Monday, November 01, 2004

What constitutes responsibility?

Writing is a wonderful medium to express your thoughts, ideas, and opinions. It comes with the idea of freedom of speech, whereby censorship is banned, because it does not promote healthy reasoning and debate.

Knowing how to temper your writing with reason can come across as a bit stifling for the average writer, but for the journalist, it is a must. If a particular publication you work for has an acknowledged slant, then it follows that the writing should be geared towards that slant. Again, though, that should not hinder one from presenting all the facts in a story, though that story may be anathema to the writer and/or publication. That is the tenet of healthy journalism.

But all's not fair in writing, I'm afraid, if in love and war it is. Media has gotten such a bad rep these days so as to render their once-mighty respectability into pieces. The damage that can be dealt to a person or even an institution aren't delivered by the even-toned news anchors you watch on CNN and BBC; they're delivered mostly these days by a growing number of people we know as bloggers.

But I digress.

Officially, not everyone has the power to speak out their thoughts and opinions (although blogs are there to fill in that gap). But when you are given that power, that privilege, to speak, you must also acknowledge that awesome responsibility and take the necessary steps to live up to that privilege.

This might all sound a bit vague, but one can apply this anywhere in media and publishing these days, even from the days of old.

Take Pride and Prejudice, for a veritable stretched example (it's neither media, nor publishing, but bear with me). Jane Austen's Elizabeth Bennet found out too late that the ill feelings she beheld towards Mr Darcy were from the machinations of Mr Wickham, who conveniently twisted the whole story. Elizabeth was inclined to believe Wickham due to his affable and amiable manners, plus the goodness of his facial features. But because she allowed her dislike of Mr Darcy to overcome whatever good sense and reason she had, the general feeling in her part of the county was that he was disagreeable, proud, and arrogant. And all this ill-will was descended from the power of the spoken word.

In this case, I make my point: one has the power to take back spoken words. And fortunately, in Elizabeth Bennet and Mr Darcy's case, the not-so-trifling situation was settled most satisfactorily.

If spoken words are powerful, then what about print?

In print, what you write stays forever. And right there, the journalist is faced with a heavy responsibility: that whatever s/he writes is truthful, factual, to the best of their capability. Because if it isn't, then history will judge, as it did when The Chicago Tribune belatedly ran their headline during the 1948 US presidential election, "DEWEY DEFEATS TRUMAN".

So what constitutes responsibility, then? Our own discerning selves, an overflow of good common sense, and respect for your medium. That might not do the trick for the nitty-gritties out there, but it's a good enough start.