How many journalists does it take?

How many journalists does it take to change a light bulb?

“We just report the facts, we don’t change them.”

I don’t believe that for a minute. 

Charles Lewis is a journalist who makes change. I’m reading his book, 935 Lies: The future of truth and the decline of America’s moral integrity. It’s about the way that government and powerful corporations keep secrets — and about the way that journalists change the world by uncovering those secrets. After leaving 60 Minutes, Lewis founded the Center for Public Integrity. In a Politico article, he called it:

“a place dedicated to digging deep beneath the smarminess of Washington’s daily-access journalism into the documents few reporters seemed to be reading, which I knew from experience would reveal broad patterns of cronyism, favoritism, personal enrichment and outrageous (though mostly lega”l) corruption. My dream was a journalistic utopia—an investigative milieu in which no one would tell me who or what not to investigate.”

That’s journalism that not only reports facts, but makes change.

Community journalists also make change. Whether they are called journalists or bloggers (like Sally Jo Sorensen), they keep digging up facts and feeding us information and urging us on until the stories get told.  Public radio journalists like Madeleine Baran and the crew over at MPR dig up the unsavory truths that the Minnesota’s Catholic bishops has been hiding. Stephen Colbert and Jon Stewart masquerade as comedians but do the work of journalists — they just get paid a lot better.

One thing that these people doing journalism have in common is that they get angry about official lies. They get angry about corruption. They get angry about injustice.  That’s where journalism makes change.

John Seigenthaler, the longtime editor and publisher of The Tennessean, died on July 11. One of those passionate journalists, he said:

“I think journalism was the most important thing I could have done with my life. I just can’t think of anything I could have done with my life that would have been more meaningful.”

Siegenthaler reported on the civil rights movement. He also spent two years as then-Attorney General Robert Kennedy’s administrative assistant. During that time, Seigenthaler put himself between a southern racist mob and the young Freedom Rider they were beating, and got hit in the head with a lead pipe.

As a reporter, editor, publisher and advocate for the First Amendment, Siegenthaler lived the life of a committed and engaged journalist. His favorite quote, from Bobby Kennedy, reflects that commitment:

“‘Few will have the greatness to bend history, but each of us can work to change small events, and those acts can write the history of our generation.'”


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