Public service journalism has a noble track record. But in the Zuckerberg Era – so-called by veteran journalist, economist, and political commentator Roberto Savio, co-founder of the Inter Press Service news agency – it has lost the high ground.

In “What is journalism for? In today’s world, here are four key purposes” (The Guardian, 17 November 2019), the newspaper’s readers’ editor Paul Chadwick asks how media can serve societies that want to call themselves free? He suggest four ways in which fair and balanced journalism informs and provides perspective.

Help civil society to cohere
“Media, especially local media, serve as public forums, information collectors and disseminators and conduits through which many of the routine activities necessary to a healthy civil society happen – unnoticed until they are gone, or no longer sufficiently open. Crucially, these processes foster tolerance in the sense that they make it possible to observe the diversity, the ‘otherness’, around us, without requiring us to join in, or even approve.”

Facilitate democratic processes
“From campaigning, debating and voting to extracting accountability and forcing into view public interest issues which we do not want to see, but which will fester to our detriment unless we face them.”

Lubricate commerce
“Through advertising and specialist business, finance and economics reporting, since the earliest days of newspapers, journalism has served this purpose – and while it can create conflicts of interest, its by-product is financial independence from the state, which is essential to other purposes of journalism.

Make and mix the culture
“It sells journalism short not to acknowledge that its finest practitioners make a distinct contribution to the culture. But the emphasis here is on how journalism mixes what others make… Through reviews, listings, previews, interviews, profiles and their ‘nose for the new’, journalists do much to raise awareness, generate opportunity and magnify.”

Public service journalism seeks to inform people via independent, impartial, accurate and relevant news and current affairs and to help them understand the world in which they live. When they ignore or disbelieve this kind of journalism and when they are content with the short-hand versions and distortions of social media, society has a problem.

How do we persuade current and succeeding generations to respect and support public service media? How do we restore trust and credibility, based on norms of accuracy and balance, in the face of blatant rumour, innuendo, and trumpery? How do we retake the high ground of people’s belief?

Photo above: Peter Albrektsen/Shutterstock