Return to Utopia: The resurgence of media ethics

The concept of ethics should not (but sometimes seems to) disappear after being involved in the journalism industry for a number of years. This is one of the most depressing things about the industry I’ve dedicated my life to.

Maybe this is just a naive, recent college grad wishing for the pureness and innocence of her college newsroom, but I don’t care. Everyone bashes the media for its bias, its bad coverage, its favoritism and the list goes on. It seems like a never-ending cycle. But I want to break that cycle, smash it to pieces and run over with a semi-truck for good measure.

Journalists fresh out of college, usually with experience gained from their college paper, are (in my biased opinion) the most pure, most energetic, most ethical of the bunch. They saw how things should be. They know right from wrong, ethically and morally speaking. They are always conscious of it. When something doesn’t seem quite right, they speak up.

Now, this is not to say that veteran reporters have no ethics. I know 99.9 percent of them do. But, as is always the case, it’s that .1 percent that tarnishes the hard work everyone else has accomplished.

I fear that young journalists see the unethical decisions being made, watch as superiors disregard the most basic journalist principles and they run away. They escape to safer place — perhaps public relations or even a non-media related field entirely. This has to stop.

To break the cycle, people have face the problems they see, confront them and correct them — not run away because it’s too much to handle. I want to return to a Utopian newsroom, universally speaking. I’m not running. I hope you’re not either.

The “One Man Band” era of journalism

Know inverted pyramid. Know how to conduct an interview. Know how to take photos. Know how to shoot video. Know how to update the website. Know about search engine optimization. Know this. Know that. Know everything.

That’s what journalism has become. We have to be able to do everything. And there’s nobody to teach us but ourselves.

I had a little bit of experience with shooting and editing video (on a Flipcam), taking photos and managing social media accounts, but not near as much as I should have had to prepare me for what people expect. The recent college grads are expected to know all of the things I mentioned earlier and, in some cases, teach those who hire them to do those things.

It’s a big task. And honestly, it’s not one that I was prepared for, despite knowing that in today’s world everybody has to do everything. I can design. I can write. I can copy edit. I can work with social media. But shooting video? I’m not that great. At all. I shot a few videos for my college paper, but nothing earth shattering. Taking photos? Same thing.

So to make up for my lack of attention to these areas of journalism, my mission is teach myself. Granted, I should have done this a couple years ago, but I was more concerned with improving my writing.

But anyway, even if what I work on isn’t for publication, if it’s just for my own experience, it’s better than nothing. It at least shows I’m making an effort and that I want to improve in every facet of journalism, not just my specialty.

Press releases are NOT journalism

Press releases should GENERATE story IDEAS. They should not be stories themselves. Or even part of a story.

That’s why it surprised me that a poll on a recent Poynter. story about a Kansas City Star reporter being fired for using press releases in his columns had more than 50 percent of (presumably) journalists saying it’s okay to use press releases as long as they’re attributed (as of July 5).

Um… WHAT?

Running press releases is my least favorite part about journalism. Why? Because it’s NOT. JOURNALISM. Running press releases lets someone else — who was not properly trained in the journalism industry — fill precious space that, in most cases, could be filled with original, better work from staff reporters, freelancers, editors, etc.

Though readers don’t see it, it makes the paper look lazy (which, by the way, was my vote on the Poynter. poll). Printing press releases as if they are original news deceives (perhaps, unintentionally) the reader into believing they are getting quality, original news when, in fact, a dozen other media outlets in the area could be running the same story. Word for word.

Plus, what good does it do for a newspaper or website to have large portions of its space/webpage devoted to information that can be found anywhere?

I come from a strict no-press release background. I just wish the rest of the real world held to that policy as much as my college paper and its adviser did.

Broadcast v. Print: We’re really not that different

Broadcast journalists are out for the ratings. Broadcast journalists don’t have ethics. Print journalists write too long. Jab. Jab. Insult. Dig. Jab. Jab. Jab.

Okay, now that that’s out of the way, I’ll make my point.

For as long as I can remember, there has always been somewhat of a divide between print and broadcast journalists. They have different personalities, different ideas of how to tell a story, and, more importantly, different stereotypes and preconceived notions about how the other medium acts, both as a person and a journalist. And I’m sick of it.

