Why is Journalism Not Dead? How I Teach Students Their Responsibility.

I’ve never believed that journalism was dead. Changing, transforming, and adapting but not dying.

In fact, I have spent the last 15 years training young journalists to tell fair, accurate, and compelling stories that inform, expose, and celebrate. My very first lecture to new journalism students included the most urging principle: to respect all people.

I’ve worked on multiple platforms as a journalist, from newspaper diversity columnist to correspondent for CNN. I’ve taught at some of the top journalism schools in the county — Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism, Emerson College, and Indiana University.

And through all this work, I’ve attained invaluable lessons I can now pass on to students.
As they conduct an interview, they may find out, as I did, that we as people (no matter what) aren’t one-dimensional; we’re complex.

They might find that the homeless man living on the street was once a top-ranking military official who lost his way after multiple family tragedies. They may also find out, as I did, that the woman in a jail cell, who seemed to allow her boyfriend to beat her 4-year-old to death in a hotel room, suffered unspeakable abuse by her own father from the time she was an infant.

I’d ask them, “Can you say that if you had the same life journey, that you would have acted differently?” It’s not the journalist’s job to decide if someone’s story is more valuable than the following story.

“Journalists have a high calling. We are to be accurate and fair. There is no room in this profession for bias and prejudice.”

We must eliminate any biases that internally emerge as soon as we’re aware of them. We must strive to be clean slates to report the stories of the world around us accurately.

I teach students their role in journalism is a responsibility. It is a position that should provide objective information to the public to help foster a healthy democracy. However, getting this information out has become a little trickier. It has become more difficult for the public to distinguish between an actual news entity and those masquerading as informed sources, often creating disharmony and disruption with untrue or biased storytelling.

Still, as trained journalists committed to fairness and accuracy, we must press on, doing our best to dispel the lies.  I remind my students often of our responsibility to be a watchdog that exposes corruption, holding government and officials accountable, and anyone who attempts to suppress the truth.

The media is often the only chance for justice or social change when official misconduct is involved.

Long before video footage could record corrupt police force, from Rodney King, Philando Castile, Tamir Rice to George Floyd, the stories were told at family dinners, churches, or other places of solace. These stories were often shared to protect children, teenagers, and young adults from tragic interactions with rogue police officers.

But then, as we entered the social media era, footage on smartphones, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, and TikTok all began telling these stories, too. The proof created an army of outraged demanding justice. The media was a necessary ingredient, as it was with the #MeToo movement, as it is currently helping to amplify the oppressed women of Iran.

Journalism cannot die because the future depends on it to document history, expose corruption, uplift, compel, and inspire.

Ultimately, and most importantly, there is no democracy without journalism. If there is no democracy, this is not America.

Cheryl Owsley Jackson

Cheryl Owsley Jackson

Cheryl started her journalism career as a feature reporter/newspaper diversity columnist. She wrote the column, “It Takes All Kinds,” for the Columbus Republic. She is a Senior Visiting Lecturer at The Media School at Indiana University. She was a Journalist-In-Residence at Emerson College and she taught at Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism for almost 9 years, including working as a video news director for Medill’s Washington DC bureau. Cheryl worked at WRTV-6 before moving to Chicago to report for CNN. She taught English as a Second Language for several years in connection with Cummins Engine Company and Toyota, Inc. Cheryl has been a contributing writer for Racing Toward Diversity.

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