I’m not alone in pointing out that our electorate suffers from a lack of civics literacy. Surveys have shown, for example, that a majority of Americans can’t name the three branches of government and don’t know that they are co-equal.
I suggest, however, that we also need to promote news literacy. The lack of knowledge about professional journalism demonstrates this need. Most people don’t understand the difference between straight news articles and columns. They think a news article is biased when the reporter quotes someone who expresses an opinion they disagree with, ignoring how the same article quoted opinions they do agree with. But an article that quotes only one side of an issue is not a news article at all. It is an opinion piece, and such pieces are clearly identified as opinion in a newspaper that adheres to journalistic principles.
Society would benefit from having the principles of journalism taught in America’s schools. The following is copied and pasted from www.EthicalJournalismNetwork.org.
Five Core Principles of Journalism
1. Truth and Accuracy
Journalists cannot always guarantee ‘truth’, but getting the facts right is the cardinal principle of journalism. We should always strive for accuracy, give all the relevant facts we have and ensure that they have been checked. When we cannot corroborate information we should say so.
Journalists must be independent voices; we should not act, formally or informally, on behalf of special interests whether political, corporate or cultural. We should declare to our editors – or the audience – any of our political affiliations, financial arrangements or other personal information that might constitute a conflict of interest.
3. Fairness and Impartiality
Most stories have at least two sides. While there is no obligation to present every side in every piece, stories should be balanced and add context. Objectivity is not always possible, and may not always be desirable (in the face for example of brutality or inhumanity), but impartial reporting builds trust and confidence.
Journalists should do no harm. What we publish or broadcast may be hurtful, but we should be aware of the impact of our words and images on the lives of others.
A sure sign of professionalism and responsible journalism is the ability to hold ourselves accountable. When we commit errors we must correct them and our expressions of regret must be sincere not cynical. We listen to the concerns of our audience. We may not change what readers write or say but we will always provide remedies when we are unfair.
Does journalism need new guidelines?
EJN supporters do not believe that we need to add new rules to regulate journalists and their work in addition to the responsibilities outlined above, but we do support the creation of a legal and social framework, that encourages journalists to respect and follow the established values of their craft.
In doing so, journalists and traditional media, will put themselves in a position to be provide leadership about what constitutes ethical freedom of expression. What is good for journalism is also good for others who use the Internet or online media for public communications.
This collaborative project aims to be the world’s largest collection of ethical codes of conduct and press organisations.
The AccountableJournalism.org website has been developed as a resource to on global media ethics and regulation systems, and provides advice on ethical reporting and dealing with hate speech.