THE BLOG
10/15/2014 02:37 pm ET Updated Dec 15, 2014

We Need the Media for Real Social Change

Just as the 24/7 news coverage of the aftermath of Michael Brown's tragic death in Ferguson, Missouri was, at long last, subsiding, came the awful news last week of another police-involved shooting of a young man just miles away from where Brown died.

The pain of Michael Brown's family, and the struggle of his community and our nation to find meaning in his early death, is still fresh. Yet new losses have already added to our collective sense of confusion, and complicated law enforcement's struggle to regain their course and build trust in our communities.

Despite all this, we know that at some point big media will move forward -- as they always do and must. The bright lights and the endless looping of commentary will cool down. Until injustice or violence demand their attention once again.

We might ask whether media matters when it comes to bringing clarity and light to complex issues of building social justice in society. Does it help? Or hurt? Do sensational stories elicit solutions that work?

As we thumb through our tweets and flip from cable news station to cable news station, are there those in our media who will make us stop and summon us to consider the problems, and the solutions, more deeply? Who will pose the hardest questions? And who will seek truths more tenaciously?

The answer -- for now at least -- is a resounding yes. Our nation remains blessed and lucky that even in the mosh pit of modern media, there still are flashes of courage, creativity, and constancy in our media world. The men and women who will stick around to explore fundamental issues of justice in our land. Even as the rest of the media pack has moved on.

But for an engaged and searching media to endure, we must do more to honor and value the storytellers who will do the hard work of exploring deeply, uncover what's working, bring our attention to staggering data that must be turned around.

Take, for example, Dawn Porter, whose film Gideon's Army forced viewers to face the reality that "justice" plays out very differently depending on whether one can pay for legal representation.

Or Jesmyn Ward, the author of Men We Reaped, a powerful memoir that asks why and how those consequences took fived loved ones -- all young black men -- from her own family and community.

As these issues are surfaced by courageous journalists, the door opens wider for those with power to do something. Witness the recent pile-up of calls to fix Rikers Island -- then go back and listen to Maria Hinojosa's piece, "Going to Rikers Island," that aired these issues a year ago.

It's exciting to see this work. Exciting to see the media increasingly engaged in issues of justice with the goal of making an impact on our society.

Earlier this year Pierre Omidyar's First Look Media started The Intercept, an online magazine with a seasoned roster of reporters dedicated to "fearless, adversarial journalism." This month, Bill Keller, the former executive editor of the New York Times, will launch the Marshall Project, which will focus all its investigative might on one thing: the US criminal justice system. Other media pioneers like the Center for Investigative Journalism and ProPublica are also thinking outside the current paradigm.

In a nation where -- in just weeks -- Michael Brown's story has already been echoed in the deaths of Ezell Ford in Los Angeles, California; John Crawford in Beavercreek, Ohio; Vonderrit Myers Jr. in St. Louis; and others whose names didn't rise to the headlines, we need people like Porter, Ward, and Hinojosa. Right now, when the whole world is watching, they are being true to their journalistic values, to the role journalism is meant to play for society -- shining a light on injustice, holding us accountable to our humanity and to each other.

Alexander Busansky, president of the National Council on Crime and Delinquency (NCCD), served as a state and federal civil rights prosecutor and as counsel to Sen. Russ Feingold on the Senate Judiciary Committee. For more about NCCD and the Media for a Just Society Awards, visit www.nccdglobal.org.