When I took up journalism last fall, it was as though I died and went to heaven! After years of reflections and contemplations of what life would have been for me if I had the opportunity to take up journalism, finally I am here, with a successful education and a career behind me that many people would have liked to achieve.
In this reflective moment, how sad it was when after high school my parents honestly told me that there was no money to send me to journalism school – but I am sad no more.
Journalism to me is to be curious on why things happen and out of that curiosity, do something to let the public know and be their eyes against anomalies.
Journalism to me is to remain true to the human spirit by minimizing the harm and sufferings of the afflicted.
Journalism to me is to not be swayed by those whose interests lie for themselves and not for the public good. Journalism to me is to be accountable to no one but the public.
In total, I am a journalist who will endeavor to the best of my ability to give voice to those who are silent, to those who are unable to express their feelings about what goes on in the four corners of the home, in the streets and in the world around them, done with the highest standards of ethics and integrity – fair and accurate.
The landscape of journalism has evolved into the embracing of a new media – online news driven by the fast and furious internet technology. News is all around us 24/7 – from newspapers, television, computers, smartphones, all delivered in the comfort of our homes, trains and coffee shops. Events that happen in Europe and Asia are readily known in New York and San Francisco within nanoseconds.
In this new cycle of news, Charles Hoyt said, “What ties them together is the acceleration of the news cycle,” Keller told me. “We’re always on, which increases the danger that things will not get checked as they should.” He said news organizations have always had times when they have had to work quickly on deadline, and they know there is more danger of mistakes on those occasions. “The difference now is the deadline is always.” (The Danger of Always Being On, NYT, April 10, 2010)
The decisions journalists make to perform their responsibilities are critically important to the public and expectations for speed and reliability are crucial for competing media. But the guiding principles for journalists must remain constant:
1. Seek the Truth and Report It. An example is the scenario in the article by Clark Hoyt, “A Private Room with a Narrow View,” (NYT, May 30, 2010) about the blog posted by Corey Kilgannon, a Times reporter, on a jazz pianist, Jones, who died in a hospice. After interviewing Jones’ landlord, Kilgannon posted on the City Room Blog about Jones, referring to him in a light that was found by family members and colleagues as a false picture of Jones and an invasion of privacy.
This issue falls under the premise of courage on the part of the journalist to seek and tell the truth, “That courage requires disrespect, and it results in the relentless search for truth, no matter what the consequences.” (Woo, 25) In spite of this, would it have helped to have the editor look at the article before it’s posted?
2. Minimize Harm. Minimizing harm is a very important component of the principle of truth telling. Whether to report in full, in part or not to report at all – journalists are faced with the dilemma in handling cases that could further harm and sufferings. “Minimizing harm is connected to the values of humaneness: fairness, compassion, empathy, kindness, respect.” (BSB, 40)
The availability of online blogs enables the public to divulge harmful information and an invitation to incivility. “The trick is how to reconcile these ethical values when a situation in journalism arises where two or more of our ethical principles are in conflict.” (Woo, 76)
3. Act Independently. According to Black, Steele and Barney, “Pressures come from those who try to divert a journalist’s loyalty away from audiences and steer it toward narrower vested interests.” (BSB, 45) Journalists are bound by ethical principles to be independent in the pursuit of news and reporting it. No private interest or individual should influence him or her from reporting something that the public need to know or could become suspect to conflict of interest issues.
The availability of information online behooves that journalists remain conscious of their ethical obligation by staying away from situations that put their integrity in question.
4. Be Accountable. “Journalists are in the business of being “accountable to their readers, listeners, viewers and each other.” (BSB, 48) Every news piece that carries the journalist’s byline must be carefully crafted to show objectivity in reporting. This includes fairness, impartiality and balanced reporting.
“The idea of abandoning objectivity as journalism’s highest ideal resonates with many practitioners of new media.” (F&S, 12) If there are inaccuracies, they should be acknowledged, checked and corrected as quickly as possible.
The impact of today’s fast and furious internet-driven technology leaves more ground open to ethical questions that require decisions in the preservation of the organization’s credibility and ethical standards.
“It’s trying to do the best journalism you can in a way that is respectful of ethical values.” (Woo, 76) A compelling issue on ethical decisions is brought up in Paul Farhi’s article, “Traffic Problems.”
The scenario depicts editors of major news organizations faced with decisions that need to be made on a given hour, on a given day in the name of drawing traffic to their site: Whether to ignore the out-of- the-norm stuff shown in their websites or to embrace it as a sustainable source of revenue. “Here lies the importance for editors to be willing to struggle with the gray area and competing principles.” (BSB, 60)
I humbly say that for the profession to flourish journalists must tackle the challenge on how they can mirror the ethical principles of yesterday. No matter where they are in their profession, journalists need to remain educated and be reminded on the ethical principles that guide them – to be truth-seekers and sense-seekers if they are to deserve to be called “gatekeepers.”
To abandon that is to let the public down and de-value the work of those who came before them.
Normita Fenn is a student at UMass-Amherst School of Journalism’s Certificate in Journalism Program. She resides in San Ramon, California. Contact her at: email@example.com.