The Media Standards Trust has begun a lecture series on ‘Why Journalism Matters’. It is disconcerting that it feels we have to ask the question. The argument put forward by the British group’s director Martin Moore is that news organisations are so preoccupied with business survival that discussion of the broader social, political and cultural function of journalism gets forgotten. It is a pertinent review then, given the icy economic blasts hitting most Anglo-Saxon media groups, and notwithstanding the recent examples of self-evidently broader journalistic ‘value’ produced by London’s Daily Telegraph in its politican-shaming investigations into parliamentarians’ expenses.
First up in the series was Lionel Barber, editor of the Financial Times, who cantered through the justifications for a vibrant, independent press. Watchdog, informer, explainer, campaigner, community builder and debater – those are the roles that journalism plays. The value that it brings is most evident by comparison with the unhealthiness of states where the press is not free, noted Barber, citing the struggles of the citizenry in China and Russia to hold their leaders to account.