Ethics Shouldn’t Disappear After Graduation

When I first started writing for newspapers (including my high school paper), I would constantly worry about quoting people wrong, having facts wrong or doing something unethical. I put thought into every story. Read each story to make sure I gave both (read: all) sides of an issue equal time. But somewhere along the way, it seems that worrying process disappears.

Not for me specifically, but just in general. Stories I hear from fellow journalists and things I see in various newspapers are kind of disheartening.

The number of stories printed or posted online with one source just to be the first one with the news is sad. What happened to real, in-depth reporting? What looks better to the readers, a brief with one source or an in-depth story with multiple interviews that give a good overview of the entire issue? I know that some stories can’t be much more than a brief. Those aren’t what I’m taking issue with. It’s the bigger stories, the real news gathering, that gets slighted so one newspaper can beat the other.

Editing photos to please individual readers is also absurd. If I heard it once, I heard it a thousand times — Don’t crop photos. Don’t flip photos. Don’t alter photos to change the message they portray. DON’T. DON’T. DON’T. Then when I hear through the grapevine that some editors request items to be photoshopped out of photos because it would embarrass the person in the photograph, I am stuck in a state of disbelief. If you’re embarrassed by something, don’t submit a photo to a media outlet, simple as that. An editorial staff shouldn’t be forced to make unethical decisions for fear of backlash from a community member.

The amount of press releases passed off as legit news items also stuns me. We had a very strict ‘no press release’ rule at my college paper, and I followed that rule like it was a religion. Sure, we used press releases as story ideas quite a bit, but to run a press release just about word-for-word never even crossed my mind. We were the content makers, the ones getting the news out to the campus, not someone who, most of the time, can’t even use AP Style correctly. The immediacy of the internet has pushed public relations to the forefront of the news business, allowing journalists to slack off and editors to essentially give away free advertising when it could use the space for original content.

I have also heard of newspapers that refuse to run corrections. When I was EIC in college, I erred on the side of caution and probably ran more corrections or clarifications than the last few editors in chief. It wasn’t my favorite thing to do, but I wanted to be upfront with our readers, and if we made a mistake, I wanted people to know we are aware and regretful of said mistake. Not running corrections or clarifications, to me, shows blatant disrespect to the readers. If you’re not willing to own up to your mistakes, why should readers trust anything you report in the first place? Granted, if citizens don’t read other publications covering the same issues, they would never know. But even so, that could be just as bad. Probably worse.

As much as I love this industry, there are just some stains on it that don’t seem to want to wash out. But, I will do my best to bring the most accurate, precise and engaging content to the forefront of any publication I write for — and I have no doubt that former (and current) Alestle staff members and former high school journalism friends will do the same.

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