Thursday, April 7, 2011

Does a changing newsroom culture result in poor ethics?

Lynsie Dickerson

Tales of the “self-inflicted wounds” reiterate the importance of fact checking and making sure reported information is correct and that sources are legitimate. They show the need for journalists to be ethical, because failing to be ethical may not only hurt the journalist’s career, but the reputation of the publication for which they write.

Perhaps the dwindling of newspapers and the uncertainty found in the entire journalism industry has caused competition between publications, causing people to be more likely to quickly write and rush a story to air or print in order to be the publication who tells the audience about an event before other publications get the chance to. Doing so cuts down on the time taken to make sure all the information is factual.

This could make a newsroom culture one where being the first to report breaking or important news is valued over correctness; a culture where there is a very dangerous “publish now, ask questions (maybe) later” mentality. Should this mentality become the norm, it would be even more detrimental to the writer and his career, the credibility of the publication, and future writers and publications.

The problem of journalists making up facts and quotes is no secret, and is even the focus of the movie “Shattered Glass,” about a journalist for “The New Republic” whose articles—nearly 30—were either partially or entirely fictional.

When it comes to handling confidential sources, it seems to me to be logical for the editor to know who the source is, or at least the person’s title. Also, the information given by the confidential source should not always be taken as absolute truth, but should be treated like any other information, and fact checked to whatever extent is possible given the secrecy of the information.

RTNDA offers guidelines for dealing with confidential stories.

A question raised by one of the readings asks if journalists hold themselves above the law. Legally, no. Ethically, a journalist may choose jail time instead of uncovering names of confidential sources. Once again, the journalist is faced with making a decision of legality versus ethics.

I also thought it was interesting that Bulla said self-convergence would strain professional performance. If the two are related, this may cause an issue with future reporting, as many journalists are now expected to be able to write for multiple platforms.

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