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Integrity wins out in the end

“Jefferson’s concern about libels was not for loss of popular confidence in the government,
but rather for loss of popular confidence in the newspapers themselves,”
Mayer noted.
In other words, an unfair press threatens a free press."
--page 73, Best Practices for Newspaper Journalists

I think this is a wonderful point for this book to end on. While the government won't and shouldn't censor the freedom of the press, that doesn't mean there aren't still consequences for publishing unfair journalism. Journalism, after all, is completely dependent on its target audience. The more that audience finds the journalism to be inaccurate or unfair, the less useful the audience will find journalism, and so journalism loses its audience. If an article gets written and posted in the middle of the woods with no one to read it, is it still journalism? I don't think so. Also, journalists who are unfair in their treatment of those they cover will lose their effectiveness because fewer people will trust them to cover their stories. Fewer sources to interview means less accurate information, and less accurate information leads to fewer readers, and the cycle goes on and on.
I think in this day and age of online journalism, it's even more important to stay as fair and trustworthy as possible. There are so many publications that people can read on the Internet that it is very hard to win loyalty, unless you're only one of a handful of publications in a small area that covers local stories. Obviously, the Setonian doesn't have a lot of competition in that arena. But I remember Andrew Wichrowski saying that the New York Times was his start-up page, but this newspaper doesn't really feature any news pertinent to the immediate area of Greensburg. The New York Times is a well-established and respected enough newspaper to inspire that kind of loyalty, but for lesser-known newspapers, it's hard to compete. Now you can try to compete by being a trashy rumor mill that gets attention because of sensational stories, or you can try to be as objective and accurate as possible and capture people's attention through a sleek design and easy-to-follow organization. If you choose the former path, you might get people reading your stuff just to see what wacky thing you're going to say next, but the latter choice is more likely to attract a wider readership and get you longevity, in my opinion. Perez Hilton's blogging is personality-driven and will probably lose its attraction over time; the New York Times has existed since 1851. There's no question that as we enter further into this age where people primarily get information from the Internet, journalists will find they have to deal with more and more competition. I hope that it inspires greater accuracy and fairness and that journalists don't deteriorate into Perez Hilton; I don't think you could really call him a journalist. In the end, I think people can be entertained by trashy rumor mills but just as you get tired of a joke that you hear over and over, trashiness can only be entertaining for so long. Eventually people want to know the truth and turn to more reputable sources. So it's the journalists who hold on to their integrity that win out in the end.

Comments (5)

Jeanine O'Neal:

Hey Matt,

I commented back on the blog I wrote for this Haiman section. Here's the link if you want to check it out:

http://blogs.setonhill.edu/JeanineONeal/2009/11/the_press_non-essential_for_ou.html

Jeanine O'Neal:

As expected, I commented again on that blog. You make some excellent points... you've almost convinced me.

http://blogs.setonhill.edu/JeanineONeal/2009/11/the_press_non-essential_for_ou.html

Angela Palumbo:

Good point, Matt. Trashy, made-up news can only last so long...or can it? How long has the National Enquirer been around? I couldn't find it on their site (http://www.nationalenquirer.com/) but I know they've been around since I can remember. I remember standing in line with my mother at the grocery store and reading that Elvis was spotted in a spa in California and that bat boy comes forward about his condition and things of that sort. Now obviously these stories aren't true but people still read them because they're still around today. But as less and less people purchase the print versions of newspapers, I bet the National Enquirer gets fazed out. Perez, on the other hand, is well known for his more new-aged blog and stays in the spotlight (somehow). But, in time he'll get old and the young audience won't want to read his stuff anymore.

As with anything in life, if you want to succeed, you need to work hard. The journalist who pays attention to the details and gives the audience the pertinent information better than the rest is the one who will (most likely) be the most popular.

Josie Rush:

I think that papers like the Enquirer are different, because they're made with the intention of proclaiming outrageous things. Their target audience is not the general public; it's a refined version of the public: those people who would be interested in aliens at the White House, etc. Really, Matt, I think you're right when you say that the public is the force that creates laws for the press. Aja talks about this in her blog, as well. If the public would reward good journalism and ignore the bad, then I think the press would improve dramatically. Sometimes I think the public does do this, but it's not often enough. It's too much complaining, as Jeanine rightly says on her blog. It gets old, especially when the people complaining are the ones who have the power to stop the poor journalism.

Matt Henderson:

The National Enquirer is definitely less personality-driven than Perez Hilton's blog; I think Perez Hilton's gossip column will die out in time because he'll get older along with his audience, who will mature and not care about the same things they cared about when they were younger. The National Enquirer isn't centered on one person posting outrageous things about other people, so I don't see it dying out in the same way that Hilton's blog will. I actually don't see much of a problem with publications like the National Enquirer because as you said, Josie, it intentionally publishes outrageous stories. I don't think many people actually believe what they read in that paper; I think it must have a cult following because it is so wacky. People don't really read the Enquirer for the truth. However, I think it's essential that people demand the truth from certain publications; if you don't hold some newspapers accountable, how can you tell fact from fiction?

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