What is the role of journalism in society?
The most important thing to understand about journalism is that its entire purpose is to serve the citizens—all the citizens—of a democratic society. When you keep that in mind, you can better understand some of the more specific roles journalism plays.
In the book "The Elements of Journalism," authors Bill Kovatch and Tom Rosenstiel identify ten foundational elements of journalism. Becoming familiar with some of these elements is helpful in understanding what journalism's role in society is.
Kovatch and Rosenstiel argue that a "journalist's first obligation is to the truth." Why? Because when citizens have reliable access to information that they can trust is truthful (not outright lies or propaganda), they can make better decisions and better govern themselves. For example, citizens should be able to rely on journalists to provide them with truthful information about candidates so they can decide who to vote for. The same goes for all aspects of our lives in which we make decisions, whether it's when we're buying a car, choosing a school, or even just deciding on a movie to see.
Other important roles journalism fulfills are to, as Kovatch and Rosenstiel put it, "serve as an independent monitor of power" and "offer a voice to the voiceless." Powerful people often try to get away with bad things. If journalists weren't there to expose them, those powerful people would just get away with it. On the other hand, most of the people in this world aren't powerful, but their perspectives and stories are still important. Journalists can be the ones to find those powerless people and give them a voice.
Finally, journalism provides what Kovatch and Rosenstiel call "a public forum for criticism and comment." This is an essential thing for a democratic society to have. It gives every citizen a voice. Journalism provides many avenues for citizens to speak up, from printing letters to the editor in the newspaper to displaying comments from readers after an online article.
For more information, check out summaries of all ten of the elements of journalism that Kovatch and Rosenstiel identified.