[March 19, 2019] Modern journalism is at a crossroads. Will those in the profession follow the difficult path that made them so essential to freedom or will they chose the easier path by surrendering to ideological or dogmatic by-products? Leadership in journalism is failing and the repercussions are far-reaching.
“Fake news” is a derogatory term used to describe what journalism produces. When ethical standards are ignored for profit or for advancing a cause, any profession will suffer. That is truer today in journalism than since the yellow journalism era of the late 19th century.
For those journalists who are dedicated, open, and honest, there is some good news. First, ethical journalism is acknowledged to be based on five principles. They provide a solid foundation from which to work; truth and accuracy, independence, fairness and impartiality, humanity, and accountability.1.2 Second, many in the profession openly admit these principles being ignored and have stood up and are helping bring other journalists back into the fold.3
Sadly, the credibility of Western journalists has fallen and continues to fall; most precipitously in the last decade. Criticism of the profession is that journalists are politically active and allow those biases to influence their work. This is often so egregious that only the ignorant cannot see it. Journalists now just make up “facts” out of thin air to support their viewpoint.
Leaders in journalism are quick to point out that many pressures are difficult to overcome. Profits have fallen, competition from deceitful media outlets and violence against journalists is increasing. Layoffs and good people are leaving; a consequence that is demoralizing.
The problem, in my opinion, is that there is a lack of courage to admit journalism has a serious problem. I was part of the U.S. military in the 1970s when the profession suffered from consequences of the Vietnam War. It took decades to recover. If only we had seen our principles being thrown aside. We wanted to achieve the defeat of a communist government when our political leaders didn’t want victory. No one likes to look closely at our defects, but we did so. The U.S. military emerged stronger than ever.
Journalism is lacking that courage to find what is wrong with the profession and begin to fix it. Denial is usually an early symptom that a profession is going down the wrong path. Leaders in journalism have an opportunity today. Will they take it and begin to rid themselves of a sickness that is destroying the body of journalism as a profession?
- Five Core Principles of Journalism – https://ethicaljournalismnetwork.org/who-we-are/5-principles-of-journalism
- The Society of Professional Journalism also has a ‘code of ethics’ – https://www.spj.org/ethicscode.asp