The Ethics and Standards of Journalism
by Hector Davila
For centuries journalism has undergone the test of time, having to endure difficulties, challenges and failures that have shaped the ethics and standards of journalism today.
There has been a recent rise in fake news showing up all over social media and interfering with broadcast news reports. The public is becoming more unable to discern real news stories from fake ones. In 2016, many people confessed they shared a fake news report—some knowingly, some unknowingly. For example, the infamous Facebook controversy involving an algorithm supporting fake news articles and sites went out of control after the company decided to let go of several journalists from their news department. Germany takes the issue of fake news seriously, as the Washington Post explains: “Germany officially unveiled a landmark social-media bill…that could quickly turn this nation into a test case in the effort to combat the spread of fake news and hate speech in the West.” A journalist’s code of ethics includes a pledge to always seek truth and report this truth accurately to the public. This includes how an individual gathers and distributes information from sources. Clear interpretation and reliable sources contribute to a successful news story and avoid the issues of false claims or misleading statements.
Journalists are required to report information as simply and carefully as possible. In the U.S., multiple individuals and news outlets have faced charges of libel or slander. Libel is a published false statement that is damaging to a person’s reputation—a written defamation. Slander is a spoken, or oral, defamatory statement. When a person publicly speaks negatively about an individual in a way that inflicts significant harm to his or her reputation, the individual who has been spoken about has the right by law to sue for libel. The first U.S. Supreme Court case in which libel charges were successfully prosecuted was New York Times Co. v. Sullivan (1964). In this case, an advertisement with a written description in the Times falsely represented the Montgomery, Alabama police department and “action allegedly directed against students who participated in a civil rights demonstration and against a leader of the Civil Rights Movement.” The jury found that the First Amendment cannot be used in defense when a public official releases false claims to damage the reputation of someone with no “actual malice” or evidence. The Society of Professional Journalists’ (SPJ) Code of Ethics tells journalists to “recognize that legal access to information differs from an ethical justification to publish or broadcast.”
ABSENCE OF BIAS
The number one duty of the news media is to report accurately and fairly to every citizen. Bias is prejudice in favor of or against one thing, person or group compared with another, usually in a way considered to be unfair. News outlets are expected to be unbiased when releasing information to the public. However, sometimes (secretly) they have a political and/or moral agenda. Overall it is absurd to believe that no one is biased when interpreting something from their own perspective, but the best way to minimize bias is by remaining true to the facts provided. An example of media bias can be seen in the interpretation of the 1995 Oklahoma City Bombing. Western Journalism writes, “The media has for years claimed that convicted Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh was a ‘Christian terrorist.’ This is an absurd claim, though, because McVeigh did not perpetrate his crimes in the name of religion, nor was he a proselytizing Christian.”
In 2003, journalist Jayson Blair was caught for “plagiarism and fabricated facts in at least 36 articles.” According to the Huffington Post he worked at the New York Times for many years until an investigation confirmed that Blair “made up names, quotes and scenes for high-profile stories on Jessica Lynch, the families of other soldiers in Iraq and the 2002 sniper attacks.” Transparency is important in the field of journalism because reporters are expected to be completely open and honest with their audience. Holding on to moral values displays mature character for a journalist. The SPJ’s Code of Ethics explains it best, stating that a journalist should “explain ethical choices and processes to audiences. Encourage a civil dialogue with the public about journalistic practices, coverage and news content.” Following these basic requirements will keep journalists from trouble such as lawsuits and damaged reputations.
Sources: findlaw.com, Huffington Post, nolo.com, spj.org, Washington Post, Western Journalism
Inciting Change Through Investigative Journalism
by Nathaniel Hawes
A midst the daily torrent of political coverage and clickbait headlines, it can be difficult for us to see the sense of it all. Sometimes sensationalized and skewed, we have come to question the stories we read in the news, but it does not have to be this way. Many journalists are working hard to change laws, uncover corruption and spread awareness for various causes that are important for public knowledge through their investigative reporting. These are the stories that maintain the integrity of the field of journalism, and their results have led to positive change in communities across the globe. Many investigative journalists have exposed the unaddressed and often silent issues in our global society, from revealing inhumane conditions at Apple’s Chinese factories to uncovering cheating on standardized tests for the purpose of boosting school funding.
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution spent three years relentlessly investigating and reporting on the pressures school administrators have placed on students to produce high test scores. They uncovered irregular test results and pushed the Board of Education to investigate claims of cheating in 58 Atlanta schools. By the end of the scandal, “a special state investigator’s report found organized and systematic cheating in Atlanta to boost test scores, and it named 178 educators, including 38 principals, who were said to have taken part.” The work of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution led to reform and awareness of the pressures put on educators across the country to produce these test results with “no excuses.”
