The Real Meaning of Journalism Ethics

The Real Meaning of Journalism Ethics

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Folks, journalism ethic's really important to me. It's why I'm really involved in the Columbia Journalism Review and Poynter Institute. I figure if we don't have good news, how are we going to help others? To me, journalism ethics is about trustworthy news and exposing the bad guys.

But, because I'm not a journalist, I wanted to reach out to someone who's doing this work daily. I asked Kelly McBride, of Poynter Institute, a few questions to talk more about the real meaning of journalism ethics.

Do you think journalism ethics is about exposing the bad guys?

Yes, and much more. But exposing bad guys is part of holding the powerful accountable. It's not easy though because there aren't always clear-cut bad guys. So in addition to exposing bad guys, journalism is about exposing flawed systems, incompetence, and unintended consequences.  Take the recent data that demonstrates and black children are expelled from school, even preschool, at higher rates than white children. There is no one bad guy here. But there sure as heck is a bad outcome that has to be remedied. Journalism has a role to play in holding the factcheckpowerful accountable that goes way beyond figuring out who the bad guy is.

What do you think is at stake for journalism and for journalism ethics?

Journalism is such a big tent, it's hard to say what's specifically at stake for the entire profession of journalism. But if you want to narrow that tent a little to, say, the journalism that strives as its primary mission to inform citizens and hold the powerful accountable,  I would say that this: What's at stake is the ability of citizens to take information seriously. The marketplace of ideas is going to go in one of two directions. Either citizens will doubt everything, all sources.  Or citizens learn to distinguish information by certain markers like brand or transparency. Journalism organizations want option B and they want to be among the trusted sources. So really what's at stake is whether we can continue to have a participatory democracy as our form of government.
What are the consequences of truthiness in journalism?

Truthiness is a bad thing. It's when you repeat a fiction or a distortion over and over again until people believe it's a real fact. So the consequence of truthiness not being in journalism would be a good thing.

How reliable do you think citizen journalism is?

Like all journalism, it runs the gamut. There are great examples of citizens filming police officers abusing their power, or evidence that governments have lied to their people. The thing about information generated by citizens is that usually only the good stuff rises to the top. So I'm not that concerned about the bad stuff.

What’s your best advice for factchecking and doing it the right way?

I like that fact checking is usually part of the production of every piece of journalism, as well as a separate act of journalism. All journalists fact check. And then more recently we have developed a discipline of fact checking things that politicians and pundits say. This recent development was necessary because of the proliferation of voices, as well as the proliferation of social media, which allows individuals to distribute a lot of information without going through professional journalists.

 

If this topic's important to you, take a look at these 4 factchecking sites that're the real deal. And I'd really like to hear what journalism ethics means to you, and your take on what Kelly had to say.

 

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One Comment

John Magnet Bell

This was a really interesting conversation. As a part of the reading public, I too would prefer that both citizen journalists and news organizations went for Option B, where brand and transparency combine to create reliability and trust.

Even if we're all human and everybody makes mistakes. Even if no one person and organization can be relied on 100% of the time.

I'm adding Poynter to my reading list, it looks like a great resource.

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