My last class

Last week I finished teaching my last course at the University of Auckland. It was a Summer School paper titled “Journalism in Practice” in which the theories of journalism and media were contrasted with the realities of producing journalism. Eight prominent journalists and an eminent media lawyer gave lectures in the course. What follows is my sign-off to the class….

You are the last class I will teach. It has been a privilege.

Some of you will become journalists and for you it will be a challenging career in a period of immense change and responsibility as journalists. I don’t under-estimate those challenges. Journalism is in an age of uncertainty.

All of you will be citizens and have a responsibility to ensure the survival of professional journalism. I hope this course has shown why.

We live in an age where the things that divide us have become more important than the things that bind us as a society. Those divisions are becoming more pronounced and have created discord, inequalities and disproportionate levels of power. It will be the role of the journalist to bring some balance to discourse that pulls us apart and to ensure that power – whether it’s disproportionate or ruling in our name – is held to account.

To do so journalism must be principled and trusted. Those of you who become journalists MUST remain true to those principles. Those of you who don’t become journalists must hold them to account but also fight for their continuing right to act on your behalf.

This week I gave a eulogy at the funeral of Pat Booth, a journalist who helped to define investigative journalism in New Zealand. He fought injustice in cases such as the overturning of the verdict against Arthur Allan Thomas and fought for justice by exposing the crimes of the Mr Asia drug ring (which put a $30,000 contract on his head). I said that Pat had followed the mantra of the motto of the Auckland Star, where we both worked. I want to repeat it because it sums up why we must have journalists and the means to publish their work:

For the cause that needs assistance

For the wrong that needs resistance

For the future in the distance

And the good that we can do.

I admired Pat’s work as I admire the work of many journalists. However, the journalist I put on the highest pedestal is the American Edward R. Murrow, a distinguished correspondent during WW2 but, more important, the broadcaster who used journalism to help end a shameful period in modern American history when Senator Joe McCarthy started an anti-Communist witch-hunt that destroyed innocent lives and gave rise to the term McCarthyism.  Murrow exposed McCarthy for the lying, amoral bully that he was.

Ed Murrow ended his television current affairs show the same way every evening and it’s a fitting way for me to make my farewell: Goodnight…and good luck.

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