The Goldsmith Prize for Investigative Reporting, which annually honors journalists who seek ethical conduct in our government and society, awards $10,000 to five nominees and $25,000 to the finalist. The winner of this year’s award is Shane Bauer of Mother Jones for his episodic article titled, “My Four Months as a Private Prison Guard.” Bauer delved into the private prison industry by becoming a guard at Winn Correctional Center in Louisiana. He writes in detail about his experiences within the prison and the lackadaisical attitudes many of the guards had regarding the well-being of the inmates. He used a pen with a microphone to record his conversations, preserving every interaction he had over the four months he spent there. He shares accounts of neglect, violence and exploitation within the walls of the prison in a raw and riveting read that shows the corrupt and cash-grabbing nature of the private prison industry. After leaving the prison and exposing that he was an investigative journalist, the Correctional Centers of America scrutinized Bauer for his investigative standards, even though the Winn Correctional Center briefly reviewed his resume and background before hiring him. As a result of Bauer’s work, the prison updated background checks on all of their employees and reviewed training and protocols; however, investigative journalists must continue to shed light on this issue if they would like to incite widespread change.
Bauer’s article exemplifies the fundamental meaning of journalism: to bring the public the facts, no matter how harsh they may be, in an unbiased manner. This aspect of journalistic integrity can greatly impact issues we as journalists address; if we work hard enough and make ourselves heard, we can make a change. Even if it is only on a local level, as seen in Bauer’s article, we still can make a difference. This is the foundation upon which journalism was built.
Unfortunately, investigative journalism takes time and effort, which many journalists and media outlets often lack, and many opt instead for quantity over quality. It is our responsibility as the next generation of journalists to uphold integrity in truth-telling and continue in the tradition of raw and visceral investigative journalism.
The Evolution of Journalism
by Kelsey Fiander-Carr
The field of journalism dates back thousands of years. Before technology and access to instant mail, journalism consisted of written communication and oral speeches. It was not until the late 1700s that the United States of America welcomed their first newspaper. Publick Occurrences consisted of four pages of demanded news for the people of the-then British Colonies. It was not until two decades after American independence that journalism received full protection under the law.
Protected by the First Amendment of the Constitution in the Bill of Rights, journalists have the right to express their opinions using any given platform. Before this Amendment, citizens under the Parliament were urged not to speak against the government. After the enactment of the First Amendment, print media was transformed forever. Media platforms were able to speak freely without fear of government opposition.
However, the first newspaper, among others, was not able to fully circulate around the United States due to limited transportation. It was not until adequate transportation existed that Americans were able to receive news on a weekly basis.
Possibly the first famous publisher was the founder of Hearst Communications, William Randolph Hearst. Hearst completely revitalized journalism, resulting in the publications we see today. In the early 1900s, Hearst gained control of multiple news publications in major cities in the United States, including The New York Journal. Hearst beat out competing publications with his outlandish headlines that appealed to human interest and the working class. At the end of his success, Hearst had more than two dozen publications included in his chain. This chain made Hearst the most successful circulation in American publication history.
Hearst created a layout for a striking front page for every newspaper he acquired. There were more columns per page to print more stories. There was also always an enlarged headline plastered on the front page to ensure audience attention. Latter publications copied his structured layout, eye-catching headlines and human life pieces. Hearst sparked a love for yellow journalism, the act of using a platform to spout fast and sometimes illogical statements to make a point and to attract an audience. Although it lacks legitimacy, yellow journalism is still quite prevalent today in tabloid magazines.
Later, many journalists began to tell their stories through the power of photography. These photojournalists allowed their audiences to view news in spectacular sights. The images provided made lasting memories of specific moments in history. Some of these photos are well-known and have aided in many of our history classes over the years. Photojournalists like Kevin Carter have been awarded for their astounding work. Carter received a Pulitzer Prize for his picture depicting the famine in Sudan in 1993. This photo, which was named the best photograph of the year, aided to Carter’s success. Today, photography is everywhere, and the best shots are taken by photojournalists who dare to capture the unknown in new ways.
News in broadcast media has also reached its highest peak thus far in the last year. Broadcast journalism has the power to deliver firsthand accounts direct from the source. Through the eyes of a camera lens, Americans have been able to see monumental moments live. Broadcast media brought us the gruesome assassination of President John F. Kennedy along with the groundbreaking Supreme Court decision on marriage equality. Television network channels provide most of our daily news in the United States. In the wake of horrors, Americans can be informed on strategic action plans, and learning of everything from hurricanes and tornadoes to terrorism from digital media can help keep Americans safe.
In today’s world, journalism is fueled by human interest through sources like Buzzfeed and other similar platforms that reach their audiences via social media. Because of this, journalism has become an outlet for a variety of writers. From hard news to soft news to human interest pieces, these creators are representing journalism in new and exciting ways.
Because of the presence of digital media in our society, there has been a downsizing of print media publications: America’s newspapers. Instead of receiving a paper in the mail each day, many now receive news through their laptop, tablet or smartphone.
Journalism continues to have power. It has the power to transform letters, punctuation marks and a plethora of grammatical rules into a masterpiece. Journalism occurs 24/7, and news never stops happening. The art of writing is ever-changing and has not yet seen all it has the power to become.
Sources: history.com, New York Times