What a journalist has to say about reporting responsibly
Original post made by Good journalism worth the effort, Another Pleasanton neighborhood, on Mar 23, 2009
"To the extent that we make thoroughness, accuracy, fairness and transparency the pillars of journalism, we can get a long way toward the worthy goal of helping our audiences/collaborators.
Maybe it's time to say a fond farewell to an old canon of journalism: objectivity.
But it will never be time to kiss off the values and principles that undergird the idea."
So writes Dan Gillmor, former columnist at the San Jose Mercury News, Silicon Valley's daily newspaper, and recent author of "We the Media: Grassroots Journalism By the People, For the People". Gillmor is now working on a project to encourage and enable more citizen-based media, through his new venture Grassroots Media Inc.
In a recent article on his new blog, entitled "The End of Objectivity (Version 0.91)", Gillmor identifies what he believes are the four pillars of good journalism in this new age of online, participatory news creation, namely:
In his view, objectivity, which for so long has been the mantra of good journalism, is no longer relevant, insofar as it was only ever really a construct of the near monopolistic newspaper and television industry - anxious never to express single points of view too obviously at the risk of alienating any section of their audience or attracting libel suits.
"The lines separating [the pillars] are not always clear. They are open to wide interpretation, and are therefore loaded with nuance in themselves. But I think they are a useful way to approach quality journalism. They are, moreover, easier to achieve in an online setting."
Gillmor well understands that news articles produced through online, participatory journalism (think blogs) is inherently open to immediate feedback, criticism and ongoing development. In other words, the potential for mass scrutiny and mass intervention by the readership in any one story requires that an online journalist be 'thorough' in their research, 'accurate' with their facts, 'fair' with their treatment of the subject and 'transparent' (honest and open) about their own position.
Here are some extracts of his views on the 'Four Pillars':
- Today, thoroughness means more than asking questions of the people in our Rolodexes (circular or virtual).
- It means, whenever possible, asking our readers for their input.
- Get your facts straight.
- Say what you don't know, not just what you do. (If the reader/listener/viewer does know what you don't, you've just invited him/her to fill you in.)
- Fairness means, among other things, listening to different viewpoints, and incorporating them into the journalism.
- Fairness is also about letting people respond when they believe you are wrong. This is much easier online than in a print publication, much less a broadcast.
- The first rule of having a conversation is to listen -- and I know I learn more from people who think I'm wrong than from those who agree with me.
- Journalists need to disclose certain things, such as financial conflicts of interest. But to what extent? Should journalists of all kinds be expected to make their lives open books? How open?
- Personal biases, even unconscious ones, affect the journalism as well. I need to be aware of the things I take for granted, and to periodically challenge some of them, as I do my work.
- Another way to be transparent is in the way we present a story. We should link to source material as much as possible, bolstering what we tell people with close-to-the-ground facts and data. (Maybe this is part of accuracy or thoroughness, but it seems to fit here, too.)
As Gillmor concludes, "Not easy, but worth the effort."