Category Archives: History & Government

Journalism training rules

Reading the KC Star’s opinion column from Thomas L. Friedman of the New York Times News Service,  I was reminded of some very important rules that the Mizzou’s School of Journalism included in our training.  My degree was in news ed, and the Columbian Missourian instructors really hammered at us to use some very primary rules of reporting:

  1.  Follow the money.  Whenever trying to investigate a story that seemed questionable, follow the money.  Another words, looking at city, county, state, or federal government, follow the money.  If an individual was living differently than one might anticipate for their position, follow the money.  If an organization, especially when using public money, could not explain its budget, follow the money.
  2. Get the story from three different sources.  If a reporter can substantiate a story from three different sources, the likelihood is that there is a true story to report.  Of course, the reporter must be responsible enough to locate three different, unrelated sources to substantiate the story.
  3. Check your quotes.  When taking notes, make sure they are accurate even checking them with the person before walking away.  When using a direct quote, read it back to that person to make sure it is accurate and to let them know that you are planning on using it.  When using an indirect quote, also check it with the person being quoted.

Needless to say, journalists have taken a beating considering the entire tirade calling the news “fake.”  But, I firmly believe that trained journalists who remain faithful to the Canons of Journalism, the Journalist’s Creed, and the principles the universities taught, are reporting real news.  If they are responsible, then no one can support such accusations.

Sadly, the immediacy in which the news is transmitted leads to mistakes–many times a listener’s misunderstanding rather than the report.  At all cost, the headlines need to be direct and unbiased.  Listeners need to turn to fuller reports whether through further web research or through more traditional sources as the written word in newspapers and magazines (which are sadly unable to sustain the cost of publication).

Recently a news article concerning the deportation of a professor more fully explained the circumstances that lead to ICE’s attempt to deport him.  The story continues, but as so often is the case, the full story is not able to be broadcast in the 30-60 second sound bites.  The story is complicated, and it takes study to follow and understand it.  We still do not have the whole story, I am afraid.

But back to Friedman’s editorial, Whatever Trump is hiding is hurting all Americans now. Regardless of one’s personal stand, the article reminds us to follow the money.  In our government, serving in an elected position places one’s life under the microscope.  If reporters cannot follow the money, that leaves so many questions unanswered.

My fear is that by the labeling of news as fake, the work of our journalists is compromised.  If the profession of journalism is not allowed to function freely in our democracy, then how can we check the three branches of our government.  We need ethical journalists to keep our elected officials accountable now, just as we did during Watergate.

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Let’s rethink lobbying: What is best?

My friend reminded me that lobbying is a concern.  I agree and had considered making a statement concerning the idea that has now become a profession when it should not.

Before I spoke, though, I thought I should do a little review.  I started with the US Constitution.  I pulled up the full text and did a simple search for these terms:  lobby, lobbying, and lobbyist.  I was not surprised–none of these terms are in the entire constitution.

Therefore, the next step–federal laws.  Yes, there are laws, in fact each state have laws to regulate lobbying.  Interestingly, the laws are very similar and include a monetary limit on gifts that must be reported.

A monetary limit to gifts!  Why should lobbying involve any form of gifting?  Check the definition of lobbying:

 Definition of lobby [Accessed on February 13, 2018 at https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/lobby]:

1 a corridor or hall connected with a larger room or series of rooms and used as a passageway or waiting room
2 a group of persons engaged in lobbying especially as representatives of a particular interest group

Definition of lobby [Accessed on February 13, 2018 at https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/lobby]:

1  A room providing a space out of which one or more other rooms or corridors lead, typically one near the entrance of a public building.

 

2  (in the UK) any of several large halls in the Houses of Parliament in which MPs may meet members of the public.  

3  A group of people seeking to influence legislators on a particular issue.

Please notice that I have posted two different sources for the definition.  The first definition in both entries are a location, but it is the 2nd & 3rd entry that pertains to people/organizations influencing legislators.

No where in these definitions is the method of influence mentioned.  Certainly the absence of a monetary reference is obvious, so why has lobbying become so entwined with money or gifts in so many different forms become synonymous with the idea of lobbying.

In my web search, I found another website that outlines how enormously profound lobbying has become as an accepted method of monetary influence.  Checkout this website:  http://www.ncsl.org/research/ethics/lobbyist-regulation.aspx  [also accessed February 13, 2018].

The chart is interesting and I did read through Missouri’s, but the entry that captured my closest attention is this paragraph:

“OVERVIEW | LOBBYIST REGULATION

Lobbying—a citizens’ right to speak freely, to affect decisions and petition the government—is a crucial right, and an important part of the legislative process. This right has also created an industry whose numbers have increased dramatically. A 2006 survey by the Center for Public Integrity put the number of paid lobbyists at state legislatures at near 40,000 and growing. State lobbying laws have sprung up in response to the proliferation of the “third house” and the influence that it exerts. The details of each state’s lobbying laws differ markedly, so much so that nearly 50 different versions exist. There are common themes, however. All states define who is a lobbyist and what is lobbying, and all definitions reflect that lobbying is an attempt to influence government action. All states have lobbyist registration requirements, and all require lobbyists to report on their activities. In addition to tracking the above issues, the Center for Ethics in Government has information on lobbyist oversight entities, restrictions on the use of public funds for lobbying, lobbyist contingency fees, lobbyist identification, prohibitions against false statements and reports and legislators’ disclosure of lobbyist connections.”

