Journalists are reluctant stewards for democracy because they believe that democracy makes citizens their own stewards. They resist donning the mantle of moral guides on behalf of those who are authorized to guide themselves. Yet sometimes journalists do exercise responsibility for the public good in ways that are not subsumed under their professional duty to be nonpartisan, accurate, and fair-minded. Examining some of these exceptions, this essay argues that journalistic stewardship should be loosely defined, decentralized, multiform, and open to invention. In fact, today's economic crisis in journalism (and the identity crisis it stimulated) has launched a new set of initiatives – from fact-checking to organized crowd-sourcing – that have each sought to address a specific problem of democracy, truthseeking, or the public good. Pluralism, pragmatism, and decentralized invention may do better at stewarding democracy than a coherent philosophy of moral guardianship ever could.

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