The First Amendment to the United States Constitution states that «Congress shall make no law ... abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press. ...» This amendment enables a journalist to perform his or her duties without government interference. These duties include (1) informing the public, (2) investigating wrongdoing, (3) influencing public opinion, and (4) entertaining the public.
Informing the public is the journalist's chief duty. Reporters represent the public at events that most peo¬ple cannot observe themselves. Journalists therefore have an obligation to be accurate and to tell all sides of a story. They also have the responsibility of deciding which events have enough importance or news value to be re¬ported. Citizens especially need good information about current political events to help them decide which can¬didates to vote for and whether to support certain poli¬cies of the government. Only through reliable reporting can people make intelligent decisions about how they want to be governed.
Investigating wrongdoing has become an increasingly important duty of U.S. journalism. Many news organi¬zations feel a responsibility to safeguard the rights of citizens. These organizations do more than cover the news. Through investigative reporting, they search out and expose dishonesty in government, mismanagement of public funds, and unfair or illegal business practices. One of the most dramatic examples of investigative
reporting occurred in the early 1970*s, when the press played a major role in uncovering the Watergate scandal*. This scandal led to the resignation of President Richard M. Nixon in 1974.
Influencing public opinion. Through editorials, the management of a news organization expresses its views on current issues and attempts to convince the public of the same views. Many editorials encourage actions that a news organization believes will benefit the community or the nation. For example, an editorial might urge citizens to approve a school bond proposal* or to vote for a certain candidate for President. News organizations might also use editorials to fight for various social reforms. Such editorial campaigning is sometimes called advocacy journalism because it advocates certain causes.
The media also try to influence public opinion through commentaries. Commentaries reflect the opinions of in¬dividual journalists rather than those of the manage¬ment of a newspaper, a magazine, or a radio or TV sta¬tion.
Entertaining the public. Newspapers may include such entertainment material as comic strips; crossword puzzles; hobby and travel sections; humor columns; and reviews of books, motion pictures, and plays. Newsmagazines also include entertainment items. Many other magazines are devoted largely to entertainment.
Fourth estate* is a name often given to the newspaper profession. The phrase fourth estate is believed to have first been used in writing by Thomas Babington Macaulay. In 1828, he wrote in an essay that *The gal¬lery in which the reporters sit has become a fourth estate of the realm.** Macaulay was adding a term to those already used for the three estates, or classes, of the English realm. These were lords spiritual, lords temporal, and commons*. The three estates* later came to stand for government, while reference to a fourth estate described иny other influential body in English political life, such ns the army or the press.