Embracing the ‘Elements’

As a first-semester freshman — and a newbie in journalism — I remember finding “The Elements of Journalism” to be dry and sort of confusing. I didn’t always see why I should remember what was in it besides the whole “best obtainable version of the truth” bit. (At least, I think this is in there. I guess I’ll find out soon whether it is.)

Today, I chuckled as I read these first two chapters. A lot of the concepts introduced are ones I have gradually picked up on throughout my time here — ones I now enjoy reading about and actively seek out — and a lot of the viewpoints offered about the purpose of journalism are ones I’ve come to agree with. The purposes and facets of journalism discussed are the reason why I care about journalism and why I want to work for a media company.

In particular, the social and moral obligations of journalism stand out. I’m passionate about this field because I’ve come to view journalism as a crucial public service. I’m sure I wasn’t the only kid who didn’t fully understand the “Schoolhouse Rock” message that knowledge was power, but I get it now. Taking the time to educate yourself and become an informed citizen enables you to make decisions that impact not only you, but also the world surrounding you. A free press can be a catalyst for change by highlighting what’s going on, what different perspectives surround issues and/or how you can improve upon a skill (e.g., those explainer journalism pieces or a recipe). Lessons in History of Photojournalism and other courses have showcased the consequences of restricting or eliminating press freedom, and they aren’t pretty.

I’m also a big proponent of the concepts that “the news media help us define our communities” and that journalism “helps identify a community’s goals, heroes and villains.” These ideas really hit home during my time as an intern at the Orange County Register. The premise of the newspaper’s oft-discussed experiment (which hadn’t incurred financial disaster yet) centered on the idea that communities were splintering, and media companies weren’t doing much to prevent that. Orange County has more than 20 cities, each with a different demographic and vibe, and the Register wanted to bring the people in each community together by bringing them local content they’d care about.

By launching smaller community newspapers to supplement the larger paper, the Register wanted to showcase the local high school wrestling tournament, the community college professor’s work and the work a woman did with the local Boys & Girls Club. It added content and sections — expanding instead of shrinking the print product — and sent people to represent the newspaper in different places because it wanted to become the community’s ultimate resource for news. Did it do everything right? From a business standpoint, obviously not. But I think the reasoning behind its coverage focus is something that is increasingly becoming important as our industry evolves.

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