Here is my concern:  Lobbying is out of control.  Influencing our legislators should not, definitely should not, involve any form of gifting.  Influence is done by word of mouth and by actions NOT by purchasing in any form.  When dollars are added into the formula of influence, then there is no level platform for influencing–those with money get the most attention.

Communicating an individual’s, a group’s, or an industry’s personal agenda is not wrong, but attaching the influence to a gift weighs the playing field.  When lobbying, the key should be what is best for the people?  What is best for the country?  What is best for our land?  Definitely NOT what is best for the corporation, the pocketbook, or any one individual!

Let’s keep the focus on what is best for all individuals, not what is the best way to buy one’s own agenda.  

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Elected representatives: public servants, not career politicians

When the Constitution was written, serving as an elected representative in the Executive and the Legislative branches was deemed a public servant’s role.  Today the positions have become careers.  Politics should not be a career field, political science is a career field.

The United States was built on elected officials from within the community culture that elected them.  Sadly, elected officials now see their ‘jobs’ as careers not a public service.

Remember amendment 22 that limited the president’s term (published below).  Look at the year it was ratified–1951.  I find a need to reconsider term limits not just for the elected executives in our federal and state governments, but for the legislative branches.  Our elected public servants seem to ignore the intent of the constitution.

Political science is a career field.  The product is professional analysis.  Political scientists study the culture, the sociology, the numerical data, and the myriad of influences that affect government.  It includes the geography, the leadership, the social standards, and virtually any factor that affects the way a people manage their government–not just United States government.

If our government functioned as a public service rather than politicians who make a career of manipulating decisions along party lines rather than for the good of the COUNTRY, maybe work could actually be accomplished in a timely, positive manner.

Here are a couple of recommendations:

  1.  Term limits for all elected officials:  2 terms for Senators (12 years total); 4-5 terms for Representatives (8-10 years total)  This is for the federal legislative branch, but should be included for the state level.
  2. Salary and benefits need to be re-evaluated:  There is no question that a reasonable salary and benefit package is appropriate for the duration of the legislator’s tenure, but to continue a fully-funded benefit package (esp. health insurance) once the tenure is completed is not appropriate.  (Join the rest of the citizens in managing benefits when forced to change jobs.)

Once a legislator’s tenure is completed, that individual returns to the public sector.  Much like those who are in the military reserves or the National Guard, they could be re-assimilated into their last jobs.  There should be no penalty for stepping up to serve as an elected official.  Additionally, there should be no penalty should the ex-legislator benefit from the experience by writing books, serving as lecturers, or otherwise capitalize on the PUBLIC SERVICE they have provided.

Naturally this promotes a paradigm shift for the country, but in light of the current mood of the general public for the work of the government, it is time.  If we complain, we must find an better way.  These are two of my recommendations.

Amendment 22

(Ratified February 27, 1951)

Presidents Limited to Two Terms


  1. No person shall be elected to the office of the President more than twice, and no person who has held the office of President, or acted as President, for more than two years of a term to which some other person was elected President shall be elected to the office of the President more than once. But this article shall not apply to any person holding the office of President when this article was proposed by the Congress, and shall not prevent any person who may be holding the office of President, or acting as President, during the term within which this article becomes operative from holding the office of President or acting as President during the remainder of such term.
  2. This article shall be inoperative unless it shall have been ratified as an amendment to the Constitution by the legislatures of three- fourths of the several states within seven years from the date of its submission to the states by the Congress.

[Accessed on February 10. 2018 at http://nccs.net/online-resources/us-constitution/amendments-to-the-us-constitution/amendments-11-27/amendment-22-presidents-limited-to-two-terms]

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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

CODE OF ETHICS OR CANONS OF JOURNALISM
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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Political Ads Need Rewriting!

I am so frustrated with political advertising.  The primary elections are over, but I have been appalled at the negative political campaigns.

There is absolutely nothing to gain in mudslinging!

There is nothing to show how capable an individual is to hold public office by blasting the opponent.

There is no positive image of an individual when a candidate lists all the negative party connections or business relationships of the opponent.

There is no way any one candidate can be responsible for the decision of the entire government structure.  It just is not possible, so don’t promise it in the ads.

There is no value in showing your temper or negative behaviors in your ads.

I have to applaud one individual in the Kansas City area–Yoder.  His ads did not do any mudslinging, labeling, name-calling or anything.  All I saw, and I am in Missouri, was the ad that said, “I am Yoder, and I want your vote.  Vote for Yoder.  Be a Yoder voter.”

Right now the campaign in Missouri is turning nasty.  Get over it.  Do not attack the opponent, simply use the campaign and the ads to let voters know who you are be and what you HOPE to do IF you can succeed working with the others in Congress.  Do not try to attach our current economic or national problems to your opponents relationships.  You know darn good and well that any decision is made with compromise by many in the chambers of Congress.

Stand up for your own beliefs and remember you are simply part of the process, you are not in charge of it and cannot make promises : “I will not let taxes go up.”  or  “I will not let government tell us what to do.”  You are asking voters for the opportunity to participate in the process, and it is NOT possible to do anything singularly–it takes a majority or in some cases 2/3 or 3/4 vote to get anything done in Congress and then there are still two other branches of government to complete the process–executive and judicial!

I sure do wish you could begin rewriting government by rewriting your campaign ads.

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