Seek Truth and Report It

From Ace of Spades via TigerHawk via Dissecting Leftism. Ace tears into the increasingly desperate Big Media:

No one — no one — ever got into the media to report on local car collisions or new and exciting federal farm subsidies.What they got into the media to do was to tell people how and what to think, and its that prerogative of the Intellectual Aristocracy, and not the unglamorous business of information collection, collation, and dissemination, that they’re crying about losing.

Note that they do not dare actually state their belief that they are specially qualified to do the thinking for the American public. They can’t say such a thing. The public would laugh at their presumption — some idiots went to a one year finishing school (and not a particularly academically demanding one besides) and now they have the special privilege of deciding what the public should think about each and every issue?

So instead they have to make the argument dishonestly — whining about a job that isn’t seriously threatened in order to preserve the job they really fret about losing, but a job which no one ever asked them — let alone beatified them — to do. How reporters got conflated with analysts and general-purpose experts without portfolio is anyone’s guess. But that conflation having been made (at least in the minds of some, particularly their own), they’ll be damned if they’re going to give that gig up now.

Ace was griping about an editorial in the LA Times. But he’s talking about a well known journalistic “type,” the idealistic journalist who wants to “make a difference,” break “the next Watergate,” to “speak truth to power,” and “stick it to the man.” And judging by the evidence in every paper, the wire services and papers are chock full of such bozos.

The central problem with journalism today is that journalists do not do their central mission well.

Reporting must be “who what where when and how.” “Why” is almost always pure speculation and should be eschewed.

Reporting should begin at the beginning of the facts, take the shortest path forward through the facts, and end when the facts run out. Reporters should be at least as scrupulous about standards of evidence as the police (and yes I realize the police are flawed on this score). Today’s story should cover the facts of today, not choice tidbits from yesterday or the day before to spice it up (and add bias through repetition). Rumor and hearsay is not a story, it is falsehood masquerading as a story. Anonymous sources and “he said/she said” are not factual. They are rumor and hearsay. They are useful because they might point the way to a real story. But whether they pan out or not, rumor and hearsay cannot be used. They are rumor and hearsay and not news except to gossip columnists. [based on my comment here].

Now it may be hard to believe, but Journalists actually do have a professional code of ethics. One is here. Some of the lines in this code of ethics are valuable; others imperil truth telling. Here is my whack at analyzing it, and however ambitious this may be, fixing it.

