Since the advent of the world wide web, the world is now widely populated with thousands, if not millions, of “journalists.” But where are the ethical journalists?
Born and bred in Fort Worth, Texas, I had my first piece published in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram at the tender, yet tenacious, age of ten. After reading my work and my name published, printed in ink in a major newspaper, I knew what I was going to be when I grew up.
After six years of working through college to finally earn my Bachelor of Science in Journalism, I thought I had conquered the world. I was on top of the world excited to explore the adventurous career of corporate public relations, which led to magazine writing and editing, and agency copywriting and now teaching my first love of journalism. After college though, I was unstoppable. No one could stop me. I was called a “firecracker”…a “go-getter” … and even “a ferret on Red Bull”. Landing a job was easy and smooth. I sailed through the next 12 years with bliss and blessings that decorated my resume with achievements and accomplishments. I did it right. It wasn’t easy, but it was right.
But as most of us know, doing the right thing isn’t always popular. Doing the popular thing isn’t always right. I am obviously the former, and I am dumbfounded by our country’s acceptance of the latter. Dumbfounded and embarrassed by the liberal media. Ashamed of the child-like behavior when we don’t get our way. Think of other countries throughout the world watching Americans — “adults” —on TV, all the while, manipulated by the disease of emotionalism that has plagued those who are touting their “journalist” titles.
Journalists report information with the black and white rule of objectivity, also called ethics or rules of respect. As a journalism student in college, I covered my college newspaper as a sports reporter. During one football game that I was covering alongside my editor in the cherished press box that came complete with a catered dinner, I learned the lesson of objectivity. “My” team was actually winning, running for the touchdown, and score! I readily jumped out of my seat with the enthusiasm of a high school cheerleader, pulled out my imaginary megaphone and yelled with green and white pride, “Go Eagles!” As I was landing back down on my seat, my editor immediately grabbed my arm and said ever so quietly, but with the sternness of a master teacher in a Stephen King thriller, “Don’t ever do that again. You are a JOURNALIST!”
Yes, I am a journalist. I learned a hard, but swift and powerful lesson at a young age and I am ever so grateful to my editor who, in less than 30 seconds, summed up a lesson on the ethical requirement of objectively reporting information while respecting the black and white boundaries of truth. In other words, put the opinion in your pocket and your feelings in your folder.
Like Jack Nicholson in the 1992 legal drama, “A Few Good Men,” when he stated ever so profoundly in the courtroom, “You can’t handle the truth!” I have to ask myself, is the truth too much too bear? If we know the truth, then we must follow with the responsibility of acceptance or the courage to change. Oh, but it’s so much easier to whine, yell, rant, spew profanity, torch limos. Plus, when those who do act so violently without any regard for human life, do all of the aforementioned actions, they get rewarded by being on TV. Is that the prevailing thought? Sadly, yes. And some call that “journalism.” In reality, it’s nothing but bad behavior on camera. The easy road.
Well folks, here’s the truth. It’s called ethics and it comes with simple rules.
The Society of Professional Journalists [SPJ] declares four principals as the foundation of ethical journalism as published on the Society’s website at www.spj.org:
 Seek truth and report it.
 Minimize harm.
 Act independently.
 Be accountable and transparent.
Under the second principal, I believe is the true heart of a journalist: “Balance the public’s need for information against potential harm or discomfort. Pursuit of the news is not a license for arrogance or undue intrusiveness. Show compassion for those who may be affected by news coverage. Use heightened sensitivity when dealing with juveniles, victims of sex crimes, and sources or subjects who are inexperienced or unable to give consent. Consider cultural differences in approach and treatment.
I am also a journalism teacher and when I assigned my students the task of watching past presidential debates, my students’ comments were summed up simply, but quietly stunning. “Ms. Gallagher, the candidates are so nice to each other. They aren’t yelling. And they are taking their turns. They are also respecting the moderator’s timing requirements.”
I calmly replied, “Yes, students. That is how it used to be when America was great. When presidents respected journalists, and journalists respected presidents. Candidates respected the moderators and the television station’s time parameters. That was the right way to manage oneself in a formal presidential debate as a candidate, as well as a moderator. It was the right thing to do.”
See, I’m old enough to know when leaders respected the media, and vice versa.
Megyn Kelly, not so much. I”m not sure why she thought her opinions and feelings mattered when reporting the presidential debates. I’m not sure why she thought it was an acceptable practice to challenge the responses of the presidential candidate [Trump] when her position was one of moderator. Yes, she is a former corporate defense attorney who is also a political commentator; but the two positions should not be mixed with the role and responsibilities of a journalist. Unless you know where the line begins and the line ends as a journalist reporting objectively; I suggest you stay in your own lane. Respect the boundaries or park your car.
The emotional rampage of similar “journalists” spilling their rants all over the front page is a sad testimony to the internet’s seamless unleashing of people in power who have nothing to report, and yet everything to say.
As a teacher and a parent, it is difficult find the words to say to teens these days? But how do you explain the behaviors of these “adults” who are acting like spoiled, unruly children who refused to wait their turn…who disobeyed the timing requirements of a televised presidential debate…who refused to respect the authority of the moderator simply because the moderator was not a respectable journalist; with the exception of Chris Wallace who should have moderated all of the debates.
As a teacher and a journalist, I am literally speechless, lacking for the words to say to my students about how a journalist is supposed to present information to the public with respect and with a level of professionalism that I hope for each and every one of my students who choose to pursue the rewarding, yet challenging field of providing information to the world.
And yet, I know what is at the heart of journalism because it is my passion, my first love.
And I need my students to know the truth. To mind their manners, to be respectful to others and to keep quiet if they can’t say something nice. Lessons learned in Kindergarten, I suppose. If I don’t take this path, the majority wins. And it’s all over the world wide web, funnelled by the mass media generating a world-wide mass of hysteria.
And some ridicule our newly-elected president for his disgust with the “journalists” of today. That’s because he’s old enough to know when journalism in America was great.
You can contact Amy at Amy@WriteArm.org