What is courage in American journalism?

Somebody asked me recently: What is courage in American journalism. He gave me abour two hours of in-flight thinking time, during which I wrote the folowing:

“For Aristotle courage was the middle ground (“the golden mean”) between cowardice and foolhardiness.

I believe that in American journalism courage is the middle ground between carelessness and complacency.

For thousands of journalists around the world, courage evokes — rightfully — publishing despite fear of government  prosecution or even physical harm. That’s courage in countries is which lawlessness rules and I’ve seen it in my own country plenty of times even after the fall of communism.

But I believe that in America, despite current pressures on the media and a rise in government propaganda and attempts to silence the press, the act of publishing is not where the courage lies.

Courage lies in the act doing the reporting.

Courage lies in flying in the face of economic hardship, loss of readership and constant hammering from blogs and interest groups. Courage is having the patience to not do the story everyone else will do, the willingness to break master narratives and the fortitude to challenge common assumptions.

This certainly includes revealing faults in the government’s actions, exposing corruption, or showing abuses of power because so little of these benefit from a devotion to bringing them to light.

Courage also includes covering the ideas that shape society at the present moment, tearing down the horse-race model of covering politics, and telling the stories of ordinary people around us. Courage is setting aside the press release and stepping out of the newsroom, it’s taking three stories to profile a Muslim imam, three stories to explain how democratizing in the Middle East really works, four to show the drama of dying children, or an hour on the radio to explain how haphazard the effort to capture terrorists really is.

Courage is not being lazy and doing a lot of work — sticking to the principles of the craft in an age when everyone predicts the end of traditional media and no one appears willing to throw money onto the table.”

3 Responses to “What is courage in American journalism?”

  1. I think all of that is just doing our job. Of course, not all journalists feel that way, though. So I guess it takes courage to go against the attitudes that build up in newsrooms.

  2. de cateva zile http://www.dbrom.ro nu mai functioneaza. nu stiu daca tu esti in masura sa-l readuci, daca da – te rog mult. merci.

  3. Courage is telling your editor he lacks all semblance of news judgment, going after big stories without his knowledge until they’re finished, pitching them and saying to his face ‘See, told you this was a good story [bitch].’

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