19 September 2006

Ethics in Media

Chris Bessler, owner of Keokee Publishing in Sandpoint and my guru on anything to do with the publishing world, tells me I actually have to post something in this blog EVERY DAY! I hadn't realized that, but when Chris suggests, I perform. (kind of)

Yesterday, I appeared with Priest River Times Publisher Terrie Ivey on Bill Litsinger's radio show (the Voice - 1400 KSPT, noon on Mondays). We were talking about ethics in journalism, though I'm not sure we ever got around to talking about it with any substance at all. An hour radio show isn't nearly as long as it sounds. Too bad... because I have some pretty strong opinions regarding journalistic ethics, and they don't always match those of the regular media. Maybe it's because I never went to J-school.

Talking in the parking lot after the show, the question was "is it okay to publish negative information on the front page about someone who's a 'pubic figure?'" My answer was tied up in my definition of news - being something the public has need of to know. So it depends on the public figure. If it's someone you're gonna vote for, or someone who works with your kids, or someone you may have given your money to... then yes, it's news. But if the information is on the front page and there's NO benefit to public knowledge, then we in the press need to butt out.

The people may have a right to know, but that information is available in the police blotter if they really want it. Newspapers make clear decisions about who gets pilloried on the front page - not EVERY person charged with a crime makes it there - and I suggest that many of those decisions are driven by the "if it bleeds, it leads" mentalitiy of the regular media. That's not a rule we follow at the River Journal.


MLove said...

Two rules with journalistic freedom. I call them the two R's. We have rights, and we have responsibilities.

Though we have the First Amendment rights, we must ask ourselves if we are acting responsibly every single time we take advantage of those rights.

Whether or not to print something unsavory about a public figure should consider the R and R approach. Does the information suggest something to the reading public how responsible/credible this figure is in carrying out his or her duties?

There's a fine line in making these decisions. If it does nothing but tantalize readers, maybe it doesn't belong in print. If, however, it clearly indicates lapses in honesty, good judgment, or legality,etc. that affect the public trust, readers need to know. We can cite dozens of cases of reporting that illustrate the latter.

Definitely not an easy call because either way, the media can expect criticism.

One guideline to remember is that in this day and age, public figures should know when they enter the spotlight that their every action is open for scrutiny.

Just some thoughts from an English/journalism major.

PinkAcorn said...

Re: Study of forestry Returns- wouldn't goats and sheep deposit their little goodies on new grownd and spread the seed contained there in? I'm all for the bugs as long as they don't pose a threat later on.