Tow Takeaways: Honest Journalism + Compromised Environments


Good journalism in the U.S. is fueled by emails, voicemails, FOIA requests and First Amendment arguments. But these are luxuries that many countries do not afford their journalists. Last week, the Tow Center and CJS Global welcomed J-School students and alumni who have managed to work around such limitations—and the threats that accompany them—to produce reporting that is founded on integrity and facts.

Here are five takeaways from the panel:

There tends to be a blurred line between journalism and politics: Journalists in the room hailing from across the world pointed to examples of the marriage between politics and the press. For example, some said it was not uncommon for former diplomats or political leaders to take over major editorial roles—and vice versa, when journalists would go on to embrace titles in government.

The U.S. has it good: One journalist in the room noted that as controversy-ridden as the 2016 election has been, the country is fortunate to have an environment that allows for difficult questions and hard-hitting investigative reporting.

Self-censorship is as big a threat as censorship: Threats, even implicit ones, are built into the system. They leave journalists worrying about their every move and sometimes going so far as to prompt them to leave the country. Some communities, such as women journalists and reporters who have pledged to protect sources, are more vulnerable to these threats.

Social media is both a force of good and bad for journalists: Some reporters in the room pointed to examples of social media as a way to better hold the government accountable, while others experienced it as a way to be publicly shamed for their reporting.

There is no one solution: These stories can be disheartening and there is no right answer or all-knowing savior. However, there are ways to balance good reporting with personal safety. For example, one journalist noted having to resort to making dozens of phone calls to corroborate data after a government agency refused to take calls.