Journalism's do's, don'ts and dilemmas

Journalismís doís
Accuracy: Make sure the facts are right and the right facts are there. Tell who, what, when, where, how and why. Verify, verify, verify.

Fairness: Make sure to present all sides, arguments and opinions. Make sure readers and viewers know whatís being presented as opinion and whatís being presented as fact.

Context: Tell the whole story. Frame it in the proper background. Give readers and viewers a sense of why the story is important at this time, in this place. This includes deciding what is newsworthy, offering news in the public interest as well as news that interests the public.

Truth: Keep reporting, one piece at a time. Let the facts fall where they may, and youíll give readers and viewers a chance to begin to find the truth. Understand that no one person has a monopoly on truth, that we can only search for data, events, issues and ideas to help readers and viewers form their own opinions.

Journalismís don'ts
Plagiarism: Never use the words and ideas of another without giving credit to the source.

Sloppy reporting: Donít fail to check the facts. Donít forget to check all sides of the story. Donít forget to verify, verify, verify. Donít overlook relevant details ó the who, what, when, where, how and why.

Bias: Try to avoid it. Donít allow your news reports to be influenced by your own opinions. Even if you think youíre right, let others make their case.

Conflicts of interest: Donít report a story if you are not completely independent of that story.

Poor news judgment: Donít offer news to readers and viewers that is irrelevant to their lives and their interests. Donít blow things out of proportion to attract higher ratings and readership.

Deception: Never, never invent characters, quotations or any part of a story. The moment you make things up, or deliberately lie, you no longer are a journalist.

Journalismís dilemmas
Anonymous† sources: When you rely on people who supply or ďleakĒ information to you on the condition that you will not mention their names or identities as the sources of information in your story.

If you use anonymous sources, make sure to consider whether the people youíre talking with have an ďax to grind.Ē Ask yourself: Are they bitter about something? Out to hurt another party? Remember: It is easy to make false charges under a cloak of anonymity. If you can get your sources to go on the record ó agree to be identified ó youíll give readers and viewers a way to judge for themselves the reliability of information presented.

Misrepresentation: When you pretend to be someone other than a journalist, or use deceptive tactics, to get a story.

Some news people think that using certain deceptive tactics (e.g., hidden cameras) is acceptable if that is the only way to get an important story. Whenever deceptive tactics are used, many news organizations take pains to ensure theyíve exhausted all other possible means of getting the story. Journalists should check with higher-ups in their organizations before they resort to these methods and should be open about their techniques when the stories are reported.

Lack of regard for privacy: When you reveal facts of a personal nature about someone and many readers and viewers think you have invaded that personís privacy.

Most people believe they can control the information revealed about them. Other peopleó elected officials, movie stars, famous athletes ó give up some of their privacy when they enter public life. In general, if information about a person is of interest to the public, it is thought to be newsworthy and ďfair gameĒ for reporters. However, news media sometimes face negative reactions from readers and viewers when they appear reckless in their pursuit of what is thought to be personal information about public people.

Sensationalism: When you offer news coverage designed to titillate, to entertain more than to inform.

In 1995, the heavily covered criminal trial of O.J. Simpson was called sensational journalism; many analysts agreed that coverage was excessive and overblown. Yet people clamored for more and more information about the double murders of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman and about the famous football star accused of the crimes. And in 1998, revelations about President Clintonís personal life both turned readers off and encouraged them to seek all the details.

Reprinted, with permission, from ďMedia Ethics: Where Do You Draw the Line?Ē by Rosalind G. Stark (Arlington, Va.: The Freedom Forum Newseum Inc.), 1999, pp.12-13.