Let’s Fix It: Why Is It So Hard to Find Ethics and Trust in the Media?
Coupla years ago, I blurted out that “the press is the immune system of democracy.” That’s what I learned from my high school history teacher, Anton Schulzki.
That’s not working so well. We’ve had major press scandals recently, including some obvious failures to follow through with widely known information. A few, really egregious failures: WMD, the economic crash around 2008, ObamaCare, VA scandals starting in 2002 and the current badly misreported scandals, and the IRS failing to pursue fake political nonprofits.
With a track record like this, should anyone want to buy news?
I’m a news consumer, and I just want news I can trust. For around a decade, publishers, editors, journalist and ethicists have given me quite the education. I’ve never suggested how to fix the news — I just want to fix the trust and ethics part.
I see how tough the job is; people have to fill the “news hole” every day, with something sensational that might sell some soap or something.
That’s a lot of pressure, lots of job insecurity, and I always want to give people a break.
Let’s do something constructive, maybe starting with an allusion to an article by danah boyd, “Rule #1, Do No Harm.” In that article, she wonders: “When did it become acceptable to make shit up?”
So, first, a generous and constructive approach starts with “do no harm.” Beyond that, I’m looking for serious good faith in conducting serious fact-checking, and serious correction of the errors that get through anyway.
Since bad info spreads fast, sometimes virally, honest correction might be challenging. It would require repeating the truth, asking other news outlets to correct the disinfo, and even some SEO work. Corrections should not reinforce the error, a common problem given human perception.
How will news orgs start to self-enforce in tough situations?
For example, how do you catch a reporter who is skilled in making up plausible but false stories, or who relies on other unchecked reports?
How can that happen if a heavily burdened editor says, “Just don’t get caught”?
That is, news orgs should be held accountable for damage they cause, just like other professionals are held responsible for malpractice.
With this renewal of trustworthiness via ethics, we could reestablish the immune system of democracy.
No one has the answers for the hardest challenges, but the next step is to adopt a serious ethics/trustworthiness code, and then start working on accountability.
I’m a news consumer. I won’t tell anyone how to do their job — I just want news I can trust. Through this ethics/trustworthiness effort, maybe we all can help the pros fix this huge problem.
Specifically, how can we all work together to make this happen?
|This was originally posted in the LinkedIn Series, Let’s Fix It. Read all the stories here and write your own (please include the hashtag #FixIt in the body of your post).|
Photo: Author’s Own and Juan García / Flickr