Or, What if God had sent Commandments to Journalists instead of Moses
An intelligent, energetic, relentless, ethical, and suspicious press is important, probably critical, to a democracy, especially the print reporters who traditionally can devote more time to accurate fact finding. To see losses in the numbers of newspapers does not bode well.
On the other hand, if they want their readership to rise up in support of a viable free press, journalists need to realize that, as a group, they have “earned” over the past couple of decades a growing reputation for laziness and ethical lapses or appearance thereof due to their frequent coziness with the subjects of their investigations, their unwillingness to admit mistakes and their fear of embarrassment or loss of access or privileges. Such antics tends to make the general public as cynical about what journalists are writing as what the politicians, PR flacks and investigatees happen to be spouting.
To regain support by the public, journalists must first regain trust. Here are a few suggestions. They seem to be what the reporters must have been sleeping through in journalism school.
1. THOU SHALT UNDERSTAND THAT NOT EVERYTHING DESERVES TWO POINTS OF VIEW. If someone declares the sun will rise in the west, it is not sufficient to simply quote someone else who dutifully says it will rise in the east. That does not make the resulting report “fair and balanced.” A true journalist has an affirmative duty to either point out the obvious that there is not the slightest history of that ever happening or, better yet, do some investigative reporting quoting from astronomy textbooks to point out that the sun does not “rise” at all. It merely appears to do so because of a spinning earth. Either way, the reporter ought to exercise common sense by mentioning it is patently impossible to for it to even appear to rise anywhere except by looking due east in the morning. In court, this is called taking “judicial notice.”
2. THOU SHALT PRINT FIRST THE QUESTIONS NOT ANSWERED. When politicians and PR flacks answer questions that were never asked or don’t answer at all, either keep asking the original questions until answered. Or, better yet, print as part of the story the questions that were not answered.
3. THOU SHALT NOT JUST PRINT PRESS RELEASES. All statements of politicians, self proclaimed authorities, self anointed messiahs, CEOs and PR flacks of any sort should be assumed to be either deliberately false or at least ignorantly wrong until proven to be true by verifiable evidence established beyond a reasonable doubt through outside reliable sources.
4. THOU SHALT HONOR REQUESTS FOR PRIVATE CONFIDENCES EXCEPT WHEN IT COMES FROM A PUBLIC OFFICIAL. The only statements made by insiders that should be protected by reporter privilege should be those made about the organization itself, not about outsiders who happen to be criticizing the organization. In other words, government sources should be free to label themselves, but never others. Otherwise, it fails the “sniff test.”
5. THY NEWS DEPARTMENT SHALT TELL THY MARKETING DEPARTMENT TO STUFF IT. Ownership including major stockholders of media entities as well as all major campaign contributions made by paper owners and their reporters within the past 12 months, at a minimum, ought to be regularly revealed at the start of each article or news broadcast. It's called disclosure of potential conflicts of interest. Beside, if reporters can’t find crimes committed by their own bosses, then they aren’t doing their job.
6. THOU SHALT NOT SEND THY ENTIRE PRESS CORPS TO COVER ONE SEX TRIAL. Like education, often the public needs to hear news not involving bleeding, bedrooms or loud booms, whether they want to hear it or not. Either that or at least confine such B,B&B “news” to the entertainment pages.
7. THOU SHALT NOT COVET THY COMPETITORS’ ACCESS TO POWER. All perks of any sort given to reporters should be considered automatic conflicts of interest and reported in any story by the recipient reporter. Pundit columns should always be clearly marked as solely the opinion of the pundit. Perhaps their expertise, if any, or lack of it on a subject should also be disclosed. In fact, the total number of reporters and staff working on the particular story should be reported at the bottom so that the public can decide how well a subject is covered. Better yet, the amount of time spent on a particular story should be reported.
8. THOU SHALT ALWAYS REVEAL WHEN THE OFFICIALS ARE ANGRY OR ARROGANT. It should be reported as news who is excluded from access to politicians and news sources. Who interviewees refuse to talk to speaks volumes all by itself, not to mention revealing the ethics and moral courage (or lack thereof) of the interviewees who duck reporters. As a group, all reporters should refuse to interview anyone who attempts to pick and chose who will be doing the interviews.
9. THOU SHALT NOT DECEIVE THE PUBLIC. Being first with a report is never ever as good as being right about the report. And, being right about a report is never as good as being complete. Moreover, Journalism will never be a genuine “Profession” unless reporters are both licensed to practice like doctors, lawyers and accounts and risk losing such a license when they disobey journalism ethics. Those reporters convicted or fired can be free to write of course. It just should not be with the title of “Reporter” anymore.
10. THOU SHALT CONFINE EDITORIAL OPINIONS TO THE EDITORIAL PAGES WHERE THEY ARE DISCLOSED AS SUCH. Nuf said.
We could go on to discuss the lack of context, lack of followup to find out what happened later on a story, lack of “track record” disclosure as to how many things the reporter or pundit has stated in the past that proved to be completely wrong, lack of information on what has been deliberately edited out of the story, lack of disclosure of how much time was spent on the particular story counting research, lack of respect for the reader’s intelligence and usually lack of any revelation of at least the admitted bias the reporter/pundit might have. However, Moses was content to settle on ten commandments. Either that or he got tired of carrying or lost the rest. Maybe someone should investigate.