How it is How it should be
Preamble
Members of the Society of Professional Journalists believe that public enlightenment is the forerunner of justice and the foundation of democracy. The duty of the journalist is to further those ends by seeking truth and providing a fair and comprehensive account of events and issues. Conscientious journalists from all media and specialties strive to serve the public with thoroughness and honesty. Professional integrity is the cornerstone of a journalist’s credibility. Members of the Society share a dedication to ethical behavior and adopt this code to declare the Society’s principles and standards of practice.
Preamble
Members of the Society of Professional Journalists believe that public enlightenment is the forerunner of justice and the foundation of democracy. The duty of the journalist is to further those ends by seeking truth and providing a fair and comprehensive account of events and issues. Conscientious journalists from all media and specialties strive to serve the public with thoroughness and honesty. Professional integrity is the cornerstone of a journalist’s credibility. Members of the Society share a dedication to ethical behavior and adopt this code to declare the Society’s principles and standards of practice.
Seek Truth and Report It
Journalists should be honest, fair and courageous in gathering, reporting and interpreting information.Journalists should
Seek Truth and Report It
Journalists shall be honest, fair and courageous in gathering, reporting and interpreting information.Focus on “who, what, where, when, and how.” Do not write “why,” unless you have a first person confession or other incontrovertible evidence.Journalists must
* Test the accuracy of information from all sources and exercise care to avoid inadvertent error. Deliberate distortion is never permissible.
* Diligently seek out subjects of news stories to give them the opportunity to respond to allegations of wrongdoing.
* Identify sources whenever feasible. The public is entitled to as much information as possible on sources’ reliability.
* Always question sources’ motives before promising anonymity. Clarify conditions attached to any promise made in exchange for information. Keep promises.
* Make certain that headlines, news teases and promotional material, photos, video, audio, graphics, sound bites and quotations do not misrepresent. They should not oversimplify or highlight incidents out of context.
* Never distort the content of news photos or video. Image enhancement for technical clarity is always permissible. Label montages and photo illustrations.
* Avoid misleading re-enactments or staged news events. If re-enactment is necessary to tell a story, label it.
* Avoid undercover or other surreptitious methods of gathering information except when traditional open methods will not yield information vital to the public. Use of such methods should be explained as part of the story
* Never plagiarize.
* Tell the story of the diversity and magnitude of the human experience boldly, even when it is unpopular to do so.
* Examine their own cultural values and avoid imposing those values on others.
* Avoid stereotyping by race, gender, age, religion, ethnicity, geography, sexual orientation, disability, physical appearance or social status.
* Support the open exchange of views, even views they find repugnant.
* Give voice to the voiceless; official and unofficial sources of information can be equally valid.
* Distinguish between advocacy and news reporting. Analysis and commentary should be labeled and not misrepresent fact or context.
* Distinguish news from advertising and shun hybrids that blur the lines between the two.
* Recognize a special obligation to ensure that the public’s business is conducted in the open and that government records are open to inspection.
* Test the accuracy of information from all sources and exercise care to avoid inadvertent error. Deliberate distortion is never permissible. “If your mother says she loves you, check it out.”
* Allegations of wrongdoing are only that: allegations. Diligently seek out subjects of news stories to give them the opportunity to respond to allegations of wrongdoing. Perform research to check out the facts behind allegations and assertions. Assume all allegations and assertions are false to some degree, and check them out before writing them down.
* Identify all sources, or do not use them. Anonymous sources make for rumor and innuendo.
* Anonymous material is not news. It is rumor and innuendo. Stories are based on facts and named sources. Emphasize this fact to sources who request anonymity. If you promise anonymity, deliver.
* Make certain that headlines, news teases and promotional material, photos, video, audio, graphics, sound bites and quotations do not misrepresent. They should not oversimplify or highlight incidents out of context.
* Never distort the content of news photos or video. Image enhancement for technical clarity is always permissible. Label montages and photo illustrations.
* Avoid misleading re-enactments or staged news events. If re-enactment is necessary to tell a story, it’s a bad story.
* Avoid undercover or other surreptitious methods of gathering information except when traditional open methods will not yield information vital to the public. Use of such methods should be explained as part of the story
* Never plagiarize.
* Support the free speech of others by accurately and clearly relating what they say, no matter how repugnant you find it to be.
* Give voice to the voiceless; official and unofficial sources of information can be equally valid.
* Distinguish between advocacy and news reporting. Analysis and commentary should be labeled and not misrepresent fact or context.
* Distinguish news from advertising and shun hybrids that blur the lines between the two.
* Recognize a special obligation to ensure that the public’s business is conducted in the open and that government records are open to inspection.
Minimize Harm
Ethical journalists treat sources, subjects and colleagues as human beings deserving of respect.Journalists should:
Honor and Respect Others
Ethical journalists treat sources, subjects and colleagues as honorable human beings deserving of respect, unless facts prove the opposite.Journalists must:
