- Featured Stories
- Douglas County
- City of Ava
- General Interest
Find Some Ideas Compelling, Others Stupid
Community journalists need to do a better job separating themselves from the national news media, need to do a better job of explaining the code of ethics for journalists to the reading public, and need to regularly ask residents, “how are we doing?”
At least, that was the conclusion of the journalists who participated in the public issue forum entitled, “News Media and Society: How to Restore the Public Trust,” which was held March 17 as part of the annual Ozarks Press Association meeting at Chateau on the Lake in Branson.
David Burton, civic communication specialist for MU Extension, moderated the forum which focused on discovering what steps can be taken to restore citizens’ trust in news reporting.
“The issue book we used suggested three approaches to repairing the relationship between the media and Americans. Each approach offered different perspectives on what has damaged citizens’ trust and presents ways to address those problems,” said Burton.
Approach one suggested taking steps to strengthen the conduct of journalists themselves, even going as far as licensing journalists.
“Participants were concerned that licensing would be a cost issue for small newspapers. They also hated the idea of government involvement in this area because it would lead to restrictions and no one believed this would resolve the problem,” said Burton. “Honestly, most of the participants felt like the idea of licensing a journalist was stupid.”
Several people also pointed out that licensing has not guaranteed better behavior in other professions like funeral home directors, teachers and lawyers.
Participants said one reason behind the public’s distrust of the news media is that many outlets have crossed the line between journalism and entertainment and as a result, have lost credibility.
“The consensus was that the local press needs to do a better job of separating themselves from the large entertainment news outlets and be a community watchdog,” said Burton.
Approach two addressed increased corporate ownership of media outlets as well as what same say is less competition in the news industry.
“Many participants knew about corporate ownership firsthand,” said Burton. “There was agreement that both good and bad has come from corporate ownership of newspapers.”
The group also agreed that competition from online websites and new hyper local publications is opening up the news business in both traditional and untraditional ways. That makes government involvement in, or funding of, the news business unnecessary.
Get Citizens In
The third approach, the idea of getting more citizen involvement with media outlets, received the most positive discussion. However, participants also felt like community newspapers already lead the way with citizen involvement and connections.
“Newspapers are getting citizen involvement online and by asking for more citizen submission of photos and content,” said Burton. “Participants agreed that they can’t restore the public trust by smoking a cigar in the back room writing a story without being involved in the community.”
A majority of participants also felt that people put their trust in who they know and community newspapers are doing well because they have kept the trust better.
Code of Ethics
The SPJ Code of Ethics (first written in 1926 but updated as recently as 1996) has four major components.
First, journalists are to seek truth and report it. “Journalists should be honest, fair and courageous in gathering, reporting and interpreting information,” reads the Code of Ethics. This covers the need for accuracy, as well as different aspects of reporting and the need to impose their own values and biases on readers.
Second, journalists are to “minimize harm.” In other words, “ethical journalists treat sources, subjects and colleagues as human beings deserving of respect.” Showing compassion, not being arrogant, respecting people’s privacy and showing good taste can do this.
Third, journalists should “act independently.” The SPJ Code of Ethics says, “Journalists should be free of obligation to any interest other than the public’s right to know.”
Finally, journalists should “be accountable … to their readers, listeners, viewers and each other.” The SPJ Code of Ethics says this can best be done by “inviting dialogue with the public over journalist conduct, encouraging the public to voice grievances against the news media, admitting mistakes and correcting them promptly, exposing unethical practices of journalists and the news media and abiding by the same high standards to which they hold others.”
“The future of America demands that we have responsible and ethical media outlets and reporters. One way that can be achieved is through an improved understanding of media ethics by reporters, editors, media owners and Americans,” said Burton.
Costs for the forum are underwritten by a national grant from the Sigma Delta Chi Foundation received by the Southwest Missouri PRO Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists and University of Missouri Extension.
An online discussion guide, video and survey entitled “News Media and Society: How to Restore the Public Trust” can also be found by searching at http://extension. missouri.edu/greene or more directly under the “community development” link.
For more information on this program, contact the Greene County Extension Center at (417) 881-8909 or e-mail David Burton at firstname.lastname@example.org.