Independence in Journalism

12 Mar

“Journalists must maintain an independence from those they cover”

I’m going to start right out by saying, that there were a lot of things in this chapter of the book that I didn’t particularly agree with. Not sure if that’s allowed, as it is the textbook for this class, but I just have some different feelings on journalism I suppose.

The authors make the statement that “being impartial or neutral is not a core principle of journalism”, stating further that impartiality was never what was mean by objectivity. This statement seems a bit like a contradiction in my mind.  How are we to be objective viewers of history if we do not give the news without bias, or impartially? Objectivity, to me, is the search for truth, and truth has no room for bias.

I used the example of McCarthyism in one of my previous posts…how many use it as an example of how impartiality or objectivity can fail the public interest. The failure in the McCarthy case was with the journalists failing to find the truth. They reported the news “truthfully”, sure. I mean, what they reported was what McCarthy said, but what he was saying wasn’t true, and no one bothered to check his facts. When they finally did expose him, they used facts to take down his argument. They reported it not necessarily because they disagreed with his political views, but because it was their duty to expose corruption and be a watchdog for the government. These journalists were independent of any one political party in this report. They simply told the truth…without bias…or being partial to the left or the right.

Because I believe in this type of objectivity, I have a really hard time viewing editorialists as journalists. Here, is another place where I disagree with the authors. They assert that editorialsts are rooted in dedication to accuracy, verification, public interest and a desire to inform like all other journalists. My experience with editorials have led me to believe otherwise, and made me, admittedly, a bit of a “news snob”.  This is an examples that stands out in my mind particularly, some of you may have read it. It’s an op-ed piece from the New York Times on…of course…Mormons.

Click here to read it…but be warned, it may cause blood to shoot of your eyes.  Continue reading


Journalism of Verification

6 Mar

“The essence of journalism is a discipline of verification.”

So…the way I see it…and I will once again emphasize this…objectivity is the overall goal for journalists, and I will fight every one of you on this because that’s truly what I believe. Because I believe so strongly in objectivity as a journalist, I strongly believe in verifying sources.

The whole purpose of objectivity is to get to the truth, or at least the best truth available if you will. This is found through verification. You can find all kinds of stats and articles backing up a certain side of an issue if you look for it. There are entire websites and organizations devoted to exposing the “truth” that 9/11 was inside-job conspiracy. That doesn’t mean that as journalists, we should report on this side of the story to be fair, because it turns out, not all sources are created equal. Sure you can read all about these crazy conspiracy theories online, and there may be some that you even find sense in, but until you can find a verifiable and credible source, you have no story.
(Side note: found that picture above on a website…has some other that are kind of funny. Just for fun, but sadly, there is some truth to a few of them. Here’s the link.)

This may mean, from time to time, that the stories you have to cover are less than glamorous. The news isn’t always sexy, and not every story is going to win you a Pulitzer prize, but the fact of the matter is…the news isn’t for the journalists. Sure, it’s our profession, and it pays the bills, but journalism is for the people, and we have a duty to make sure the information we put out there is solid, legitimate and verifiable.  Continue reading

Professional Journalism

5 Mar

“World views are…a means of protection from confusion, an ability to focus on what we think is important…and a way of defining what we see…But a world view is not a bias, and it’s not a prejudice.”

As is very clear from my two previous posts, I am a firm believer in the ability of journalists to be objective in their reporting. I not only think we have the ability to be objective, but the obligation to be. A lot of what is discussed in chapters 2 and 3 of “The Mind of a Journalist” has to do with objectivity and professionalism.

The book describes what they term as a worldview. Basically, it means that all journalists come into the field with their own views of the world, their own political preferences, and their own values. Clearly, not all journalists are going to think exactly the same way. I don’t think objectivity calls for a journalists to put aside their values at all.  If I do, however, think it requires a journalist to be open-minded about the issue and do everything within their power to present both sides of a story.

Sometimes we may go into a story with the goal of being objective, and with full intent of being open-minded. We may find that the story has two sides, but one side has their facts wrong. Objectivity does not mean that we must present both sides as both sides see it, and just leave the viewer to decide which is wrong or which is right.

People who believe objectivity is an unrealistic goal, often use the example of of McCarthyism and how the media tended to just report what McCarthy said without contesting it. They see this as a failure of objectivity. I would contend that it was a failure of journalists to apply objectivity–that because stories were not assigned to investigate the inconsistencies in McCarthy’s accusations, that objectivity was never put into practice. It could be that the journalists let their own fear of communism get in the way of what should have been real reporting. It wasn’t until Edward Murrow finally exposed the truth that objectivity was restored to the media. If we know the truth in a story, the objective thing would be to present that truth as fact, like Murrow did.

Here’s a clip from Good Night, and Good Luck–one of my all-time favorite movies. This is Edward Murrow exposing the truth about McCarthy and kind of explaining how the whole country has been so scared of communism, that even the media has been afraid to expose the truth.

