Patriotic Visionaries

(Photo by Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images.)

The rival newspaper to the one where I learned my vocation always held aloft the motto of its famous former publisher: “Sustained outrage.”

This is a good deal better turn of phrase than “democracy dies in darkness” but gets at the same idea of journalism that confronts a corrupt world and fights the entrenched, powerful interests that profit from those troubles. 

On a great brass plaque in the newsroom of my paper, however, was stamped a quote from a poem by Lord Byron: “Without, or with, offence to friends or foes, I sketch your world exactly as it goes.” It was a more lyrical version of the slogan adopted by the New York Times in 1897 to affirm its stance of political independence and fairness compared to the enthusiastically biased Pulitzer and Hearst newspapers against which it was competing: “All the news that’s fit to print.” 

This is the opposite way of thinking about reporting and news from the outrage/darkness model: the dispassionate observer who is trying to tell the story fairly and mostly letting the audience make up its own mind. 

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