As the Fourth Estate in American democracy, journalism informs and educates the public, while simultaneously acting as a watchdog for elected officials.
The very relationship the press and the government have is something extraordinarily unique and a distinction in democracies from dictatorships and authoritarian regimes seen around the world.
While journalism plays various roles in society, perhaps its most important is how it serves as a bridge of information from the government to the common citizen.
American journalism has been bringing vital information to the public since the beginning of the nation in 1776. From local offices to the highest positions in the country, journalists have been there to cover the good, the bad and even the ugly. To many, journalism is considered to be so significant that it acts as the fourth branch of government.
In many ways, it serves as a balance of power in a democracy. It keeps elected politicians in check and holds them accountable for their actions while in office. It also prevents anyone from gaining too much power, as the press is free to criticize anyone in a governmental role.
Assistant Professor of Political Science Kirsten Widner of the University of Tennessee talked about the importance of journalism relating to the American government.
“From the very beginning of this country, the framers of the constitution saw the free press as a really important part of having a democracy,” Widner said. “They enshrined in the First Amendment the freedom of the press to make sure that there was a forum for the sharing of information and open debate that would lead to informed citizenry capable of governing itself.”
It is safe to say that the Founding Fathers knew the importance of journalism early on and knew that by encouraging freedom of speech, a successful and thriving nation would be born.
In addition, journalism and the media industry as a whole have continued to evolve rapidly. The advancement of technology, such as television and the internet, has allowed information to be released to the public at unprecedented rates. Due to these advancements, journalism has undergone an extensive evolution to keep up with ever-changing technology.
“While the dynamics are different, the importance is still the same. I think it’s always been a critically important part of our democracy,” Widner said.
One thing that is important to realize is how the credibility of the media climate is ever-changing and how it undermines the position of journalists. With so many outlets to find information from, it becomes increasingly harder to distinguish facts from opinions.
Political science professor Anthony J. Nownes, who specializes in the American government, talked about the importance of being aware of this issue in today’s climate and how it’s important to be aware of what the media is presenting, as well as its intentions.
“People often have a difficult time separating what is and what is not good journalism. Journalism is designed to be both fact-based and opinionated. People must learn how to distinguish between the two,” Nownes said.
Journalists have a responsibility to report the truth in our government and report the facts to the public. This is a role that is upheld by journalists across the country and determines the stability of the credibility and legitimacy in their writings.
From informing and educating to acting as a helping hand in the balance of power, journalism is a vital aspect of a democratic society. The media industry will forever play a dynamic role in government as it continues to evolve.