The return to a dignified press
There is an epidemic facing journalism. Fewer than 40 percent of Americans view the media as a reliable source, according to a Gallup Poll. This statistic should not come as a surprise to any of us; many, in fact, share the same sentiments.
In response to this lack of faith in the press, world leaders have called for a strengthening of journalistic integrity, Pope Francis himself being the latest to speak out against biased or false news. Recently, he spoke of “rediscovering the dignity of journalism,” and returning to a “journalism created by people for people, one that is at service of all, especially those … who have no voice.”
To help understand the dignity of which the Holy Father speaks, and what the role students might have in rediscovering it, we need only to meditate on the name Irish Rover and its implications.
There is a pun in the name “Irish Rover.” Its meaning in one sense refers to a wanderer, one who has no permanent place but rather moves perpetually about. The journalistic account is not something stagnant; the target moves, and those following the truth must move with it.
It must be said that this is not an aimless wander. One who wanders aimlessly may, it is true, happen upon the truth, but only accidentally. Such accidental journalism can lead to distrust for the profession because the audience will fear that the piece is not accidental truth but the unintentional falsity of an aimless wanderer.
Rather, the wandering of a journalist is a wandering in regards to meta-narrative. There will always be the desire to arrange stories so that they appear consistent with a preconceived notion, even when it avoids certain facts. To do so, however, is to prejudice oneself against the truth, which is journalism’s chief virtue. Therefore, to respect the virtue and dignity of journalism, the truth must always be paramount and reported justly.
Having discussed the wanderer, we move now to the pun found in “Rover”—it is a generic name for a dog. The symbolism present in this name should be obvious (even to us cat lovers!). A dog is recognized by its loyalty and its fierceness. These two qualities, present in the canine, should also be present in the journalist. For this reason, the Rover chose as its motto, “It behooves a watchdog to bark.”
Of course it behooves a watchdog to bark, for its loyalty is demonstrated in the ferocity of its protection. This is why the journalist wanders in search for truth; his loyalty to his audience compels him to investigate the truth with the same vigor and fearlessness of the watchdog. This role of a watchdog is paradoxically both offensive and defensive, reactionary in its timing yet proactive in its methodology. The only way to ensure honesty and ethics is to consistently confront him with the truth.
How dignified a task! The journalist—the wanderer, the watchdog—is a guardian of the people. It is easy then to see the concerns of Pope Francis and and the implication of distrust in the press. If the people do not trust their journalists, how can the journalists protect the people? Journalism, after all, relies on readership to be effective; the truth cannot be dispersed among the people if they don’t read it!
It is my opinion that readership will only increase with trust, and trust will only increase with a return to honest and dignified journalism. The question which now remains regards the student’s role. Put simply, it is the foundational role. The lessons and experiences which student journalists will learn throughout their time at university will be the basis for their mindset and values as they enter the professional world.
Universities and the papers that serve them have the benefit of a consistent audience; more than just consistent, an audience that is inquisitive and eager to learn! We have the opportunity to demonstrate to these, our fellow students, how journalism should be; instill it with the integrity and vigor which respects the dignity of the role. Once people get the taste of such a dignified journalism, they will not accept anything less.
Our first response to this conception is to utilize our time here to be better consumers of the news. As students, we have access to the New York Times, the Observer, and, of course, the Irish Rover, access that is horribly underutilized. If we read the news and discuss it with our friends, recognizing the strengths and weaknesses, we will encourage a greater culture of critical readership, which will, hopefully, encourage the press to publish equally critical journalism.
However, we cannot solely rely on our reading habits to change the press. G.K. Chesterton once wrote, “We have committed one crime against the newspaper proprietor which he will never forgive. We point out that his papers are dull. And we propose to print some papers that are interesting.” To print those papers, we must first write them, and this call for better content must be met with a rise in better journalists.
To this end, we are met with a challenge: to become journalists. Better yet, to do so immediately. There are plenty of opportunities here at Notre Dame to serve as a journalist, and cultivating journalistic skills during these years will not only create better content for our campus, but also prepare journalists who are dedicated to the dignity of their craft. By preparing such journalists, the Notre Dame family would play a powerful role in answering Pope Francis’ call to rediscover this dignity.
Evan Holguin is a senior in the Program of Liberal Studies. If you would like to join him in writing for the Irish Rover, send him a note at firstname.lastname@example.org!