Exercising conscience

Newspaper Guild President Linda Foley hit the nail on the head.

“The ability of journalists to exercise conscience is much more important than anything they believe or any beliefs they bring to their job,” she said. “It’s credibility, more than objectivity, that’s important for us in our industry. … There has to be a culture in newsrooms that allows a journalist to have a free and open discussion.”

There are a few ideas here, so I’ll briefly discuss each. Having good ethics and making good judgment calls is essential for journalists to be successful and perpetuate journalistic ideals. It doesn’t matter whether a journalist votes red or blue or whether that person believes in a higher power; those beliefs can be put aside when reporting on an issue. I don’t know this information about Jayson Blair, and I don’t really care; the issue with his journalism was that it wasn’t his or wasn’t true.

I think a better word for objectivity might be “fairness” in this situation — I don’t know as if anyone could truly be objective, or what that might even look like, because everyone comes to a story with a different background and approach — but I still think credibility trumps all. This rush to publish in a 24-hour news cycle or race to “break” a story first without taking the proper steps to verify information — or even a laziness when verifying — can ruin media reputations. We’ve seen it several times in the past few years, including when CNN announced an incorrect Supreme Court decision and, more recently, when Rolling Stone failed to properly verify the information in its University of Virginia sexual assault story.

I agree that better news coverage occurs when dialogue is encouraged in newsrooms. I think the Missourian does this incredibly well on a newsroom-wide scale with its budget meetings that are open to the public; I learn a lot by just sitting and listening to editors, students and members of the public from all different backgrounds discuss how certain topics were covered and what might be done to improve coverage next time. Even if a newsroom does nothing like this, though, these conversations can still be had on a more individual level. One of the biggest contributions I felt I made somewhere I’ve previously interned was starting conversations about language used in stories about race and the LGBTQ community and how that impacted how people in various communities were portrayed in different articles. My co-workers and editors were older and grew up in different types of neighborhoods than I did, so it was interesting hearing their perspectives, and I really liked that we worked together to determine what would be best for a specific piece.

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