The Archbishop calls for media self-examination

I’m heading northward tomorrow to participate in a gathering of media folks and academics at Ball State University. We’re talking about the future of journalism and how to teach it to tomorrow’s students. It’ll be left-brain city, but I’m really looking forward to it. Every group like this needs at least one antagonist.

On the eve of this event comes a rather amazing speech from the Archbishop of Canterbury. I’ve asked for a copy of the entire speech, but excerpts from The Guardian suggest it is a biting challenge to the news media in the wake of the Michael Jackson verdict. Here’s the lead paragraph:

The Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams will tonight launch an attack on the media, berating the “adversarial and suspicious” nature of modern journalism, which he says holds people “guilty until proved innocent”.
To that, I give a hearty Amen!

The archbishop is calling for a far-reaching reassessment of the press and notes that trust of the media is at “embarrassingly low levels.” But his greatest concern is what a suspicious press is doing to the culture.

High levels of adversarial and suspicious probing send the clear message that any kind of concealment is guilty until proved innocent. That is a case that needs more than just assumptions to be morally persuasive.
Jeff Jarvis thinks the archbishop has a point, and I couldn’t agree more. He notes that the line between watch dogging and the relentless overkill we seem to have today is celebrity.
The cliché is true: The watchdog role of the press is a vital check on the powerful in a democracy. But does every investigation serve the public interest or is it a gotcha moment that serves the ego of the reporter and his institution? Is it good to bring down the powerful or does the constant dogging of the powerful only divide us and sour us? Is it better to trap a lying politician or to bang the heads of our leaders to make them stop yelling at each other — on our cue — and start working together to make them fix health care?
This is great food for thought for the conference in Muncie, and it will be fascinating to observe my fellow attendees’ responses. I’ll be back Saturday and have something to say then.

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