Sunday, September 22, 2013

Taking Independence for Granted

Markita Briggs

Recently in our Ethics, Mass Media and Society course we had to evaluate the similarities and differences between the codes of ethics from various journalistic outlets. Though all these different outlets have distinct purposes, almost every code included quite a few of the same principles. One in particular that was prominent throughout was the idea of a journalist’s independence. The Society of Professional Journalists Code of Ethics defines independence as being free of obligation to any interest other than the public’s right to know (here). With this comes avoiding conflicts of interest, both real and perceived, in addition to refusing gifts, favors or special treatment that may compromise one’s journalistic integrity. Most of us would like to believe that all journalists have resisted these kinds of temptations, but unfortunately many have not. 

Cash for Words

Exposed in ours readings for this week, there have been quite a few occasions where journalists have been associated with people or businesses that they have covered. Some have even paid for sources that would make their story more credible or even taken money in exchange for what the public would view as valid opinions or information on a topic. For example, the American Journalism Review's article “Maybe It’s Not So Obvious” revealed how CNN’s Aaron Brown and Walter Cronkite, the new anchor for 60 Minutes, were going to be paid to participate in a video series that was corporate-sponsored (here).

After reading the article, I was utterly disgusted. The fact that any journalist would think it is okay to take money to provide or offer it to receive information is demeaning to the field as a whole. Instead of sticking with traditional methods of obtaining facts for a story, they take the easy route and use bribery to persuade sources to give them what they are looking for. What they fail to realize is that by using bribery methods, they not only lose credibility, but their sources do as well.

(Photo credits to
Resist the Whistleblower 

The truth cannot be rightfully obtained this way. As said in the Columbia Journalism Review’s article, “Checkbook Journalism’s Slippery Slope,” once money enters the reporting equation, it has the potential to corrupt the whole journalist/source relationship. But without using such scandalous methods, scandals themselves may not ever be revealed. This was definitely the case with News Corp and their UK property paper, The Sun (here).

Their systematic payroll to officials was completely against the standards of journalism. To them they saw nothing wrong with paying off who they refer to as the “whistleblower” if that’s the only way they can get the information they need.  People with important information sometimes don’t want to talk unless there’s something in it for them, even if it’s a public or upstanding official who should know better. Instead of remembering the position that they have, they risk their job's respectful position because of greed. However, the journalist is the one who shouldn't give into this greed.

Paying for information for your media outlet could eventually lead to public distrust. Even though you may reveal a story you felt the public should know, you did so by using the same sneaky methods that those involved in the scandals you covered did. As a result, not only could you lose your credibility within the industry, but you look like a hypocrite as well. The equal-playing field of journalism cannot be maintained if certain outlets are using unconventional methods to tell their stories. If we want to be respected within and outside our profession we must not risk our independence and stick to the traditional methods of getting a story, no matter how long it takes. 

No comments:

Post a Comment