Journalistic Integrity: Ethics and Morals

Over the years, thousands of reporters’ morals and ethics have been called into question through the duration of high-profile stories. Journalists are trained, and often forced, to abandon their personal beliefs in order to capitalize on a major event, ruthlessly capturing the private lives of citizens through print, video, and radio. One such instance was during the Columbine Shootings, when reporters snagged teenagers on their way to safety to ask them how they felt and what their reactions were.

Where does it end? Is there a limit to the voracity of journalists who are paid to get the scoop no matter what the costs? And to whom do they answer when they go to far, as so many of them have over the course of history? Freedom of speech protects the careers of reporters who are paid to ‘tell the truth,’ but sometimes it seems that they abuse their right to share the ‘truth’ with the public. Their gruesome accounts of murders; their invasive stories about affairs; and their constant pursuit of the rich and the famous has labeled them the ‘black sheep’ of society.

The fact of the matter is that people are outraged. When citizens suffer tragedies, the last thing that they want is a barrage of microphones slung in their faces as they attempt to cope with their loss. Most people are private about their lives, and though there are occassional exceptions to this rule, most people don’t want their most secret affairs splashed across the front paper of USA Today. They don’t want vivid images of their pain-contorted faces captured on film for the evening news. And they don’t want everyone in the world talking about their experiences as though it were a fictional story recorded in a novel.

Journalists are supposed to abide by the Society of Professional Journalists’ (SPJ) Code of Ethics. The four main points in this code are:

1. Seek Truth and Report It
2. Minimize Harm
3. Act Independently
4. Be Accountable

It states that, “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.” Supposedly, journalists are supposed to abide by this code, though it rarely seems that they do. Rather than treating their subjects as human beings, they do their best to find the worst possible information, and that is the angle from which they choose to work.

There are also laws governing the uses of sources in journalism. For example, if a reporter hears the words, “Off the record,” they are supposed to keep whatever they have just heard confidential. This isn’t always followed, however, and several law suits have ensued regarding the breach of this rule. Unfortunately, judges rule in the favor of the journalist 86% of the time, just because it is so difficult to prove.

According to the Project for Excellence in Journalism, which issued its first annual report in 2004, the authors stated that “Journalists believe they are working in the public interest, and are trying to be fair and independent in that cause. The public thinks these journalists are either lying or deluding themselves.” It also concluded that of seven major media sources (newspapers, web sites, network TV, cable TV, local TV, radio and alternative) all of them are losing their public following except for online sources and the radio. This shows that the public is disgusted with journalistic endeavors, and that they would rather not subject themselves to the degrading and ruthless probing into the lives of innocent citizens.

There is also a relatively new controversy existing between “bloggers,” who essentially publish daily journals on the Internet in order to attract attention to a particular product or service. Rober McLaws, a renowned developer who has his own blog, brought up the issue of journalistic integrity in blogs, which should really follow the same guidelines as other print media.

Journalistic integrity should be placed under the microscope and reevaluated by both reporters and their superiors. Newspapers, television shows, radio networks, and magazines should take responsibility for what they report, and show at least some measure of concern for the average citizen. How will this story effect the public? Who will this anger? Is my viewpoint objective?

The SPJ is responding to the attacks of the public, and plans to begin efforts to put a stop to some of the less tasteful reporting in the United States.

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