Monday, October 31, 2016
Journalism: Strive For The Truth, No Matter How Messy It Is
A major tenet of journalism is to "seek truth and report it." The principle is at the top of the Society of Professional Journalists' Code of Ethics (SPJ), and it's a principle that journalists must adhere to.
So why now, in this 2016 presidential election, are journalists seemingly timid about finding the truth?
Republican presidential candidate, Donald Trump has eviscerated the media for unfair coverage. Trump has only himself to blame, however, with his bigoted and sexist remarks severely wounding his campaign.
Despite Trump's attacks on the media, the media has taken a defensive stance, indulging in equal evisceration of Trump. The New York Times ran the headline "Trump Gives Up a Lie but Refuses to Repent" after Trump self-proclaimed that he resolved the "issue" of whether President Obama was born in the United States.
Trump's claims were so false that he was clearly lying. With Trump's blatant lies, The Times had to publicly condemn him for them. The Times engaged in quality journalism, reporting the truth, even though they denounced a political figure for lying.
And, truth be told, more publications need to follow The Times' lead. Journalism is about showing the public what is going on in their communities. The media, whether it be the newspaper, television, radio, online, resembles a street corner: people are supposed to get important information about their towns from these outlets.
Take the Watergate scandal, for example. Watergate was a watershed moment in journalism, with Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein giving birth to investigative reporting. After Watergate, 72 percent of Americans had a great deal of trust in the media during June 1976, according to a Gallup poll.
The level of trust Americans had in the media during 2016, though? Only 32 percent of Americans reported a great deal of trust in the media this year.
Journalists need to gain that trust back from the public, which is who journalists ultimately aim to serve. Serving the public is and always will be journalism's first priority.
One way journalists can re-establish trust with the public is to be as transparent as possible. For example, if Trump or Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton says something controversial, then journalists need to provide context to the public.
Further, journalists can't let candidates say whatever they want. That would be an exercise in not fulfilling the No. 1 journalistic duty: to tell the truth as clearly as possible.
Clinton covering up her emails about what happened at Benghazi among other events should be publicized just as much as Trump's wacky comments. The important thing to note, however, is that journalists must always provide context. The public must realize why something is important, and how the topic will affect them.
Journalism has always been about being the engine for democracy. When the public reads articles about their communities, they are empowered to make decisions and help their towns however they can.
Journalists have an obligation to provide truthful information to people.
Let's not try and deceive the public with half-true information. Give the public all the information they need, no matter how messy it is.