Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Partial Truth is Not Truth

Lynsie Dickerson

Beginning practically the day we step foot into Scripps as journalism students, we are taught that truth is one of the core values of journalism. Yet, for some reason it appears that a few more experienced reporters at times forget this, or perhaps just don’t care.

For example, take James O'Keefe’s video of NPR’s fundraising official Ron Schiller and deputy Betsy Liley, which under analysis was proved to have been edited in a way that made the two look worse than they actually had been during the meeting.

At the end of the day, if you have to tweak your video or news story so that only certain information is presented in order to sway your audience, you probably don’t have enough information for your story at the moment. You should be able to present all information—and not in a misleading manner—and allow the readers to decide for themselves how they feel about certain people or situations.

The tape also shows Schiller making certain political remarks, yet the way the video is edited, the audience is unable to know that Schiller was quoting other people, not saying the statements as his own. Making someone else’s quotes appear to be the statements of someone else—whether or not that person would agree with the quotes—is deceitful. Journalism is supposed to be about presenting truth, and not presenting it in a way that would trick readers. If important, relevant information is being hidden, then the whole truth is not given.

Another issue brought up is that journalists sometimes rush to report on a story, but do not take the time to do an appropriate amount of fact-checking before the story goes out. When information seems a little suspicious, such as O’Keefe’s video did, it is also the journalist’s job to take a deeper look into it, rather than just regurgitating information onto the pages of his newspaper or website.

I was also very much surprised to learn that SPJ removed “objectivity” from its ethics code, considering it is still considered a fundamental element of journalism ethics.

Photo: James O'Keefe, Win McNamee/Getty Images

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