Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Conflicts of Interest are a Journalistic Liability

By James Cornelison

Corruption of any kind is fundamentally just deception. When engaging in conflicting interests, the level of public knowledge and public awareness is key to being successful. So in an industry such as journalism, where values like integrity and transparency top the lists of virtually all codes of ethics, can corruption be anything other than the antithesis? At first glance, it seems like corruption and credibility are directly contradictory to each other. In an environment that allows special interests and personal agendas to influence the news, it's difficult to imagine any reason why our news sources could still be credible and legitimate.

Difficult, but not impossible.

While some people can be initially alarmed by the knowledge that even the "Most trusted man in America" was potentially corruptible, others maintain that Walter Cronkite never did serve as the standard representation of news and journalism. One advantage the industry has as opposed to others is the level of decentralization. When a huge icon and mogul like Walter Cronkite was brought down, it was another party that reported on it. Corruption of the news is, in and of itself, news. If a conflict of interest is keeping any thing from being reported, then an opposing party will have an invested interest in illuminating it. Whether the means are considered ethical or desirable, then end result is still credible reporting from one source or another.

"Journalism is printing what someone else does not want printed. Everything else is public relations." -Ben Swann

Another characteristic of the journalism industry is the level of accessibility. This aspect of the media environment even seems to be growing in prominence today, as evidenced by the use of terms like "whistle blower," "source," and "citizen journalism." Assisted by the rise of the internet, the barriers to entry into this industry are almost non-existent. Anyone can decide now or tomorrow to be a journalist, independent of the traditional money and power infrastructure. These circumstances have been noticed to the point where congress has attempted to define by law who is, and is not, a journalist. It's this accessibility that provides a good checks and balances on the established voices and holds our news broadcasters accountable.

And this isn't the only line being burred. As journalists grow in power and influence, they become news makers as well as news reporters, and both the public and the industry have an interest in "watchdogging" the consolidations of power.

Finally, the last reason our news could be considered trustworthy and credible is the capitalist method of consumption. As mentioned before, no one has yet determined who is, or isn't, qualified to be a journalist. The whole industry is relatively unregulated. Journalists have to compete for viewers, readers, and listeners. Now, if you had to choose between one or more competing news providers, what characteristic would be a priority? Credibility. Despite the moneyed motivations for being corrupt, news sources also have moneyed motivations for being legitimate.

All these aspects combined, I think, lead to a news environment with increased dedication for credibility. Corruption will be inevitable wherever there is money, but the spoils of bad actors do not reflect the standard in a unique market where the truth is more valuable than the lie.

No comments:

Post a Comment