Editor's Note: Media and doing the highest good


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Image by President of Ukraine

By Ethan Attwood

January can be a difficult month. It’s dark, exam season for many, and seems to exist in a perpetual hangover after the holiday period. But February brings with it longer days (sunlight past 5pm!), the emergent heads of snowdrops across campus, and most importantly, both a print and online edition of Nouse. Hope springs eternal.

New years and new seasons present opportunities for reflection. In this case, I find myself considering the role of the media in our lives. I’m unsure whether this comes from some deep-seated impulse to justify my role in student journalism, or if it’s simply an interesting motif for an Editor’s note – the former should be unnecessary anyway since you’re already reading – so thank you!

The consumption of media has evolved over the past twenty years, perhaps faster than during any other period since the advent of television and the 24-hour news cycle. I’ll restrict any commentary to the traditional fields of print journalism, rather than the ever-growing field of social media. But this by no means reduces it substantially, considering Nouse covers everything from investigative reporting, current affairs, commentary and the arts and culture content from MUSE.

As the consumption of media has moved steadily online, now reaching two-thirds of the British population, compared to less than 40 percent for print, the requirements of the online cultural sphere must be met. A platform designed to give everyone a say comes with responsibilities. Publishing within those guidelines does too, such as a commitment to a diversity of topics as well as voices. The first objective of journalism could be to inform; clearly, comprehensively and without undue subjectivity.

The objective dissemination of facts is one of the first things to collapse under a burgeoning totalitarian regime, as an ignorant population is almost as servile as an obedient one. This is why a free press is considered one of the foundational pillars of a healthy democracy, and why its rights were effectively enshrined in the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights. As valued as they are internationally, a British withdrawal from the European ratification of these rights is currently being pursued by Conservative MPs.

In addition to informative reporting, I would argue the second responsibility of the media is in providing critical analysis and commentary, both critical and opinionated (a necessary component of the forthcoming third responsibility). Not all sources are equally reliable and not all information is equally accurate. Scientists constantly grapple with this reality, and like science, news journalism should be considered a quest for truth. Our lives are busy, and not everyone has the time to perform this perpetual calculus in their heads. The job of a good journalist is to filter the good information from the bad so others can stay informed while doing theirs.

The third objective was inspired by the University of York’s strategy headline itself: “A University for Public Good”. Staying abreast of the wider world makes people happy, and this is a noble goal. Beyond this lies a reminder that we live in the information age, where events are forged by opinion and shaped by knowledge. The who, and the why, of how that knowledge is controlled has never been more critical to the trajectory of human development. There is another parallel here with science, where innovation is constantly balanced against ethical considerations – at least for the majority of scientists in public institutions, who I believe are fundamentally good. The media has the power to shape hearts and minds with a reach few fields could dream of, and there exists a responsibility to use that power scrupulously. In a world increasingly hostile to movers and shakers, without good people willing to fight for change, how will anything ever improve?

Nouse represents only a small subset of the wider media sphere, but it’s the one you and I can actively influence. If ever I’m asked if joining Nouse is a worthwhile pursuit, the answer is always a resounding yes. I’ve heard few voices at York whose addition to a free and fair press wouldn’t be a force for good – and if they sound like they share your values, maybe you should add yours too.