* Show compassion for those who may be affected adversely by news coverage. Use special sensitivity when dealing with children and inexperienced sources or subjects.
* Be sensitive when seeking or using interviews or photographs of those affected by tragedy or grief.
* Recognize that gathering and reporting information may cause harm or discomfort. Pursuit of the news is not a license for arrogance.
* Recognize that private people have a greater right to control information about themselves than do public officials and others who seek power, influence or attention. Only an overriding public need can justify intrusion into anyone’s privacy.
* Show good taste. Avoid pandering to lurid curiosity.
* Be cautious about identifying juvenile suspects or victims of sex crimes.
* Be judicious about naming criminal suspects before the formal filing of charges.
* Balance a criminal suspect’s fair trial rights with the public’s right to be informed.
* Follow the golden rule. Treat the human subject of reporting as you would have them treat you.
* It is better to err towards trusting those accused of terrible things than to err towards distrusting them. Trust, but verify. This is the journalist’s version of the legal presumption of innocence.
* Show compassion for those who may be affected adversely by news coverage. Use special sensitivity when dealing with children and inexperienced sources or subjects.
* Do not descend vulturelike to photograph or interview those affected by tragedy or grief. Wait until they have had time to recover their dignity.
* Recognize that gathering and reporting information may cause harm or discomfort, and that reporters will sometimes make mistakes that harm people. Pursuit of the news is not a license for arrogance. Remember that you make mistakes and stay humble.
* Public officials and celebrities have private lives that should be treated as private. No more do they deserve lurid curiosity, humiliation, persecution or embarrassment than do journalists.
* Recognize that private people have an even greater right to control information about themselves than do public officials and celebrities. Only an overriding public need can justify intrusion into anyone’s privacy.
* Show good taste. Avoid pandering to lurid curiosity.
* Be cautious about identifying juveniles, witnesses, and crime victims.
* Be judicious about naming criminal suspects before the formal filing of charges.
* Balance a criminal suspect’s fair trial rights with the public’s right to be informed.
Act Independently
Journalists should be free of obligation to any interest other than the public’s right to know.Journalists should:
Act Honorably
Journalists should be good citizens and trustworthy, honorable persons who are known for keeping their word and telling the facts.Journalists must:
* Avoid conflicts of interest, real or perceived.
* Remain free of associations and activities that may compromise integrity or damage credibility.
* Refuse gifts, favors, fees, free travel and special treatment, and shun secondary employment, political involvement, public office and service in community organizations if they compromise journalistic integrity.
* Disclose unavoidable conflicts.
* Be vigilant and courageous about holding those with power accountable.
* Deny favored treatment to advertisers and special interests and resist their pressure to influence news coverage.
* Be wary of sources offering information for favors or money; avoid bidding for news.
* Be honorable, respectful, virtuous and kind. Cultivate your virtues. Volunteer in civic and charitable organizations in your community. Develop and maintain a reputation as a good person, a good citizen, and a local leader. Don’t be one of those soi-distant journalistic putzes who gives us all a bad name.
* Avoid real conflicts of interest. Be scrupulous.
* Remain free of associations and activities that may compromise integrity or damage credibility, especially with criminals, agents of foreign powers, and terrorists.
* Refuse gifts, favors, fees, free travel and special treatment.
* Do not report stories where you have a personal conflict, in the same way that judges recuse themselves from cases. Request that another reporter without a conflict be assigned to work those stories.
* Be energetic, vigilant and courageous about finding the facts and reporting them.
* Deny favored treatment to advertisers and those with connections inside other departments of your publication and resist pressures to influence news coverage.
* Be wary of sources offering information for favors or money; avoid bidding for news.
* If a story appears to good to be true, someone is probably trying to take you for a sucker.
Be Accountable
Journalists are accountable to their readers, listeners, viewers and each other.Journalists should:
Be Accountable
Accountability is an important virtue for journalists. Journalists are accountable to their readers, listeners, viewers and each other.Journalists must:
* Clarify and explain news coverage and invite dialogue with the public over journalistic conduct.
* Encourage the public to voice grievances against the news media.
* Admit mistakes and correct them promptly.
* Expose unethical practices of journalists and the news media.
* Abide by the same high standards to which they hold others.
* Listen to and endeavor to understand constructive criticism.
* Clarify and explain news coverage and invite dialogue with the public over journalistic conduct.
* Encourage the public to voice grievances against the news media.
* Admit mistakes and correct them promptly.
* Expose unethical practices of journalists and the news media.
* Abide by the same high standards to which journalists hold priests and government officials.

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7 responses to “Seek Truth and Report It

  1. Trackbacked by The Thunder Run – Web Reconnaissance for 08/23/2007
    A short recon of what’s out there that might draw your attention, updated throughout the day…so check back often.

  2. Good thing these folks didn’t write the US Constitution.

  3. Ethical journalists treat sources, subjects and colleagues as human beings deserving of respect.

    What happens to those that aren’t sources, subjects, or colleagues? Like say… the military?

  4. Methinks the military is a subject. More later, probably in a new post, after I cogitate for a bit.

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