A Call to Arms
By John Carroll
John Carroll is the editor in chief of the Baltimore Sun.
In a speech at the ASNE convention in Seattle in April, former Los Angeles Times Editor John S. Carroll deplored the impact of corporate ownership on journalism and described the awful consequences of a world without public-service reporting. Carroll, now a visiting lecturer at the Shorenstein Center at Harvard's John F. Kennedy School of Government, urged editors to fight to preserve the enduring values of the craft. Here are some excerpts:
"How long has it been since an editor was so rash as to cite public service in justifying a budget? You might as well ask to be branded with a scarlet N, for naïve. Our corporate superiors regard our beliefs as quaint, wasteful and increasingly tiresome."
"Our mission is more daunting than that of our predecessors. It is not merely to produce good stories. It is not merely to save our newspapers. It is — and this may sound grandiose — to save journalism itself. It is to ensure the existence, long into the future, of a large, independent, principled, questioning, deep-digging cadre of journalists in America, regardless of what happens to our newspapers. You and I know it won't be easy."
"If, then, in the worst case, newspapers fade away, and if nobody else steps forward to provide a new army of rock-turners, what will the American public know in the future? What stories will go untold? What issues unraised? What will serious-minded people have to talk about?"
"What do the current owners want from their newspapers? The answer could not be simpler: Money. That's it."
"It is important for us to understand, in clear English, what, exactly, a journalist is, and what a journalist is not. It is important for us to live by those beliefs, too, and to condemn those who use the trappings of journalism to engage in marketing or propaganda. And, finally, it is important for us to explain to the public why journalism — real journalism, practiced in good faith — is absolutely essential to a self-governing nation."