Conveying information is an important part of the democratic decision-making system, as it brings transparency into society and for its part makes sure that the made decisions go along with the people’s sense of justice.
To make sure that there is a chance for civil advocacy, it is important that the citizens are informed of decisions already when they are being prepared.
In other words, the journalists’ mission is to oversee the work of government officials on behalf of the citizens. Press, or nowadays media in general is occasionally called the watchdog of society or the fourth estate. Based on the Montesquieu’s tripartite system, the other estates in modern democracies are often referred to branches of a legislature, an executive, and a judiciary.
The watchdog refers to the fact that journalists are supposed to guard the policymakers’ actions. In the recent years social media has been proposed to be the fifth estate, where the work of journalists is scrutinized.
On the one hand, journalism conveys information to the citizens about what is happening in society. On the other hand, journalism lets the policymakers know what kinds of effects their previous decisions have had and what kinds of decisions have been made elsewhere. Journalism also lets the policymakers know what the public expects of them.
In addition to conveying information, good journalism also interprets the world. Journalism explains things and phenomena in an easy and accessible way, describes the cause-effect-relationships of events and provides background information on issues and decisions.
Journalism brings the events close to people’s everyday lives and shows
what kind of an impact they have on a regular citizen’s life.
Journalism’s functions also include the creation of a sense of solidarity in society, which can happen for example through large newsworthy events. Also, by establishing solidarity, journalism also aims to maintain peace in society.
Nowadays people’s consumption of media is not consistent. Instead, people tend to collect information from different sources. That is why ever larger news events are needed to affect people collectively. Assassinations, wars and acts of terrorism feel like turning points in history largely because of their wide news coverage.
Widely covered events become a part of history, and the audience following the events feel that they are experiencing a historical event.
Media has the power both to blow things out of proportion and to sweep them under the rug.
Journalism also tries to whet people’s appetite for learning new things. Journalism entertains, evokes emotion and experiences. It offers new perspectives and stories which people can relate to.
The profession of journalism is a public and social occupation. Journalists as professionals both support and sustain the credibility of the decision-making system and maintain its functions. The role of a journalist and their position in relation to the use of social power is, however, a more complicated question.
The most important values of a journalist are impartiality, independence of commercial and political interests and responsibility.
Thus, even if a journalist handles social issues, s/he must not strive to be a political force. A reporter can present pointed opinions, but it has to be done separately from news work. Otherwise the credibility of the reporter as an independent conveyor of information is undermined and the audience can easily begin to respond to everything that the journalist in question does as biased.