Not a quill dipping into an almost empty bottle

Different professions have different emblems. Lawyers have the blindfolded lady carrying weighing scales. Doctors have the staff with two snakes. And so on.

What could be an ideal symbol/motif/model for journalists and journalism? Something, say, which could be used next to our “Press” stickers?

In Letters to a Young Journalist (Basic Books, 2006), Samuel G. Freedman picks on the Egyptian mythological figure called Thoth, usually portrayed with a body of a man and the head of an ibis, who often held a palette and reed stylus, accoutrements of a scribe.

“The Egyptians considered Thoth the god of writing, magic, time, and the moon. I think of him as the deity of journalism. I keep a small statue of Thoth in my office, and I frequently show it to my students on the first day of class. Some of journalism’s many critics would find a bitter irony in my veneration of Thoth. To them, one of the worst things about journalists is the way they play God—a judgmental, unfeeling, omnipotent God, inflicting pain for sport, weilding power without account.

“I find a different symbolism in Thoth. To me, and I hope to you, as well, he represents the moral mission of journalism and journalists. Thoth observes and interviews and analyses and evaluates, all the things journalists do, and he must act with integrity and accuracy, because he does indeed command destiny. If he fails, the very cosmos cannot function. And if we fail, democracy suffers the wound.”

On the other hand, Pete Hamill, the New York journalist who was editor of both the New York Post and the New York Daily News, while accepting the Columbia Journalism Award in 2000, zeroed in on an unlikely figure.

Don Quixote could be the patron saint of journalists. Or rather some combination of the idealisitc Quixote and the sceptical Sancho Panza.

“Every good journalist keeps mounting Rosinante and hefting a lance and riding out to do battle with the forces of darkness. Sometimes, the Sancho Panza within insists that the dragons are only windmills. But Quixote’s secret is that sometimes they are indeed dragons, and the brigands are brigands, and the damsels are in true distress and those who sneer are fools…

“Quixote is a model for another reason: he lives without fear.”

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