Saturday, December 2, 2017

A Virtually New Ethical Challenge for Journalism

Alexis McCurdy

Photo courtesy of

In an era where information is so easily disseminated with the click of a button, stories are able to edited at anytime, and the public is reading less and less, the journalism industry is falling into trouble.

The current state of the journalism industry is bearing an uncanny resemblance to the era of yellow journalism. Whether it's because of an effort to gain back readers, or raise revenue by increasing click-throughs, sensationalism is on the rise yet again. The usage of sensationalism can be seen through a plethora of venues, such as eye-catching headlines that don't accurately mirror the contents of the story or the facts that surround its core. Or we see the presentation of facts in a heavily skewed way, or lack thereof when "facts" are later revealed to be grounded in falsehoods.

As Katherine Viner critiques in a Guardian article, the shift of news organizations' priority to a consumerist approach is a reflection of the changing fundamental values in journalism.
"Instead of strengthening social bonds," Viner says, "Or creating an informed public, or the idea of news as a civic good, a democratic necessity, it creates gangs, which spread instant falsehoods that fit their views, reinforcing each other's beliefs, driving each other deeper into shared opinions, rather than established facts."

The transition to a digital age, though it brought a decrease in revenue, does not excuse the blatant disregard for journalistic ethics. Journalists must hold themselves to a higher standard than the fake news sites, or the, essentially, gossip blogs that impose great partisanship, grossly oversimplify news and ultimately mislead readers.

Our first priority has and always will be to serve public interest, make society well-informed and provide them with accurate accounts. Journalists are suppose to serve as a watchdog over officials and those high in power. A transition to a consumerist approach to journalism contradicts our commitment to truth and free flow of information. With money on the mind, truth can be greatly overshadowed by the desire to survive.

The internet does indeed bring in a sort of Darwinism ideology to all news organizations: adapt or die. However, trying to increase readership, revenue and click-throughs with sensationalized content is an ethically unsound way to do so.

Perhaps journalists should begin to turn to new methods to engage readers. For example, research has shown that the audience is increasingly responsive to stories with visual aids, such as videos, photos or infographics.

 Damian Radcliffe, research fellow at Cardiff University's School of Journalism, said in a BBC article, that in combatting sensationalism, journalists should turn to creativity in how they present their content. Radcliffe points out that in the era of convergence media, audiences are simply consuming media in new ways.  Finding new and interesting ways to engage the audience visually could deepen the mental connection. 

To incorporate sensationalism and half-truths is laziness. Adaptability to the reader's evolution of digestion of information requires effort-- it requires heavy thought. We need to take pause and reflect. Then, we can move forward and be bold in our search for truth, and innovative in our display. Rather than letting technology be a dividing force that makes us degrade our standards, let us allow it to be a motivator and useful tool that helps us transform the future of media. 

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