In a time when those practicing our profession are described as ‘enemies of the American people’, as President Trump tweeted February 2018 and repeats with impunity, it is important to revisit the ethical caveats guiding journalists.
Bill Kovach and Tom Rosenstiel, in their book, The Elements of Journalism, provided a practical roadmap to ensure the role of the journalist is one of protector and illuminator. We are not charged to deflate, inflate, exaggerate, manipulate or mitigate. We are task to, “…show an ultimate allegiance to citizens,” and, “to put the public interest – and the truth – above … self-interest or assumptions,” according to Kovach and Rosenstiel.
Concurrently, the Society of Professional Journalists Code of Ethics asks that we, “Recognize a special obligation to serve as watchdogs over public affairs and government,” that we, “Seek to ensure that the public’s business is conducted in the open, and that the public records are open to all.”
An enemy, by definition, seeks to defeat, to subjugate, to control and to weaken. Journalists, when identifying themselves as media, operate to affect the exact opposite, if ethically reporting. Ethical journalists report to strengthen, to inform not suppress, to empower not conquer, to preserve an ideal of government existing of the people, by the people and for the people.
As Billy Joel once musically conveyed, it’s a “matter of trust.” While politicians, elected officials, or corporate entities may feel they hold the trust of the people by measurement of ballots, donor dollars or sales; trust is earned. Trust lost in one intentional lie, distortion, omission or manipulation, or the perception of those actions is hard pressed to be restored. That is if we, as a people, are aware the action has taken place. Exposing those actions are the job of a free press as endowed by our constitution in the First Amendment.
Contrarily, a journalist’s obligation is not to invent, create, disguise or fabricate news or to cause something to be newsworthy by injecting or insinuating any relativity to what is genuine, authentic news. There is an old term for this practice, “wagging the dog” which translates to important, consequential things being taken from the forefront of the news cycle by diversion, replaced by lesser, more inconsequential things implying more urgency, real or imagined.
Ironically, while writing a ‘blog’, from an ethical standpoint, it is important to review just what ‘blog’ means and was created to affect. Originally, ‘blog’ was an acronym for one of two endeavors: Buy Locally Owned Group out of Canada or Better Listings On Google. Journalist blogging are marketing themselves and their opinion, they are not operating as journalists. Although some may ethically blog, their goal is to increase the value of their brand. In my opinion, journalists intent on operating under the protections of freedom of the press are on a slippery slope when choosing to blog. Their opinion is not news; but, shouldn’t we question if it influences how they report news?