Journalistic Values

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By Casey Bukro

Ethics AdviceLine for Journalists

So, a new study says many Americans don’t support journalistic values.

No ______. (Fill in the word.)

When do many Americans agree with anything journalists do, especially at a time when studies show they only value their own opinions? They think anything that differs from their opinions is wrong, or that reports to the contrary are biased.

Remember that bit about killing the messenger? Lots of messengers are being killed off these days as newspapers across the country go belly up with little help from the reading public. They have their echo chamber social media devices to keep them informed. Billionaires are not interested in rescuing newspapers.

How would this new study help that? Let’s see.

Only one of the five core journalism values named in the survey was supported by a majority of those who responded: The idea that facts help get us closer to the truth. That was called “factualism.”

The other four values were:

Giving voice to the less powerful: Whether people want to amplify the voices of people who aren’t normally heard.

Oversight: How strongly a person feels the need to monitor powerful people and know what public officials are doing.

Transparency: The idea that society works better when information is out in the open and the public knows what is happening.

Social criticism: A measure of how people feel about the importance of casting a spotlight on a community’s problems to solve them versus celebrating what is right and working well to reinforce the good things.

Factualism was most popular in the survey, followed by giving voice to the less powerful, which should not be surprising in our suddenly “woke” society confronted by racial and social inequality.

Some might say factualism and transparency are the same thing.

The others values were not considered important, which tells me that journalists are more caring, quizzical, believe in democracy and concerned as a group than the population in general. Journalism is a stressful, low-paying job that is often considered a calling to public service. The public just doesn’t get that, and probably never will.

The study was released by the Media Insight Project, a collaboration of the American Press Institute and The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research, causing extensive commentary.

So what can journalists and media do? The API study recommends manipulating stories to appeal to multiple groups, and emphasizing moral attributes in each group. Some might call that precision propaganda.

Why not be guided by the one thing everyone seems agreed upon: Just give them the facts.

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The Ethics AdviceLine for Journalists was founded in 2001 by the Chicago Headline Club (Chicago Professional Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists) and Loyola University Chicago Center for Ethics and Social Justice. It partnered with the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University in 2013. It is a free service.

Professional Journalists are invited to contact the Ethics AdviceLine for Journalists for guidance on ethics. Call 866-DILEMMA or ethicsadvicelineforjournalists.org

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