us to navigate through uncertainty.

If the purpose of journalism is to support us in making sense of our world, providing the news and information we need to be free and self-governing, what does that tell us about stories that help us find our way in times of change? It calls for an expanded purposejournalism that not only informs, but also engages, inspires, and activates us to be free and self-governing.

Such journalism involves:

NewsEco-Journalism-purpose_med_res.jpgMy perspective comes from thirteen years of working with journalists through Journalism That Matters.  It is also influenced by consulting to organizations facing upheaval and as an author of two books on system change. I have seen that the stories we tell matter. They shape our actions.

As cultural storytellers, journalists influence our collective story.  In his groundbreaking work, The Image of the Future, social scientist Fred Polak tells us that cultures without a positive image of their future die within a generation.  Think about that.  Our future depends on positive images.  So cultural narratives – the stories we collectively tell ourselves – are more critical than most of us realize.

Likely unconsciously, most traditional media have approached their mission by telling stories that tend to keep our institutions stable.  They treat the functioning of our educational systems, political systems, healthcare systems, governance systems and other basic systems of society as a given.

When our institutions cease to serve us well, it shows up in the complexity of the issues we face and conflicts over how best to handle them. At such times, journalism that helps us to navigate through uncertainty can inspire and equip us — the public — to engage with complex challenges, taking charge of the well being of our communities and our democracies.

Such a focus raises some essential questions, like: Who decides what is newsworthy? And how?  And even: who decides whether our systems are meeting the needs of the people they are intended to serve?

In that light, consider how much journalistic storytelling uses conflict to make a story compelling. Even if it makes a good story, for many of us, it creates a sense of hopelessness.  Think about how differently you respond to a story about our education system failing and one about education innovations that are making a difference. One story leaves most of us in despair, believing there’s nothing we can do. The other can spark action, motivating us to get involved.

Inspiring and engaging stories don’t need to ignore conflict. They succeed by contextualizing them via big picture aspirations that provide positive images that inspire action.

Over the next few weeks, I’ll elaborate on these ideas in posts on an expanded purpose of journalism, and three principles: possibilityengagement, and diversity. The series ends with some suggestions on what you can do to support a re-vitalized, economically viable journalism that meets the needs of communities and democracies. As a companion piece, I’ll offer a draft functional map of the news and information ecosystem.

Got something to contribute?

A story? A question? A resource? In the spirit of JTM’s aspiration to be a go-to place for connecting people involved with the emerging news and information ecosystem, I invite you to join in. You can:


Read the other posts in this series:

One thought on “What Do We Need from Journalism?

  1. Peggy Holman

    Highlights of comments sent to me from different sources:

    LinkedIn 9/4/13, 5:50pm
    Mary Ann Chick Whiteside
    “Interesting idea to put hope as a benchmark of good journalism ”

    Sep 9, 2013

    Peggy, good morning;

    Regarding the question you did at your post at JTM, I believe that there are at least two things we need from journalists today that are receiving less attention than necessary:

    First, more curatorship: there is too much information around and journalists can hardly copmpete with that. What they can is to separate the reliable from the doubtful information. This would mean to take advantage of the shift that is going on, being able to offer more to readers instead of trying to beat the unbeatable;

    second, journalists and companies need to create new ways to handle these massive chunks of information and making them more friendly. There is still a very small amount of companies investing in new tools to make sense of this great new input of information. Asking people for their feedback in Facebook and Twitter is not enough. News companies and journalists need to step in aggressively to reposition themselves in the market making an alliance with the big data and the new providers (usually, non-traditional nor professional journalists) to prove that good journalists are always capable to make the difference. The way I see, at least here in Brazil, journalists tend to see themselves drowning in frustration and victims of a technological turnaround, when we should be excited about the new possibilities, even if slightly fearful for the future.

    My best wishes

    Cassiano Gobbet

    Sep 4, 2013

    Wout-Jan Koridon

    Peggy, wonderful and valuable thoughts! ODE Magazine/The Optimist might be an inspiring example of the journalism you’re aiming at and we are in need of. See http://www.theoptimist.com/magazine
    Looking forward to your next blogs on this; thanks.

    Sep 4, 2013
    Cavana Faithwalker

    Great read Peggy! I can’t wait to read more. To me there are, like on a P&L statement a lot of noncontrollables. To me also it would be great if journalism could cultivate a sophisticated readership, that is a readership that seeks out alternate views and revels in true debate. I don’t know where we have debate in this country anymore.
    To me often the journalism I expose myself to has a left/right-liberal/conservative perspective that renders it difficult to find journalism that is agendaless (sorry for making words up) but that impact is somewhat mitigated by the reader by seeking a broad range of writers. your thoughts?
    I sometimes have the wherewithal to read about certain issues in the USA from outside the country but even then it is difficult to negate agendas.

    Sep 6, 2013
    Peggy Holman

    ODE Magazine. Yes, a great idea. Thank you Wout-Jan.

    I’ll be writing about engagement, which I see as the means for civil discourse for coming to what Daniel Yankelovich called “public judgment”. It takes the capacity to listen to people who see the world differently that you do. My years of working with organizations dealing with complex challenges is that innovative responses grow out of expressions of passionately held beliefs in setting in which people actually hear each other. The best ideas tend to be ones that no one could have found on their own.

    Transparency as a journalistic value is coming to replace the impossible idea of objectivity. Everyone has an agenda, whether conscious of it or not. Ironically, when originally named, the notion of objectivity was in being willing to look at a wide range of sources to reach conclusions. That makes a lot of sense ot me! Still, journalists that can help us see multiple perspectives in order to draw our own conclusions are few and far between. So being transparent about your beliefs is a good place to start.

    One of my colleagues, John Hamer, came up with the idea of the TAO of Journalism, for Transparency, Accountability, and Openness. Journalists can take a pledge: http://www.taoofjournalism.org.

    Cavana Faithwalker That’s it exactly, “Transparency as a journalistic value is coming to replace the impossible idea of objectivity..”

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