Monday, September 23, 2013

Pushing Our Boundaries: How Far is Too Far?

Jenna Finer

The Society of Professional Journalists' (SPJ) official code of ethics outlines what we can and cannot do as journalists. Easy enough to follow, these guidelines highlight a certain conflict of interest that can greatly affect a story, as well as a reporter's reputation; a battle with our morals.

It is difficult to not get emotionally involved with a story involving soft subjects, such as death, children or tragedy. I strongly believe that it is a journalist's duty to remain unbiased while reporting a story. On the other hand, I also believe that it is important to hold true to one's personal beliefs on right and wrong and, furthermore, express it. Whether or not a journalist should reveal their opinion is a challenge that must be conquered by their better judgement. More often that not, however, that isn't the case.

Journalists Have Feelings, Too

Earlier this year, Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o disclosed to multiple media outlets that both his grandmother and girlfriend, Lennay Kekua, had died on September 11th, 2012. For those of you who need to refresh your memory on this noteworthy story, you can read about it here, with a timeline of events.

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It is still up for debate as to what actually happened with the infamous Te'o girlfriend hoax. The story was popular on many major news stations, turning out journalists eager for tips. Let's take the attention off the football player for a minute and focus on the people writing about him. This story is a prime example of journalists putting their feelings first. I question the professionalism of those who covered it. At first glance, the tale of a young, talented athlete losing his girlfriend is sad. Had a journalist even bothered to look up the identity of the girlfriend in the first place, the story would never had gotten as far as it did. Emotions and pity overtook common sense. After about a month of speculation, it was concluded that Manti Te'o's "girlfriend" was a victim of an online scam, where someone faked the identity of Lennay Kakua. A conclusion that would have been obvious if reporters looked for the facts rather than giving emotional support to Te'o.

Here, a CBS reporter discusses the "tremendous adversity" throughout which the player prevailed. The reporter makes Te'o out to be a hero, rather than a questionable element of an otherwise bizarre story.

What Can We Learn From This?

Truth is crucial when reporting a story. As an audience, the public needs to hear the truth. As journalists, we are required to tell the truth. Before we say anything it must be confirmed that the information that we are sharing is factual truth, not truth based on assumption. Factors like personal ethics and emotions can alter the distinction between the two. Journalists need to pull themselves away from the sentiment of the story and focus on the cold-hard facts. This will produce a raw, honest report, without their personal outlook changing it.

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