In journalism school I stumbled across the following mantra explaining the function of the fourth estate: "The media's role is to comfort the afflicted - and afflict the comfortable".

It's a truism that's stayed with me ever since and has helped in many moments of journalistic doubt and crisis.

Certainly it's not the only aphorism bandied about to describe the media's role in society.

Among them, that the fourth estate is a "civil watchdog", a "voice for the people" a "guardian of public interest" and a "conduit between the government and the governed".

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You get the picture.

Thing is, it's hard to state these mantras without presenting as pompous, or being read as a type of self-serving rationalisation for our existence.

And sure, there are instances where media doesn't always live up to these ideals.

We welcome and expect these responses, as our capacity for criticism should be, and is, robust.

However, the truisms remain crucial tenets of reporting. I know most of my colleagues wouldn't opt to remain in the industry if these principles weren't, or couldn't, be maintained.

Public interest is of course the cornerstone. And by extension it seems an impossibility to have a democracy without a free press.

What complicates this is that Hawke's Bay is a relatively small place. Try court reporting for a few years here and you'll soon encounter someone you know in the criminal dock.

Another thing enshrined in the trade is that those who warrant more scrutiny and accountability include heads of businesses, those in positions of either civic or moral authority, police, (in fact all civil servants) and, of course, politicians.

Given the pending byelection for the Hastings District Council mayoral and councillor seats, naturally our attention turns to those who have put their hands up.

It's our role to give people the information they need to take part in the democratic process.

Yes, open justice can be brutally open. But we see it as deepening democracy, not hindering it as some candidates who have attracted recent headlines, have suggested.

We'll continue to shine a light on local body councils and elected officials - election time or otherwise.