Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Journalism? What the heck is journalism?

What, you may ask, is the difference between journalism and other stuff that is printed, broadcast or otherwise disseminated via cable, radio and the Internet?
OK, odds are you haven’t asked that question. Nonetheless, I humbly submit, it’s a question worth pondering.

Modern journalism can actually be defined, and we at the Post Register have attempted to refine that definition in a very public way. On our web site, we even have a highfalutin code of ethics that we actually attempt to practice.
Here’s a snippet:
“We believe that public enlightenment is the forerunner of justice and a contributor to democracy. The duty of the journalist is to further those ends by seeking truth and providing a fair and comprehensive account of events and issues.”
This language is adapted from the Society of Professional Journalists and was honed by former Post Register Executive Editor Dean Miller. It goes on:
“We strive to serve the public with thoroughness and honesty. Professional integrity is the cornerstone of a journalist's credibility. Working at the Post Register means sharing a dedication to ethical behavior and striving to follow this code and the connected standards of practice.”
I know. You’re thinking, “Journalists have a professional society?” We do. I confess that I’m not a current member. Nonetheless, we have shamelessly plagiarized and edited the society’s code of ethics to suit our purposes.
This code goes farther, listing four specific objectives. They are:

• Seek the truth and report it.
• Minimize harm.
• Act independently.
• Be accountable.

If you’d like the details of this code of ethics, go to this link on our web site.

OK, so these are all high-minded principles, but what do they mean? Most important, they provide a pole star -- a target. Being human, sometimes we fall short of these lofty goals. But when you’re deciding which information sources out there to trust, it’s helpful to know what standards guide the provider has set for itself.

Truthfully, if you were to quiz the journalists in our newsroom they probably couldn’t quote these principles to you. They wouldn’t need to, because they are part of a good newsroom’s culture, and the Post Register has a good newsroom. I write this not out of pride, but as a straightforward statement of fact.

In a way, journalism can best defined by what it’s not. It’s not a shouting match. It’s not just holding out a microphone. It’s not even just who, what, when, where, why and how. It’s the work of committed people who actually believe that what they do is important.

Here’s my offer: Hold us accountable to the principles of journalism and demand the same of other information sources.

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