By David Zita, Finn Devlin and Claudia Dashwood
I’ll just call him later.
It’s not like he’s going anywhere. I’ll just go over those questions again. Heck, I could probably just email him, couldn’t I? Don’t want to bother him too much. Yeah, I’ll just email him, shoot him a text, see what happens. All this was going through my head while I hit the dial button.
Why was I so nervous? I mean, it’s not like I’m WALL-E from that Pixar movie, living on a barren planet and not versed in the ways of communication.
Maybe it’s my inner Gen Y, reluctant to partake in what a bygone era called… ‘speaking’. What nutjobs, why would you speak when you could so easily text, Facebook message, or send a Snapchat? I mean, even what you’re reading right now was written without me speaking at all for an extended period, and it has turned out just fine… I think.
Ahhhh, that’s right. I’m a journalist now. It’s all coming back to me… you need to call them and meet them if possible, otherwise you can’t tell what’s going on beneath the words. In the underwhelming rom-com Hitch, Will Smith’s character posited that “60% of human communication is non-verbal”, and, fully aware of the scientific qualifications of Will Smith, I’ve taken that on board in my approach to journalism.
Writing with total fairness, balance and accuracy requires face-to-face (or at the very least voice to voice) communication, as it allows for all the intricacies of one’s arguments and statements to be fully scrutinized, analysed, and presented in one’s final piece.
We are thus able to better perform our role as journalists, maintaining our standing as the integral fourth estate.
Wikipedia (the ultimate source for all reliable and undisputed fact) sights Thomas Carlyle as the first person to define this ‘fourth estate’, writing: “there were Three Estates in Parliament; but, in the Reporters’ Gallery yonder, there sat a Fourth Estate more important far than they all.”
In a world where journalists are “more important” than all other aspects of democracy, journalists would become part of the ‘1%’. In doing so, it stands to reason they would strive to maintain the privileges that come with such a position by depriving the other 99% of the ability to take what the 1% possesses. Their desire to report on and monitor the Legislative, Executive and Judicial branches would become irrelevant, such is the role these branches play in maintaining the status quo.
Journalists have and will never be considered as ‘above’ the common denominator, as the moment this occurs they would cease to be journalists; such is the linkage between being involved in the public interest and being able to serve it.
Journalists and the art of journalism play an important (albeit vague) role in our society. The relative lack of expertise contemporary journalism requires (in terms of being able to publish a piece) has seen the art form become a pseudo-democratic convention that allows the public to critique and provide a ‘check’ on the three arms of government – the executive branch, the legislative branch, and the judicial branch.
Because the media can be so influential on public opinion, it is imperative for any prominent member of society to maintain a positive and extensive media profile. In this sense, journalists serve a role in revealing the true character of a person or group of people, and placing it in the public sphere for judgment.
Journalism’s place itself must also be ‘checked’ within society.
In some cases, journalism has been referred to as the “fourth estate” of society, for its role in providing a ‘check’ on the three branches of government, and the importance of that to democracy. Journalism does play an important role in this respect however, it is not all encompassing. To suggest that journalism is as important a functioning of democracy as the executive, legislative and judicial branches of government, particularly from within, would leave it open to the perception that it is both arrogant and condescending of other democratic functions within society.
The idea we are ‘above’ the public is a systematic contradiction of journalistic goals, and so it should be given as much merit as Hitch is given in marriage counselling sessions.
The City of Darebin was over flowing with story ideas, however, Federal being the highest level of government proved to be a challenge as it was not only hard to gain contact with David Feeney, the sitting member, but also hard to tread carefully considering the high profile reputation. As such, after failing to engage in contact with the next peg down, a state member, Deputy Mayor Oliver Walsh was a source regarding the sports stadium and the lack of sports facilities in the Batman area, which panned out well since he was one of the main advocates to push the plans forward.
Interviewing however was a whole other challenge in itself, where great off the record comments were said and the burning pit of desire to print it had to be put out so that an ethical line wasn’t crossed or someone’s reputation wasn’t tarnished, whether it about be a council, the government, or a figure in the public.
The concept of full disclosure and do no harm played a role in the stories we wrote, where one story had to be scrapped and reworked because of how delicate the situation was for some public figures in our area that we researched.
Added to this, thoughts of defamation came to mind as the issue unfolded. Extensive defamation laws place – which is where a statement, written, spoken or otherwise expressed, can invoke hatred, contempt or ridicule of a person in society – journalists in a precarious position when reporting on controversial issues. This can be demonstrated by examining Joe Hockey’s defamation case, in which he sued and claimed damages against Fairfax media to the tune of over $200,000 for the headline “Treasurer for Sale”, which implied that his influence and time could be bought by those willing to pay in society.