Media as a Public Good

“The newspapers and the radio can serve the public best if they expose not only corruption in office, but day by day performance as well. There are two sides of the same coin, which is basically this: Public relations exist to inform the people of all the facts, the good as well as the bad.”
Sargent Shriver |Bloomington, IL| March 9, 1957

Our Quote of the Week reminds us of the media’s role in keeping us informed about matters of public interest, both in everyday matters and in exceptional moments. With this role comes a great deal of responsibility and power.

In a 1957 speech he gave as the head of Chicago’s Board of Education, Sargent Shriver reminds us of the responsibility that our leaders have in keeping the public aware of their actions, and of the crucial role that the media play in keeping the public informed. Long before the Internet, 24-hour news, and cable TV, Sargent Shriver made the case that having functional, competent media outlets was the best mechanism for keeping our leaders accountable. “No one,” he said, “least of all public officials, should be afraid of fair and honest questions concerning public business.”

Sargent Shriver’s views on the media were shaped early on. He himself gravitated towards journalism from a young age. As a student, he was editor of the Yale Daily News, one of the oldest and most well-known college newspapers in the United States. As a young man, he wrote articles for Time and worked as an assistant editor at Newsweek. When he left the private sector in the 1950s to work as a public servant, he was vocal about holding journalists in high regard, as we can see from this week’s speech. He demanded his peers in government be transparent with them. And he always expected quality work from all involved in reporting the news, taking journalists to task when their work was biased or skewed.

Today, we know all too well the extent to which the media can influence public opinion. The proliferation of media sources, both traditional and digital, have shown us that at their best, media sources can nurture and support democracy, and at their worst, they can spread disinformation and misinformation, wreaking havoc on our streets and in our institutions.

We all have a role to play in ensuring that our media function at their best. Public figures have a responsibility to be forthright and transparent with journalists. Media outlets must be thorough and honest, pursuing information more vigorously than ratings or clicks. And we, the public, must be discerning in how and where we consume and share news and information.

Like this quote? Read the speech and subscribe to receive our Quote of the Week by email.

Peace requires the simple but powerful recognition that what we have in common as human beings is more important and crucial than what divides us.
Sargent Shriver
Get the Quote of the Week in Your Inbox