Tag Archives: canons of journalism

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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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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Telling the story: Daniel in the Lion’s Den

given on Sunday, February 5, 2012

Telling the Story:  Daniel & the Lions’ Den

Do you know your lions’ den?

 

Today’s Old Testament story is not as difficult to believe as the others we have reviewed, but figuring out how it fits into the New Testament much less into our 21st century lives is a challenge.  Why should we continue to tell the story?

That is how I began thinking about this story.  Why should we tell it to our family and friends much less others who do not have God as part of their lives?  As I turned to my Bible assortment and references, I began searching for an answer.  There it was:  a question:  “Do you sometimes feel like a misfit?”

Daniel was living in exile.  He was making his life away from his large faith family.  He did have his friends, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, but they were certainly tested.  Why Daniel’s friends were even thrown into a fiery furnace, but they were delivered because they refused to give up their faith in God.

The people followed pagan practices praying to various gods, golden images and even the king.  They could not understand the faith of the Jewish exiles who were not following the practices of the culture in which they were living.  Much less, these men were finding favor in the king’s eyes.  Jealousy developed and the distrustful local leaders began plotting against the Jewish exiles.

Daniel maintained his own Jewish faith and practices.  These very practices are what lead him in his daily life.  He applied the principles in all that he did, he performed his job so successfully that he continued to outshine all the other government figures.  The king, much less three kings, found that his work was far better than anybody else’s.  The kings learned that he could be trusted, that his superior work led to more success, and even his own demeanor was something to be respected.

Undoubtedly Daniel did feel like a misfit.  He was in an unfamiliar culture, working with pagans, living through one king’s rule after another, and yet he maintained his own faith, his own lifestyle, and his own character.  Even though Daniel was the misfit in the local community, he remained faithful to God.

Here we live in a culture where our faith does not isolate us, and yet we may feel like misfits, too.  How, you ask?

Well, consider our daily lives today.  We live in communities that are filled with problems.  We step out of our homes and go to work where all too often we find our personal ethics challenged.  We get involved in our hobbies—sometimes to excess.  We decide to spend an evening out and are easily swayed to drink too much or to gamble too much, why we even eat too much.

Do we sometimes feel like misfits in any of these situations or do we “join the crowd” and begin doing what everybody else is doing?  Sometimes we do it because we do not see the danger in the behaviors.  Sometimes we do it because we do not want to seem different from the others.  Sometimes we do it because we forget to apply God’s rules.

The result is that we may not feel like a misfit for the moment, but as we review the events we may begin to feel uncomfortable with our choices.  Maybe we even feel guilty and ask God for his forgiveness.  These are the reasons we tell Daniel’s story of being thrown into a lions den.

Daniel did not turn away from God.  Despite living in exile among pagans, and despite working a job where others did not practice ethics, Daniel lived an honest, faithful life.  His work was exemplary.  His interpretations of the dreams were accurate even if it was hurtful.  He was trusted.  He was promoted to the top of the other governors because he was that good.  The kings were able to look past his faith and focus on his work and his personality.  He was not a misfit by the kings’ evaluations; he was a model of integrity.

Today we tell the story of Daniel and the lions’ den as a way to make sure our children and even ourselves remember the importance of remaining true to God.  We all are thrown into a lions’ den.  We all become misfits at some time or another.  Daniel’s story is a model to us of how to keep God-centered.

Living in the 21st century when all the media, all the workplaces, and all the society around us screams at us to follow the crowd.  Do whatever it takes to make a buck.  Take care of yourself only.  We may live in a society that was established on individual freedoms, but we are living like we are slaves to the materialistic culture around us.

Daniel may have been tossed into an actual lions’ den, but I propose that we are all living in a lion’s den—even if it is allegorical.  Can we identify our personal lions’ den?  I believe that maintaining my faith protects me from the lions in today’s culture.

My first professional job after college was to work for a newspaper.  Even though it was just a local paper rather than a nationally known publication, I was proud to be a journalist.  The role was interesting and I did enjoy it until the principles taught in journalism school were challenged.

In 1976, our country’s bicentennial year, I entered the work force firmly believing that I could save the world as a journalist.   I jumped at the chance to work on a local newspaper.  I had been taught the canons of journalism at one of the most reputable journalism colleges in the nation—MU.  I was confident that those principles along with my faith would make it possible to change the world.

At least that is what I thought until I faced the cruel truth of business.  Newspapers can survive, as all forms of media can, based on circulation.  The more subscriptions a newspaper has, the more it can charge for advertising.  The more subscriptions, the more likely businesses will buy advertising.  Even journalism, the fourth branch of government—after legislative, executive and judicial—was dependent on numbers!

Sad to say, after almost a year I discovered that my personal ethics as a journalist were challenged.  I was asked/told to sign a document that verified the subscription count for the newspaper.  The numbers on that document were greatly inflated.  I felt trapped.  Either sign the paper or risk being fired.  Signing the paper went against all my training and my personal standards.

The requirement of a job forced me to reconsider my own career.  I chose to leave the job and changed to teaching.  Surely in teaching journalism I could make a difference in the world.  In teaching, I would not be at risk of being a misfit.

The boss was my lion.  A person who did not follow God’s law was devouring me.  He was lying in order to get more money.  He was placing me in a position of jeopardy, too.  My idealistic world was challenged, and I felt like I had been tossed into the lions’ den.

Each of us is a misfit in today’s society.  Each of us must handle a den of lions at some point in our lives.  Daniel is our model.  We need to tell Daniel’s story as a method to reinforce our teachings.  Our children need to learn how to maintain their values even when living among others who do not.  Our young workers need to learn that being honest and trustworthy on the job is more important than playing games with other workers.  Business leaders need to remember that operating a successful business depends on honest dealings and great customer service rather than shortcuts or shoddy workmanship.

The Apologetics Bible includes four lessons from the book of Daniel.  They may seem simple, but think about what a difference these four lessons would make in today’s culture:

  1. Don’t be surprised when you encounter opposition to your beliefs.
  2. Don’t take what belongs to God and give it to anyone or anything else.
  3. Don’t let the world seduce you away from what you know is right.

Daniel was thrown into a lions’ den after Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were thrown into a furnace.  All were misfits, yet they lived by their faith.  God is by our side all the time.  His commandment is our overriding principle under which all decisions should be made.  If we truly live our faith and practice, we are rewarded.  Others can reward us in our earthly lives for jobs well done, but most importantly God rewards us with eternal life.

Jesus, himself, knew Daniel’s story.  He was thrown into the lions’ den after just three years preaching, teaching, and healing.  His lions were even his own people—the Pharisees and the priests.  He was thrown away on a cross, but even then God lifted him up into heaven beside him.  Are you able to keep your faith among all the lions of today?  The reward is priceless.

Dear Loving Father,

We know lions are living all around us,

     help us identify them.

Once we identify the lions,

     help us stay strong in our faith.

Guide us daily to develop our practices

     so we can testify to others

     the rewards of loving one another.

May we be 21st century Daniels

     working to transform this world.

Amen

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