As I read Chapter 6 of Principles of American Journalism, I thought one simple quote summarized the whole chapter very well:
“Without truth, journalism isn’t really journalism” (Craft & Davis 147).
What makes journalism different than other types of writing is that it tells the story the way it actually is. If you start to make things up or exaggerate, then you’re not telling the real story. In a way, I think you could consider journalism as nonfiction writing, because it reports the facts. When you start to make things up, you’re writing fiction, and that’s not what journalism is. The primary role of journalism isn’t to entertain – it’s to tell the truth. And without the truth, you don’t have journalism – you have fiction.
I clearly remember when the Brian Williams scandal occurred. I was a senior in high school, and I was in the journalism class writing for our newspaper at that time. We talked about how Williams was in the wrong for making up stories because he clearly violated the principles of journalism. I like how the authors related journalism to being a doctor or a lawyer. If a doctor did something unethical, such as abusing a patient, in addition to facing legal penalties, people would no longer go to this doctor to be treated. Although journalists likely won’t face legal issues for making up a story, your credibility is undermined because you lied, which is the one basic principle journalists promise not to break.
When I took Dr. Jerz’s Newswriting class three years ago, we discussed the Society of Professional Journalists Code of Ethics, which I briefly touched on in a previous blog post. I think the four main concepts – seek truth and report it, minimize harm, act independently, and be accountable and transparent – summarize what journalists should aspire to do in their profession.
I also think it’s helpful that the SPJ code goes into more detail for each of these four principles, particularly with the fourth, which involves “taking responsibility for one’s work and explaining one’s decisions to the public” (238). I’ve been fortunate that no big scandals have occurred during my time at Seton Hill, but this chapter was a good reminder that if I ever do face a tricky situation, I should be prepared to explain to the public my decision-making process. With a growing distrust in the media today, being transparent is extremely important.
I also thought it was interesting to read the Radio Television Digital News Association Code of Ethics, which is something I had not looked at previously. There are a lot of similarities between this code and the SPJ’s, as the main principles of the RTDNA’s code include truth and accuracy above all, independence and transparency, and accountability for consequences. Although this code is geared more toward specific mediums, the basic principles are the same, as they should be across the spectrum of journalism.