Looking At Transparency

By Casey Bukro
Two views emerged on transparency in journalism, one strongly in favor and the other not so much.
Transparency now trumps “act independently” as a guiding journalism principle in ethics decision-making because anyone with a computer might be considered a journalist these days, according to Tom Rosenstiel, executive of the American Press Institute.
“Transparency will pull publishers of information toward best practices and also toward the most important kind of independence — intellectual independence,” writes Rosenstiel.
Rosenstiel points to a new book published by the Poynter Institute, “The New Ethics of Journalism: Principles for the 21st Century,” in which this shift in guiding principles is explained and promoted. Rosenstiel contributed to the book, which attempts to update a set of ethics principles.
Not so fast says Stephen Ward, who suggests transparency is “over-hyped and replaces important values.”
Ward is a journalism professor at the University of Oregon School of Journalism and Communication.
Transparency too often “is a magical idea,” Ward insists. “I believe independence should remain a principle of ethical journalism, and not be demoted to a secondary principle, or made a part of some other principle.”
As for the Poynter ethics book, Ward said: “it is better to talk of reforming the idea of independence, not of replacing it.”
“Academic studies indicate that transparency cannot meet our expectations,” Ward insists, although he did not cite any of the studies.
Rosenstiel said the new Poynter ethics book attempts to update a set of ethical guidelines developed by Poynter in the 1990s under the leadership of Bob Steele, now director of the of DePauw University’s Prindle Institute for Ethics.

The Society of Professional Journalists code of ethics also urges journalists to “act independently.”

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About cbukro

Casey Bukro was inducted into the Chicago Journalism Hall of Fame in 2008 for outstanding contributions to Chicago journalism, after a 45 year career with the Chicago Tribune. Bukro retired from the Tribune in 2007 as overnight editor. He had pioneered in environmental reporting and in 1970 became the first full-time environment specialist at a major metropolitan newspaper in the United States and covered major developments on that beat for 30 years. He won the newspaper’s highest editorial award in 1967 for a series on Great Lakes pollution. The Society of Professional Journalists awarded Bukro its highest honor, the Wells Key, in 1983 for writing that organization’s first code of ethics. He is a past president of SPJ’s national ethics committee and a past president of the Chicago Headline Club. Bukro graduated with bachelor and master degrees from Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism. In 1998, he received the Northwestern University Alumni Association’s alumni service award for 17 years of volunteer service to the university. He has lectured in environmental journalism and journalism ethics at Northwestern, the University of Chicago, DePaul University, Loyola University Chicago, Columbia College, Columbia University and others. Before joining the Tribune staff, Bukro worked at the former City News Bureau of Chicago and the Janesville Gazette, Janesville, Wis.

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