What it means to be a journalist

If you don’t know who Nick Kristof is, you may feel just a little bit lost this week, our last together as a class.

We’re watching the documentary film “Reporter,” about Kristof’s approach to reporting on some of the toughest subjects: famine, genocide, human trafficking and violence against women.

Kristof became a (journalism) household word for his reporting on Sudan. And he won some Pulitzers.

But that’s not why we’re watching “Reporter” and discussing it this week. I think the film really gets at the heart of the question of what journalism is, and what it takes to make people care about the horrors of the world.

Start with the Darfur puppy, or this more recent column about people giving away their adopted children on the Internet, or any other column by Kristof, and you get a sense of a calm and focused outrage. But you may be surprised by Kristof when you watch this film. Note what surprises you, and you are likely to learn something important about how you view the role of the journalist.

And think about this, in the words of Peter Maass who reported on the war in Bosnia and continues to create excellent journalism:

I watched and shook my head in dismay and tried to write stories that sounded reasonable, and I think I succeeded, which is too bad, because the events in Geneva and Bosnia were not reasonable, and they should not have been presented as reasonable. The language of journalistic discourse is inoffensive, the language of balance and objectivity, on the one hand this, on the other hand that, the truth is in the middle (or perhaps unknowable). Was this the proper way to report on a situation that was not balanced, that was anything but balanced, that was, in fact, supremely absurd and tragic and venal?

Excerpt from Love Thy Neighbor: A Story of War

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2 Responses to What it means to be a journalist

  1. The documentary we watched this morning definitely proved evocative and elicited some critical concepts to examine. I wrote my latest blog post in response to these: http://www.cenevox.com/2013/12/03/the-danger-of-oversimplification/

  2. mdz76 says:

    Although I really enjoyed watching the first part of the documentary this morning, it left me perplexed. I am taking the Media Ethics class this semester, and I found that the documentary about Kristof showed me what some ethics professionals say journalists shouldn’t do.
    When I realized that the woman accompanying Kristof was a doctor, I wondered what the trip was really about. When you help the sources of your story, you change your story. You have an impact on it and you interfere with what would have happened if you weren’t there.
    I am just wondering now how a journalist should act when facing atrocities like Kristof is.
    Of course a journalist was a human first. And it is normal to want to help. In the documentary, we see Kristof giving money to a child to take care of the sick woman. It is understandable,but that woman isn’t the only one suffering. Why does he help her and not all the other ones, that he judged maybe “less interesting” for his column? When do you let your human side overweigh your journalist side? And when do you stop? If that woman needed to stay a lot more in the hospital, would Kristof have given her more money?
    I am not sure helping people is part of the journalist’s duties. And since a doctor follows Kristof, it means that he is always ready to help, and it seems like something that usually happens.
    To me, it is transgressing the limit of the journalist’s job.

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