Sunday, December 16, 2012

Journalism changes nothing

          Journalism doesn’t change anything.
          I got into this business as a 17-year-old recent graduate of Provo High School in 1976. Back then, my main interest was sports and I had visions of one day writing for Sports Illustrated.
          As it happens, I developed other interests. I began my full-time career in journalism as a city beat reporter. In my youthful innocence, I believed that journalists could change the world, one story at a time.
          I know better now. Journalists don’t change the world; those who are influenced by journalism, however, can.
          Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, who provided my original inspiration to pursue journalism, made absolutely no difference whatsoever. They did, however, provide enough information to persuade others to action. Eventually, their coverage of Watergate nudged forward the first domino that led to Richard Nixon’s resignation.
          That’s how the world gets changed.
          Nearly eight years ago the Post Register published a series, considered controversial by some, about child molestation inside the local Boy Scout organization. We changed nothing. But other people, at least given a nudge by our journalism, went into action and today the statute of limitations on child molestation in Idaho has been dramatically extended and many people view their world differently.
          Over the past several years the Post Register has expended considerable resources gaining access to information that public officials tried to keep secret, the most recent incident being the payment by the Blackfoot School District of more than $220,000 to a former superintendent. The behavior of the school board was outrageous.
          But our stories won’t change a thing. They are just words. If change is going to happen, other people -- regular people like those reading this column -- have to initiate it. That’s how this works. Journalists investigate, write and publish. Changing the world is the role of other people.
          I wrote a column recently calling on the members of the Blackfoot School Board to resign. Those words won’t persuade them to do it. In a vacuum, those words mean nothing. I got a number of calls thanking me for the column, which I appreciate. But if that’s where it stops, our journalism will have meant nothing.
          I bear no ill will toward the members of the Blackfoot School Board. I’ve never met a single one of them, but I’m sure they got involved in public service out of a desire to do good things. However, they messed up, big time. There remain pieces to this story that we don’t know, and we’ll continue casting a wide net.
          But if our stories are going to result in change, it is the patrons of the Blackfoot School District who will make it happen.

1 comment:

  1. But the process all starts with the journalist bringing the issue to the public. It scares me that the power of the press might be decreasing and the right of the public to know what our government is doing with our tax money is getting minimized. Internet is so segmented, so unedited, so not a permanent record in history. Every newspapers needs to take back their town in a real way and be the conduit of information needed as watch dogs of the government.