“We believe in being honest, true, chaste, benevolent, virtuous, and in doing good to all men…” (AOF #13) From my early childhood, I was taught to obey these guidelines in hopes that by being obedient to them, I would receive blessings. Personal standards are strongly encouraged within the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints so that we won’t be swayed by evil influences in the world. In the news media world, ethics can be looked over and personal standards sway easily under the pressure of producing reader-worthy news. Although there are many methods journalists use to produce news, to avoid over looking personal ethics journalists should take a transparent approach. Being straight forward with personal standards and opinions on certain topics not only agree with the professional ethics they are asked to follow, but also lowers the chance of acting in a way that would jeopardize personal beliefs.
How it all Started
From the Acta Diurna, Rome’s first version of mass communication, to our modern day televised news, audiences are always seeking for a common topic to gossip about. It’s what we do! The desire to be informed about the crazy events happening in the world becomes greater and harder to satisfy as the years go by. As society grew and technology developed, people became desensitized to the typical news, making a journalists job even harder to accomplish. Journalists constantly feel the need to spice up their stories in order to please and retain their audience. To ensure that journalists aren’t being dishonest in publication, the Society of Professional Journalists, or SPJ, created a code of ethics. The SPJ code of ethics are guidelines with the promise of keeping the those that followed them within the bounds of safety. It has now become the most authentic way of dealing with ethical issues and has produced great honest stories.
What do the Objective News Folk Think?
Journalists and others involved in news media are hesitant to accept this new, transparent view for many reasons. First, it can promote self-righteous arrogance. Second, lengthy self-explanation could spiral out of control. Third, they fear that there would be too much focus on the “why” of journalism instead of the basic who, what, where and when.
What is true transparency in journalism then? The journalistic nature of transparency is revealing beliefs and opinions on a wide range of topics. In addition to this, readers are given access and knowledge behind the method journalists use to produce their stories. From the American Journalism Review, or AJR, an article entitled “Too Transparent?” written by Rachel Smolkin says, “It’s healthy for news organizations to be much more open about their decision making than they have been in the past.” News organizations were sometimes hesitant to divulge who and where information was coming from, so the audience felt that transparency was the immediate option.
In this same article another example is given of an over due report written by the New York Times about a high-up editor, Jason Blair, who lied profusely in many of his articles. Blair had fabricated and plagiarized a handful of his articles to gain readership. He wasn’t at the company for much longer after they found out. The New York Times eventually came out with an expose of Blair’s misdeeds, but the Times failed to mention why the article was delayed for a year before it was posted.
“In this whole forensics exercise, I’ve got one hand tied behind my back,” says a Times editor in response to why they took so long to publish the expose. The editor feared that the explanation of the complicated process to get the story published would reveal “confidential” information and gave up on trying to explain any details all together. This situation, among many others pushed audiences into wanting to know “why?” behind what really went on in that long year. Cue transparent journalism.
The Birth of a New View
True objectivity had the intention of being a consistent method for testing information to make it more transparent. Yet, according to Walter Lippman, an associate editor for the New York World, he said, “Good intentions, or what some might call ‘honest efforts’ by journalists, were not enough.” It started off as an effective solution to get rid of many bad habits journalists were starting to form in order to get the juiciest story, but didn’t work. Even objectivity can sometimes become a paradox when trying to be a truthful journalist. Finally, transparency became it’s own category for producing news.
To give an example, let’s say there’s a girl named Kenra. A fresh News Media graduate from Brigham Young University. She walks into her first job as a late night broadcast reporter, and couldn’t be more excited to get working on her first assignment. Her producer hands her a handful of papers and the title page reads, “Sex Tape Scandal among National Soccer Players and Thai women.” Not only was the story disturbing, but the company had decided that in order to get more viewers they were going to include a clip that showed blurred pictures of the naked players in inappropriate positions with the women. Kenra was alarmed at the sight and instinctively crumpled up the papers and threw them in the trash. She remembered her commitment to her own code of ethics that automatically disregarded anything that wasn’t censored to fit the needs of young families, especially their kids.
Disheartened and a little nauseated, Kenra thought of what could happen to her career if she said something to her boss. With a heavy sigh, she walked towards her producer’s office. Confronting her producer was terrifying, but in the end, he decided to reassign the story to another journalist. Even though she didn’t change his mind on running the story, she was morally protected and could not be blamed for any potential negative consequences.
The Great Benefits of Transparency
A Journalists decision to follow their own ethical standards might be the riskiest move they could take, but there is no way to gain respect and credibility faster than by living and portraying ethical values. Truth will always trump dishonesty in the long run. Through transparent journalism, good ethical behavior both personally and on a professional journalistic level can be achieved. By putting standards on the table, a journalist can avoid the danger of violating many of the ethical issues that happen within the news media world.
Ann curry once said, “Journalism is an act of faith in the future.” I agree that there is a certain amount of faith in journalism. We should dare to be who we are in all aspects of our lives, especially in the workplace where we are publicly known. By transparency in journalism, there will be no way to jeopardize the personal standards for any religious, ethically sound or truthful journalist as well as the SPJ code of ethics.
Dare to Stand Alone - Thomas S. Monson. Lds.org, Oct. 2011. Web. 06 Dec. 2015. <https://www.lds.org/general-conference/2011/10/dare-to-stand-alone?lang=eng>.
American Press Institute RSS. N.p., n.d. Web. 06 Dec. 2015. <http://www.americanpressinstitute.org/journalism-essentials/bias-objectivity/lost-meaning-objectivity/>.
The Elements of Journalism: What Newspeople Should Know and the Public Should Expect. N.p.: n.p., n.d. Print.
American Journalism Review. Phillip Merrill College of Journalism, n.d. Web. 06 Dec. 2015. <http://ajrarchive.org/Article.asp?id=4073>.