TO mark the commemoration yesterday of the 119th anniversary of the Manila Times, I want to share with readers and colleagues some readings on the press that helped define for me the abiding tasks of a journalist and the service of a newspaper in a nation’s life.
I chose for this purpose the following: ‘Comment is free, but facts are sacred’
By C. P. Scott
(Published during the centenary of the Guardian by its editor, C.P. Scott, in 1921)
A hundred years is a long time; it is a long time even in the life of a newspaper, and to look back on it is to take in not only a vast development in the thing itself, but a great slice in the life of the nation, in the progress and adjustment of the world. In the general development, the newspaper, as an institution, has played its part, and no small part, and the particular newspaper with which I personally am concerned has also played its part, it is to be hoped, not without some usefulness.
I have had my share in it for a little more than 50 years; I have been its responsible editor for only a few months short of its last half-century; I remember vividly its 50th birthday; I now have the happiness to share in the celebration of its 100th. I can therefore speak of it with a certain intimacy of acquaintance. I have myself been part of it and entered into its inner courts. That is perhaps a reason why, on this occasion, I should write in my own name, as in some sort a spectator, rather than in the name of the paper as a member of its working staff.
In all living things there must be a certain unity, a principle of vitality and growth. It is so with a newspaper, and the more complete and clear this unity the more vigorous and fruitful the growth. I ask myself what the paper stood for when first I knew it, what it has stood for since and stands for now.
A newspaper has two sides to it. It is a business, like any other, and has to pay in the material sense in order to live. But it is much more than a business; it is an institution; it reflects and it influences the life of a whole community; it may affect even wider destinies. It is, in its way, an instrument of government. It plays on the minds and consciences of men. It may educate, stimulate, assist, or it may do the opposite. It has, therefore, a moral as well as a material existence, and its character and influence are in the main determined by the balance of these two forces. It may make profit or power its first object, or it may conceive itself as fulfilling a higher and more exacting function.
I think I may honestly say that, from the day of its foundation, there has not been much doubt as to which way the balance tipped as regards the conduct of the paper whose fine tradition I inherited and which I have had the honor to serve through all my working life. Had it not been so, personally, I could not have served it. Character is a subtle affair, and has many shades and sides to it. It is not a thing to be much talked about, but rather to be felt. It is the slow deposit of past actions and ideals. It is for each man his most precious possession, and so it is for that latest growth of time, the newspaper. Fundamentally it implieshonesty, cleanness, courage, fairness, a sense of duty to the reader and the community. A newspaper is of necessity something of a monopoly, and its first duty is to shun the temptations of monopoly. Its primary office is the gathering of news. At the peril of its soul it must see that the supply is not tainted. Neither in what it gives, nor in what it does not give, nor in the mode of presentation must the unclouded face of truth suffer wrong. Comment is free, but facts are sacred. “Propaganda”, so called, by this means is hateful. The voice of opponents no less than that of friends has a right to be heard. Comment also is justly subject to a self-imposed restraint. It is well to be frank; it is even better to be fair. This is an ideal. Achievement in such matters is hardly given to man. We can but try, ask pardon for shortcomings, and there leave the matter.
But, granted a sufficiency of grace, to what further conquests may we look, what purpose serve, what task envisage? It is a large question, and cannot be fully answered. We are faced with a new and enormous power and a growing one. Whither is the young giant tending? What gifts does he bring? How will he exercise his privilege and powers? What influence will he exercise on the minds of men and on our public life? It cannot be pretended that an assured and entirely satisfactory answer can be given to such questions. Experience is in some respects disquieting. The development has not been all in the direction which we should most desire. One of the virtues, perhaps almost the chief virtue, of a newspaper is its independence. Whatever its position or character, at least it should have a soul of its own.”
‘A searchlight bringing episodes out of darkness into vision’
By Walter Lippmann
(Excerpt from his book, Public Opinion)
It is possible and necessary for journalists to bring home to people the uncertain character of the truth on which their opinions are founded, and by criticism and agitation to prod social science into making more usable formulations of social facts, and to prod statesmen into establishing more visible institutions.
The quality of the news about modern society is an index of its social organization. The better the institutions,the more all interests concerned are formally represented, the more issues are disentangled, the more objective criteria are introduced, the more perfectly an affair can bepresented as news. At its best the press is a servant and guardian of institutions; at its worst, it is a means by which a few exploit social disorganization to their own ends.
The press is no substitute for institutions. It is like the beam of a searchlight that moves restlessly
about,bringing one episode and then another out of darkness into vision. Men cannot do the work of the world by this light alone. They cannot govern society by episodes, incidents, and eruptions. It is only when they work by a steady light of their own, that the press, when it is turned upon them, reveals a situation intelligible enough for a popular decision. The trouble lies deeper than the press, and so does the remedy.
‘Difference between a fact and a factoid’
By Daven Hiskey
(I include this reading because the traditional idea of “the unvarnished truth” or “facts” has been shaken by social media. Fake news has become a fact of life.)
“Fact” means something that is unquestionably true, or as Webster more eloquently puts it, it is the “quality of being actual.”
“Factoid” however means something slightly different. The first definition … is the following: “an invented fact, believed to be true because of its appearance in print.”
This was the original definition coined in 1973 by Norman Mailer. Mailer described a factoid as “facts which have no existence before appearing in a magazine or newspaper”. He came up with the word, adding the suffix “oid” as an “oid” ending implies “similar but not the same” or more succinctly “like” or “resembling”.
Thanks in large part to CNN and the BBC including “factoids” in their newscasts referring to trivial bits of factual information, there is now a second “official” definition of “factoid” as follows (from Merriam-Webster): “a briefly stated and usually trivial fact.”