Journalistic Integrity and the Compartmentalization of Ethics

An informed citizenry, it is often said, is the bulwark of democracy. The basic principles of journalistic integrity – objectivity in reporting, detachment from personal bias, and disinterested duty to the truth – are essential in facilitating public trust and civil discourse. All individuals and institutions, including churches, share an interest in contributing to these worthy goals.

The advent of social media has changed the way people gather, consume and analyze information. Blogs, Twitter and Facebook, for example, are expanding the channels for public participation in receiving and sharing information. Likewise, these platforms are becoming important tools for media organizations to interact with their audiences. Old, comfortable lines are being blurred. The new values of openness and authenticity are often seen as colliding with the traditional values of editorial oversight and authority. Private expression runs seamlessly into public expression. News organizations across the country are doing their best to adapt to changes as they develop. Nonetheless, these dynamics have not altered the fundamental ethical imperatives of journalism.

This duality between traditional media and new media has created a situation where journalists often report by day and blog by night. For example, a reporter can write an objective news story for an organization’s public website and then later add a personal slant about it on a blog, Facebook or Twitter. Though the perceived distance between personal and public writing might make sense to the reporter, the reader is often left confused. People still expect journalists to be impartial reporters of the facts. If objectivity is absent in one platform, it cannot be present in the other. Trust cannot thrive on contradiction. Nevertheless, these conflicts can be managed with proper rules and guidelines. Openness can co-exist with objectivity, but not with open bias.

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