“The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves.” Objectivity is not unattainable. Yes, we all have our own worldviews, but any failure to be objective is not because it is an unreachable goal, but rather that we have not reached high enough to attain it.  Continue reading

Loyalty and Journalism

28 Feb

“Journalism’s first loyalty is to citizens”

As cheesy, or cliche as it may sound, I truly believe that journalism is the foundation of democracy. I believe that most of us entering the field of journalism are doing so because we believe in this ideal. We believe in the freedom of the press, and everything the first amendment implies. We believe that a free press is the core of a self-governing society, and that without it, democracy would fail. This is the journalistic ideal–to preserve democracy by serving the public interest through solid news reporting.

Ideals are interesting concepts, however, and the very word makes them seem out of reach and unattainable. I think journalists can serve the public. I think that despite the pressures from corporations, personal values, or political bias, that journalists are capable of being objective observers of history because we all believe in the same ideal. However, reaching for this ideal often requires a large amount of integrity and courage.

I found an article on that specifically addresses what we talked about in class regarding patriotism. A journalist has many loyalties, such as loyalty to family or employers, but there is also loyalty to country. This is a tricky place for journalists, and has been since the beginning of the press in America. The article mentions Kevin Site who reported of a soldier shooting an unarmed Iraqi in a mosque. His story most definitely did not strike pride in the hearts of the American public, and he received hate mail for covering the story, but some recognized his courage and praised him for it.

Is Kevin Sites unpatriotic for showing the military in a bad light, or did he show his patriotism by displaying journalistic integrity? I would personally suggest the latter. I have strong feelings about the military. My family has a rich history of military service, and I am very proud of that. I support the troops completely, but I cannot support one soldier’s reckless and insensitive actions. War is cruel, but that doesn’t mean our soldiers need to be. By exposing these individuals, we remind our soldiers the standard the American public holds them to, and in doing so, stay loyal to the citizens. What’s the use of a free press if we don’t use it to expose corruption? Continue reading

Truth and Journalism

25 Feb

“Journalism’s first obligation is to the truth.”

As an aspiring journalist, the word truth evokes a pretty strong emotional response in my mind. For me, it’s hard to separate journalism from truth, because I think without truth, journalism is nothing. There are some people who would be perfectly content to print untrue things as long as it helped the ratings and made them an extra buck–tabloids do it all the time and almost always get away with it, but I think journalism is, and should be, held to a higher standard. Simply passing on rumors is not journalism.

Journalism is a different breed of media. When tabloids publish something untrue, and it’s confirmed as such, people just
shrug their shoulders and think….”well, it is just a tabloid.” But when a journalist does the same thing, their entire career can put in jeopardy. One example that immediately comes to mind is what has come to be known as “Rathergate”. To make a long story short, in 2004, Dan Rather did a news segment on  George W. Bush, based on documents that claimed he had gotten out of military service in Vietnam because of his family’s connection in the government. Withing hours, the legitimacy of the documents were put into question on the blogosphere, and Rather ended up having to retract the story, make a public apology and was, in essence, pushed out of CBS because his credibility had been compromised.

Since the Rathergate incident, CBS has tried to cover their tracks stating that the information in the documents were correct even if the actual papers were forged. The problem is, the newscast presented it as fact even after their documents were questioned. They did a poor job addressing the questions that faced their story–choosing to safe face rather than admit they may have received misinformation.

Here’s an article that’s example of them trying to save face–an article that frankly makes me sad for CBS. They refuse to admit they may have been wrong.  Continue reading

On Journalism

17 Jan

What is Journalism?

I heard it said once that journalism is the “first rough draft of history”, and as far as I’m concerned, that is the best definition ever given, because Journalism, in its essence, is simply the telling of tomorrow’s history. I was only eight years old when the Twin Towers were hit, but I have a vivid memory of the news coverage that day. My younger brother, however, was four. He doesn’t remember anything about that day, but he’s seen the video. Because of journalism, he, and other kids his age can understand a little bit of what the rest of us felt that day. It allowed the rest of us on the other side of the country to try to connect with the victims, their families, and the citizens of New York on that trying day. Journalism is an outlet that allows us to be a part of history, and connect with people around the world.

I understand that not every story is as ground breaking as 9/11, but I still think it can be said that journalism is at the very least, a record. Sadly, hardly anyone writes in journals anymore, and 10,000 years from now, when they look back on our generation, I truly believe that the newspapers, the newscasts, and the blogs are going to be what they use to document what it was like to live in 2011.

Journalism is also a safeguard. It’s a protection against corrupt government, and a defender of democracy. Journalists keep the government in check and attempt to keep them honest if they are allowed to give the news freely, without censorship. I look at what’s going on in North Korea post-Kim Jong-il, and it makes me cringe. The press is forced to worship a leader that left them starving and poverty-stricken. Calling him anything less than perfect is impermissible. Corruption thrives when there is no one to speak up against it.

Journalism is so important. It connects people from all walks of life, and gives a voice to those who would otherwise have none. It’s essential to democracy. It helps us remember where we’ve been, where we’re going, and perhaps where we’d like to go. It’s the first draft of history. Continue reading