Ever since I saw the movie “All the President’s Men,” I’ve always believed in Journalistic integrity.
In that movie, two men believed it was important that the public know about the “dirty tricks” Nixon was doing in the government, especially since Nixon had tried to shut down the New York Times for doing the same thing several years earlier. After learning about the issue, I came to regard journalism as the voice of the people, the entity that holds the government accountable, the kind of job where those in it have the ability to find, study, and report on information that the public has a right to know. In my opinion, journalism is the kind of profession where conscience is more involved than anything, and it is the duty of journalists to do what they do for the sake of what is right.
Yet lately, the whole “journalism” spectrum has become so diluted in a mixture of ratings, sensationalism, and popularity that that integrity has lost its voice. This even extends past journalism. Facebookers are obsessed with “likes,” Twitter users with “RTs,” Redditors with “upvotes,” and “karma.” Everyone seems to be swimming in a sea of obscurity where popularity and more “likes” are the only flotation devices keeping you above the rest. This is so extreme that people start crossing moral boundaries in order to get on top of everyone else in a desperate attempt to escape obscurity.
Amidst the tragedy in Connecticut on December 14th, the entire social, political, and news media spheres have blown up with people talking about things from gun control and mental health to Westboro Baptist Church and their antagonistic principles. But the thing that irks me most is everyone’s — especially news outlets — desperate grip on the spotlight.
Before the killer was confirmed, several news outlets had found the facebook account of someone with the same last name. Against any kind of credibility, or duty to report the truth, or even adhering to the second section of the journalism code of ethics, they published this information. Why? My guess is the same reason modern media does anything nowadays: popularity. These news orgs could have waited to make sure the information was correct, but then another station might have not waited! Why wait to verify something if foregoing verification brings more viewers?
I’ll tell you why: because in the journalism code of ethics, it quite clearly states: Do no harm. “Recognize that gathering and reporting information may cause harm or discomfort. Pursuit of the news is not a license for arrogance.” Not a license for arrogance. You don’t get to call yourself a journalist in good conscience with the sacrifice of an innocent man’s dignity.
This is the case across a lot of news spectrums. Some will attack organizations while claiming to be waving the flag of justice. Anderson Cooper did a piece last year on Reddit, where he unabashedly attacked the site because of the subreddit /r/jailbait WITHOUT even mentioning the good the site has done (see Media Blackout — happened after Cooper’s report, but I thought it worth mentioning — Reddit Secret Santa, Reddit Fundraising, and UC Davis Pepper Spray Controversy.)
Furthermore, a popular viral piece of writing some have referred to as “I Am Adam Lanza’s Mother” is written from the perspective of a mother who has a mentally ill child. While the piece brings up a lot of necessary topics people need to start talking about, what horrifies me is another piece I found where said Mother had fantasized about throttling her children, and chided her son for being an “Obama-loving Democrat.” Why this horrifies me is because after reading the second piece, I feared that a mother had actually exploited her son’s issues for media popularity. The two bloggers (Sarah Kendzior and Liza Long) have since issued a joint statement regarding both blogger’s commitment to serious conversation about mental health, and neither seems to be interested in popularity. Even still, the thought of people foregoing integrity and risking harm for the sake of “buzz” or popularity scares me.
What people need to do, whether they’re in the news, on facebook, or any public forum, is recognize the need to do no harm. People in these spheres need to stop focusing on popularity, sensationalism, or ratings to guide their moral decisions. To focus on these things, to sacrifice integrity, would create a world that I don’t think any of us wants to live in, and we should take great steps to make sure we don’t end up living in that kind of world.