A Reminder to Journalists from a BJ Graduate

Graduating from MU’s School of Journalism in 1976 fulfilled a high school dream.  Growing up during the turbulant 1960’s and early 1970’s in rural Missouri, I aspired to make a difference in the world.  My decision to pursue a career in journalism was made with that intention.

Today, I am a retired educator and a part time licensed local pastor for the United Methodist Church.  I have always worked to do all that I can to make a difference in this world as John Wesley preached.  Life experiences colored the manner in which I am attempting to do all that I can.

Still, I believe that the years at J-School made a lasting impression on my values especially as we were held accountable to the journalist’s creed and the Canons of Journalism.  Add to that was the demands from our instructors/editors that we were to follow strict guidelines in collecting, checking, and substantiating our work before publishing.

The recent headlines about “fake news” infuriates me; yet I know that the role of a journalist has evolved into a celebrity role that interferes with the objectivity of the actual news report.

The immediacy of communication also has damaged reporting making it difficult to verify the news adequately or to provide all the parties opportunity to comment before the story is reported–in real time.  Advances in communication and the competition to earn ratings are eroding the ethics of journalism.

During my collegiate experience at MU, I recall the basic rules that our editors/instructors on the Columbia Missourian demanded of the reporters:

  • Never report anything that cannot be verified three different ways.
  • Never print anything without returning to those interviewed to double check the accuracy and especially quotes with them.
  • Always contact the opposite side of the story for fair coverage; include a reference or a reply in the story.
  • Always follow the money.

As a trained journalist, I am unable to support news coverage that does not follow these principles, the Canons of Journalism and the Journalist Creed to which I was held accountable prior to my graduation and which I continue to maintain in all my professional endeavors in reporting, in teaching, and in pastoring.

I appeal to all MU graduates from J-School and to all journalists that the work that has played a positive role in preserving the democratic society outlined in the United States Declaration of Independence and the Constitution must continue.

I appeal to all professional journalists to do whatever they can to reclaim the veracity and the ethics of journalism to the standards laid out by our pioneers.  Journalism is as critical to the democratic philosophy as the three branches of the government–the Legislature, the Executive and the Judicial.

Posted here are the two documents that provided the blueprint for an honorable profession.  Read them, live them, and encourage all fellow journalists to return to these ethics in the work society first expected of journalists.

The Journalist’s Creed:  [Accessed on March 2, 2017 at https://journalism.missouri.edu/jschool/#creed-2%5D

The Journalist’s Creed was written by the first dean of the Missouri School of Journalism, Walter Williams. More than one century later, his declaration remains one of the clearest statements of the principles, values and standards of journalists throughout the world. The plaque bearing the creed is located on the main stairway to the second floor of Neff Hall.

I believe in the profession of journalism.

I believe that the public journal is a public trust; that all connected with it are, to the full measure of their responsibility, trustees for the public; that acceptance of a lesser service than the public service is betrayal of this trust.

I believe that clear thinking and clear statement, accuracy and fairness are fundamental to good journalism.

I believe that a journalist should write only what he holds in his heart to be true.

I believe that suppression of the news, for any consideration other than the welfare of society, is indefensible.

I believe that no one should write as a journalist what he would not say as a gentleman; that bribery by one’s own pocketbook is as much to be avoided as bribery by the pocketbook of another; that individual responsibility may not be escaped by pleading another’s instructions or another’s dividends.

I believe that advertising, news and editorial columns should alike serve the best interests of readers; that a single standard of helpful truth and cleanness should prevail for all; that the supreme test of good journalism is the measure of its public service.

I believe that the journalism which succeeds best — and best deserves success — fears God and honors Man; is stoutly independent, unmoved by pride of opinion or greed of power, constructive, tolerant but never careless, self-controlled, patient, always respectful of its readers but always unafraid, is quickly indignant at injustice; is unswayed by the appeal of privilege or the clamor of the mob; seeks to give every man a chance and, as far as law and honest wage and recognition of human brotherhood can make it so, an equal chance; is profoundly patriotic while sincerely promoting international good will and cementing world-comradeship; is a journalism of humanity, of and for today’s world.


The Canons of Journalism:

[Accessed on March 2, 2017 at http://ethics.iit.edu/ecodes/node/4457%5D

Appendix I

American Society of Newspaper Editors (1923)

The primary function of newspapers is to communicate to the human race what its members do, feel and think. Journalism, therefore, demands of its practitioners the widest range of intelligence, or knowledge, and of experience, as well as natural and trained powers of observation and reasoning. To its opportunities as a chronicle are indissolubly linked its obligations as teacher and interpreter.

To the end of finding some means of codifying sound practice and just aspirations of American journalism, these canons are set forth:

I. RESPONSIBILITY: The right of a newspaper to attract and hold readers is restricted by nothing but considerations of public welfare. The use a newspaper makes of the share of public attention it gains serves to determine its sense of responsibility, which it shares with every member of its staff. A journalist who uses his power for any selfish or otherwise unworthy purpose is faithless to a high trust.

II. FREEDOM OF THE PRESS: Freedom of the press is to be guarded as a vital right of mankind. It is the unquestionable right to discuss whatever is not explicitly forbidden by law, including the wisdom of any restrictive statute.

III. INDEPENDENCE: Freedom from all obligations except that of fidelity to the public interest is vital.

1. Promotion of any private interest contrary to the general welfare, for whatever reason, is not compatible with honest journalism. So-called news communications from private sources should not be published without public notice of their source or else substantiation of their claims to value as news, both in form and substance.

2. Partisanship, in editorial comment which knowingly departs from the truth, does violence to the best spirit of American journalism; in the news columns it is subversive of a fundamental principle of the profession.

IV. SINCERITY, TRUTHFULNESS, ACCURACY: Good faith with the reader is the foundation of all journalism worthy of the name.

1. By every consideration of good faith a newspaper is constrained to be truthful. It is not to be excused for lack of thoroughness or accuracy within its control, or failure to obtain command of these essential qualifies.

2. Headlines should be fully warranted by the contents of the articles which they surmount.

V. IMPARTIALITY: Sound practice makes clear distinction between news reports and expressions of opinion. News reports should be free from opinion or bias of any kind.

1. This rule does not apply to so-called special articles unmistakably devoted to advocacy or characterized by a signature authorizing the writer’s own conclusions and interpretation.

VI. FAIR PLAY: A newspaper should not publish unofficial charges affecting reputation or moral character without opportunity given to the accused to be heard ; right practice demands the giving of such opportunity in all cases of serious accusation outside judicial proceedings.

1. A newspaper should not involve private rights or feeling without sure warrant of public right as distinguished from public curiosity.

2. It is the privilege, as it is the duty, of a newspaper to make prompt and complete correction of its own serious mistakes of fact or opinion, whatever their origin.

VII. DECENCY: A newspaper cannot escape conviction of insincerity if while professing high moral purpose it supplies incentives to base conduct, such as are to be found in details of crime and vice, publication of which is not demonstrably for the general good- Lacking authority to enforce its canons the journalism here represented can but express the hope that deliberate pandering to vicious instincts will encounter effective public disapproval or yield to the influence of a preponderant professional condemnation.

(I was disappointed that a search of MU’s School of Journalism did not locate the Canons of Journalism.  This is a major concern as I recall that they were as clearly posted as the Journalist’s Creed.  This needs to be included and accessible as the creed.)

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Filed under Enough is enough . . ., History & Government, Religion

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