Yes, I used to be one of those print people who not necessarily looked down on broadcast journalists, but didn’t hold them up to the stature they deserve. Why did I do that? I don’t know. It was just the nature of the people around me, I guess. Though I know we are all working our butts off to tell stories, break news and be as accurate and thorough as possible, I had this stupid idea in my head that print was better than broadcast, mostly because it’s what I prefer. It’s the medium I do well in. Put me in front of a camera, and I’ll stutter, stumble and clam up.

But I wasn’t jolted out of my blinded idiocy until the SPJ Reporters Institute  I attended last month. A lot of the journalists accepted to SPJRI were broadcast journalists, which made me a little hesitant. I thought,They won’t have the same problems I do at a newspaper. I won’t understand their problems. I won’t be able to use the information from the broadcast-related sessions. They’ll be perky, happy people and that won’t mix well with my typically pessimistic attitude.

I was wrong. We ALL deal with the same problems. We ALL have issues getting in touch with sources. We ALL have internal newsroom conflicts. The only difference is how we report. Plus, the broadcast people were pretty cool (along with everyone else).

The ‘holier than thou’ attitude on both sides of the journalistic coin just isn’t necessary. We’re all trying to work the same beats, talk to the same people and make a living doing what we love. Why waste time b*tching about the competition when you can build professional, working relationships with them? Especially with the direction the industry has turned toward.

Everybody has to be able to do everything. It’s hypocritical for a broadcast journalist to look down on a print reporter then go write a short article to accompany a video package. Just like it’s hypocritical for a print journalist to mock a broadcast journalist, then turn around and shoot video as a web supplement.

We’re all doing the same thing. Some of us just have more talent in different areas. So instead of continuing this broadcast v. print debacle, how about we all just let it go and start working together? It’s going to happen sooner or later anyway.

Journalism conferences reignite passion, dedication

Earlier this month, I packed my bags and got a break from the Midwest for a little journalistic re-charge. Yup, I went to a journalism conference. In Florida.

I was one of about 30-something young journalists accepted to this year’s Society of Professional Journalists Reporters Institute in St. Petersburg, Fla. Needless to say, I was pretty stoked when I found out I got accepted. But even more so when I set foot at the Poynter Institute, where most of our sessions were held.

The conference was amazing. I met a lot of great, talented and extremely passionate journalists from across the country. But I think most importantly, it was a refreshing break from the day-to-day routine that I’ve grown used to at my newspaper. Having been there almost six months, I think it’s safe to say I have somewhat of a system in place that, as everyone knows, can get predictable at times — even in the ever-changing world of journalism.

So it was nice to just step back, take a break and relax with other journalists. Plus, being half-way across the country didn’t make things any worse, obviously.

I’ve been attending journalism conferences at least once a year since I was a junior in high school. And every time I return from a trip, my head is exploding with new ideas and a new excitement that I just didn’t have before. I guess I always knew how important conferences are to for keeping your passion going, but I never really put it together until now.

Not to say that I was getting complacent before I left for SPJRI — because I wasn’t — but I think I fell into a little bit of a journalistic rut. Most of my friends are still back at school or scattered throughout the country, so I haven’t really had many people to talk to about journalism or my writing or anything along those lines. But then I got to welcome reception the first night of the conference, and all of a sudden there was a whole new world of people to talk to.

They had the same problems, the same successes, the same everything. Regardless of what platform they worked for.

And, even though I was technically at the conference for work, it was a break. A break from deadlines. From meetings. From interviews. From late nights and early mornings. A break that I desperately needed.

Now, having been back at the office for about a week (though this will be dated by the time this blog is actually posted), I’m glad to say that re-ignited passion is still there. I’m sure it will die out in a few months, just like it always does. But that doesn’t mean the passion is gone. It just means that I need another shot in the arm, so to speak, of immersing myself in the culture of journalism. And if that culture (aka conference) just happens to occur halfway across the country again, then so be it.

Everybody needs to re-boot now and then. Why not do it with a bunch of people who can relate to the same things you’re dealing with? It’ll be like a big, happy, journalism intervention. And who doesn’t need something like that every once in a while?