Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Personal Code of Conduct

At the beginning of the semester I was asked to define journalism and what it means to be a journalist. At first this question reminded me of something Socrates might ask a broadcast journalism student. He was known to pose simple, yet complex questions to people regarding the heart of what they study. For instance, he would ask lawyers, "What is ethics?" or artists, "What is beauty?" I assume he was trying to question their real knowledge in their chosen field. He would ask questions, and in turn hope that would create more questions. There it is - the Socratic Method. So now, as a budding broadcast student, it is my turn. I learn something new about my major each day, so I don't claim to be an expert, or anything close to it. However, over the course of the semester we have studied many facets of journalism, some that I have not thought of before. My thoughts have evolved, to say the least. So, here is my best attempt.
First and foremost, I feel that journalism is ever changing, especially in today's world with new technology and mass media. Journalism is the skill of conveying news and information through different mediums, including television, newspapers, magazines, radio, and the Internet. It is the process of gathering information, performing intense research, sometimes on a time crunch, and presenting it to the public in a way that will be informative and beneficial to them. I aspire to be a television news reporter. I want to work with people. I want to meet individuals from various backgrounds, interview them, learn about them, and tell their story. I feel strongly that I have been directed to this major and industry to meet people and interact with them. I’m aware of the long road ahead. I’m aware of the sleepless nights, long hours, and meager paychecks. I know journalists are overworked and underpaid. I know reporting is not the ideal “mom job.” And yet, I’m still here. Why, you ask? Let me tell you.
It’s been said that a journalist should be a “jack of all trades and master of none”. Journalists should have an insatiable curiosity about what is going on in the world. Therefore, they should know a little about a variety of topics. In his book, The Mind of A Journalist, Jim Willis explained, “A nationwide survey of reporters revealed the following areas related to curiosity as prime positives of the profession for these responders: learning new things every day, meeting newsmakers, covering a variety of stories, and having a status as an insider,” (3). My interests cover all of these bases. As a reporter for the BYU Daily News, I enjoyed covering a variety of stories, learning the details, and knowing them before most of the public. Thus, I feel journalism is a great fit for my personality.
The nature of the industry is extremely deadline oriented. In the workforce most journalists are assigned a story in the morning or afternoon and expected to have their piece ready for multiple newscasts that evening. Consequently, you are almost always on a time crunch. Journalists have to make critical decisions quickly. In the moment, your personal ethics may be questioned. It’s beneficial to have your boundaries drawn and mind made up for these instances. A personal code of conduct should be adapted and implemented by every journalist as a guideline to live by on and off the clock. Specific topics in my personal code of conduct refer to truth, verification, public vigilance, and the watchdog role of journalists.
Truth is the primary mission and first obligation in journalism. Truth is the essence of news. As reporters, we must seek the truth and present it to the public with utmost clarity. Viewers turn to the news to learn and think about the world beyond themselves. Therefore, it must be accurate and reliable. Two tests of truth are getting the facts straight and making sense of the facts. Journalistic truth is seeking the correct facts, presenting them in the most unbiased manner possible, and showing both sides to the story. I know that every journalist has a unique background with individual experiences that shape the lens in which they view the world. It’s absolutely impossible to fully check these biases at the door. However, I will make a conscious effort to understand my biases and how they might affect my presentation of the story. Then, I can take proper precautions and ensure the balance of both sides.
The book, The Elements of Journalism, by Bill Kovach and Tom Rosenstiel states, “The essence of journalism is a discipline of verification” (79). This makes complete sense. Verification is achieved through obtaining multiple interviews, sources from both sides, and disclosing as much information as possible. When breaking news occurs it’s tempting to publish it immediately so your station or newspaper can “break the story”, or cover it first. Also, it may be tempting just to publish another story because it’s already out there. But, if the material is published and has not been verified, it can be detrimental to the news provider. Their credibility and accuracy can easily be lost. As a journalist, I will get the facts, be fair with the facts, and then reveal to the audience where I got the facts. In essence, I will practice journalism of verification and thus will obtain credibility.
Furthermore, public vigilance is also essential to journalism. Journalists’ first loyalty is to the citizens. We report to and for the public. We work to give a voice to the voiceless. We become familiar with our market, our demographics, and what our audience cares about. Only then will we be able to find and report on stories that are of interest to them. However, we must not only inform them, but also do it in an engaging and interesting manner. We must first grab their attention. Journalists engage viewers by learning who they are. Also, a journalist must make their stories relevant. If the viewer feels relatable to the story their connection will bring them back for more. How do we make our audience interested? We must be great storytellers. We must find people who are tied to the story and tell the story through their eyes. We must conduct stories on issues and trends that are happening currently. Tell the story in a unique manner and people will continue to watch. For example, I did a story last year on the Hunger Banquet at BYU. I knew my audience and decided to start and end my story with sound bites from a student who had witnessed hunger first hand on a trip to Africa. I feel this technique was successful in grabbing the attention of the audience. I will always try and present the stories I cover in the most engaging and relatable manner possible.
Additionally, journalists also fill the role of watchdog on the government. Journalism is viewed as the fourth branch or entity of the government in addition to the legislative, executive, and judicial branches. Journalists have the responsibility to find the truth for their audience. This entails asking the tough questions and conducting investigations. We must question those that make influential decisions that will affect society. Personally, I feel that it’s essential to have an independent audit for all parties. A balancing check can only help. I would deal with this concept much more if I decided to do political reporting, which I have thought about. What a powerful role political journalists have. If my career takes me this route I will ask the tough questions. I will cover the issues that are most important to my audience.
I define excellence in journalism as finding interesting story ideas that affect the public, conducting extensive research, and verifying the facts by interviewing multiple people from both sides. And finally, going live and telling your viewer to listen up - this is what I've been working on all day - and here's why it's important to you. I plan to live these principles stated above as a broadcast journalism student at BYU and continue implementing them in the workforce as well. Having this code in writing will hold me accountable. When the time comes it will be easier to make the right decision. I will choose truth over ratings, credibility over money. As of now, this is what I want to do with my life. Hopefully you find that satisfactory, Socrates.
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