Sunday, September 22, 2013

The Easy Way to the Story

Amanda DePerro

How effective can journalists be as watchdogs for the community when that community doesn’t trust them?

As public trust of mainstream media outlets continues to decline, journalists need to be more wary of the choices they make inside and outside of the newsroom. They need to ask themselves what effect their actions may have on their audience. Any journalist who cares about their audience hopefully would never sell (or attempt to buy) their credibility for any amount of money, but of course these things happen.

We need to learn from example that good journalism comes from transparency with our audience. If we don’t have our reader’s trust, we don’t have anything. When journalists lie or cheat to get the story, that reader feels betrayed. He/she trusted us to do our work in an ethical way to bring the news to him/her. When we break that trust, we lose readership.

The only thing about journalism I hear more than how mistrustful the public is of the media is the decay of newspapers and the cutting down of newsrooms. If we expect to get a job at a publication, we had better be ethical and want to improve the newspaper’s quality in order to gain more readers and strengthen the bonds that current readers already have to the publication.

Although a poll by Pew Research Center illustrates that many do see journalism as a way to keep leaders from doing things that shouldn’t be done, only 26 percent think the press gets facts straight, 20 percent think the press is relatively independent and just 19 percent think that the press generally reports all sides of the story. Those numbers are pretty horrifying, and journalists need to keep that in mind while they’re preparing to report a story.

If we’re talking about being unethical and “cheating” to get the story, the words that comes to mind are "News Corporation." Several publications under News Corp, under Rupert Murduch, were found guilty of illegally paying off police, as well as hacking into high-profile people’s phones in order to get stories. Although this is obviously an extreme of unethical journalism, it’s the perfect example of publications buying and cheating their way into stories.

Clearly the scandal had an effect on the public’s opinion as well. Soon after the phone hacking scandal was uncovered, News Corp. lost $7 billion in market value. The scandal lead to the closure of one News Corp. publication, News of the World.

After the scandal, other publications called for holding Murdoch responsible, though he would only say the people he trusted and the people those people trusted were to be held responsible, and that he didn’t know that police payment and hacking had been going on. The boss not knowing what’s going on below him? Journalists not getting their stories in an ethical way?  To me, that just sounds like a long line of people who haven’t been doing their jobs—and they paid the price.

While it may be quicker and easier to get a story through questionable means, the loss of public trust is never worth it. A journalist’s job is to be an independent check on what’s going on in the world. If the watchdog isn’t doing its job correctly, who’s going to want to keep that watchdog around?

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