The first thing you are taught as a journalist is that ethics matter. Not only do they matter, but they always come first. It separates the news from the tabloids. It is the reason people trust us, believe in us and act on what we say.
Unfortunately, according to Ron Smith, author of “Ethics in Journalism,” “The reputation of journalists is continually being questioned. Nearly every public opinion poll shows that people have lost respect for journalists and lost faith in the news media.”
This statement is not something that future journalists want to hear, so why is it, according to Smith, the status quo?
Have we, as journalists, lost the sense of ethics that those in our place generations before cherished so much? Are ethics so far out the door that even those not in the public eye will eventually see their lives become public information? Everyone’s lives have become the world’s business and it has become a luxury to be “un-Google-able”
With the race to be the first to break the news, journalists-at-times have started to lower their standards for sources, information or accuracy. After all, it isn’t news if it isn’t new, and if it isn’t news, then you don’t make money, right? But at what point did we start to put money over ethics?
Early last week, an anonymous hacker broke into both former President George Bush’s and President George W. Bush’s email accounts and sent personal addresses, emails, numbers, pictures and information to The Smoking Gun, a news website that posts legal documents, arrest records and police mug shots on a daily basis. Most of their information is obtained from the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), and is published on their site to bring light to situations that might miss the mainstream media.
After receiving the information, the website made the decision to publish some of the photos and emails that came from the hacker. One must ask: was that necessary, and was it even ethical for The Smoking Gun? Was it important for the people in our country to know that President George W. Bush has picked up painting as a new hobby?
The answer to all of those is no.
When thinking of leaks and hacked information, some people might question the publication of the Pentagon Papers by newspapers. These papers discussed the political and military involvement in Vietnam between the 1940s and 1960s. The papers showed that the U.S. had expanded its war with bombings and coastal raids on purpose, none of which was previously reported by the media. The papers also showed that the administrations that were in office misled the people.
However, there is a difference between publishing the Pentagon Papers and the emails from George W. Bush. The Pentagon Papers affected the good of the American people and our government, while the Bush emails were barely even newsworthy for the smallest news networks.
Paintings by Bush do not affect our foreign policy, our budget or our nation.
Sure, the fact that two presidents had their emails hacked is important news. What isn’t news are the paintings, the emails and the information the website published. It isn’t just The Smoking Gun at fault here–other papers linked back to the artwork and emails that were originally put online, some even published them themselves. Paintings, pictures and quotes weren’t necessary to inform the audience of what happened. They are necessary for attention, though. It gave the news industry clicks to their pages and it boosted the number of readers that read the article, therefore boosting the revenue to their company.
So we come back to the main point here: morals versus money.
Have journalists lost the desire to break news for the moral purpose of informing the people? Are they just obsessed with their byline and the money?
At one point in time, journalism was about letting the people know what was happening. Journalists worked to make sure they informed the public about events happening all over the world. They saw it as their duty, their obligation and their job.
As an aspiring journalist, I believe that a large number of journalists still fall into this category. There are people out there who still report news for this reason, but it’s getting tougher and tougher as more tabloids become news headlines.
The methods of journalism are constantly evolving, but the basic rules and ethics have always, and must always, remain the same.
Live tweeting has become the new way of breaking news, so the next day the headlines on The New York Times are no longer new news, therefore less people are likely to pick it up.
It is getting harder for journalists to break news, papers to publish and people to trust the media.
I know it may be hard for the public to believe, but it is pretty obvious that people who sign on to be a journalist don’t do it for the money–they do it because they love to write, they love deadlines or they want to inform the people of what they don’t already know.
I know it might be hard, but don’t lose faith in us just yet.