Every day there are ethical decisions that impact the hundreds or thousands of people who watch, read, listen, and/or click on a media source. The foundation for making the right decision starts with ethics classes in college. Students in the E.W. Scripps School of Journalism will use this blog to reflect on ethical questions in the media today.
Tuesday, October 20, 2015
Novelty vs. Non-biased Reporting
What makes something newsworthy? Timeliness, proximity, prominence, and novelty are some of the biggest factors when it comes to deciding what runs in the press.
No one wants to read about the humdrum daily happenings of
life. It’s not newsworthy that someone ate their third burrito today or tripped
while walking up the stairs. People want to read about things that impact them,
things that are relevant, and, most importantly, things that are interesting.
That is why Donald Trump is getting so much attention in the
press; people are interested. Like Trump is quoted saying in The Columbia Journalism
Review’s article, The media’s Trump conundrum, “If you get good ratings…you’re
going to be on all the time, even if you have nothing to say.”
Trump’s campaign has been fueled by public interest. Social
media sites have been buzzing with commentary since the very first rumor that
he was going to be a contender. Even content with a negative message that is meant to
poke fun at Trump, such as the memes, the comments comparing his hair to a flannel moth caterpillar and the “sexy” Halloween costumes, are spreading his name and
his message like wildfire.
As with every political issue, media has a duty to remain non-biased
when reporting on political candidates and topics so the public is able to
formulate their own opinions without being persuaded in one direction or
another. So, how does the media cover a candidate like Trump?
David Uberti of The Columbia Journalism Review states that
the extreme coverage of Trump has made it difficult for the other Republican
candidates to get airtime sufficient enough to compete with Trump, especially with the
added bump from social media.
In the past, there have been a few efforts made by the
government to increase fairness between presidential candidates, including the
equal-time rule and The Communications Act of 1934. The equal-time rule
stipulated that equal time on air should be given to all presidential
candidates who request it, in the hopes of leveling the playing field.
However, it is ultimately down to the journalists to
ethically uphold the value of fair, non-biased reporting because there have been many loopholes
found within the acts. For instance, the equal-time rule is not applicable to impromptu
news events, documentaries, or scheduled interviews, which means that there are
plenty of leniencies for news organizations to favor one candidate over
It would be easy to put the spotlight on a candidate like
Trump, who has already gained so much attention online that he would easily
draw viewers to the screen, just as it would be easy for a reporter to frame a
candidate in a way that would make viewers more responsive to his or her
That is where the importance of personal ethics comes into
play. While the novelty is tempting, it is important for journalists to focus
on all of the candidates and all of the facts to remain fair and unbiased to