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My subscription to Crikey is about to lapse. Why should I bother renewing when the media is doing such a rotten job?

Ouch! I gather that you are not alone in asking this question — not just in reference to Crikey, but as part of growing skepticism about the value of the media in general.

Before answering, I should declare a “non-conflict” of interest, in that neither I nor The Ethics Centre receive any remuneration for writing this column (hint to editor).

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So, for the time being, I can offer advice, on this matter, untinged by the stain of self-interest.

To begin, I think it helpful to distinguish between two types of media outlet, being: a) the type that primarily intends to entertain; and, b) the type that primarily aims to inform. I acknowledge that most media organisations are hybrids. Even so, I reckon that the distinction holds in ways that matter – not least in relation to your question.

In my opinion, the case for ongoing funding is best made for the second type of media organisation — those that publish the work of professional journalists.

This is because good journalism really matters in a democracy — and as things are today, there is no guarantee that it can survive without the broad support of citizens who are willing to pay for its preservation, either through taxes or subscriptions.

You will note that I have referred to “professional” journalism, to “good” journalism. In this I am trying to highlight the role played by those who are genuinely committed to the truth, no matter how hard it may be to define.

Professional journalists are supposed to subordinate self-interest (and the interests of their employer) in service of the truth.

They do so, in a democracy, not merely to hold the powerful to account. At least as important is their role in ensuring that citizens are able to make informed decisions when contributing to public debate, when voting, etc.

After all, the key to understanding democracy — as opposed to other forms of government — is that the ultimate source of authority lies in the “governed”, in the people.

There are plenty of people who claim the legitimacy of the professional journalist, but who cynically betray the ideals on which journalism is founded.

They do not care about the truth. They do not care to inform. They prefer to spout opinions rather than report facts. They prefer the interests of their employer to those of the public. They deliberately confuse what is “in the public interest” with “what the public is interested in”.

They become partisan ideological warriors and the mouthpieces for vested interests. They froth-at-the-mouth over pretend insults while abusing those they consider their opponents. They are willing to be admired for the glitter of celebrity rather than for the quality of their character.

So, I reckon, there’s the basis for your choice.

Where do you rate Crikey in terms of its intention? Is it primarily there to entertain or to inform? What do you think of its journalists? Are they committed to publishing the truth in the public interest? Or are they just there to earn a dollar, or to sparkle when their byline produces a headline?

If you think Crikey is a platform for professional journalism, then it (like similar publications) is deserving of support. If not, ask yourself if your money could buy better entertainment elsewhere.

PS: I should make it clear that there is nothing wrong with spending a dollar on pure entertainment — I just think that serious journalism makes a greater claim on our support.

Dr Simon Longstaff is executive director of The Ethics Centre. If you need support in addressing an issue or dilemma you can make an ethi-call appointment at: www.ethics.org.au.

Have a question for Simon? Send an email to [email protected]om.au and Crikey will select one question to which he will respond each Friday.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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