- The Washington Times - Monday, February 21, 2000

There is no such thing as the Ten Commandments of Media. Yet.
Print and broadcast news organizations are working on it, however, wrestling with ethics and credibility in a 24-hour marketplace that calls their craft either "news product" or "brand."
Watchdog groups pester them over content and accuracy; there are forums, dialogues, guidelines. The Society of Professional Journalists maintains a 37-part Code of Ethics, based on tenets established in 1926.
It's still a work in progress.
Ethics is a matter of accuracy and context, of course, along with methods of news gathering, packaging, timing, sources, political bias, compassion, polling, sensationalism, personal conduct, community relations and security matters among other things.
Scripps Howard offered the latest round of soul searching at a recent National Press Club forum, when a dozen media heavies broached the topic, "Media Ethics: Doing It Right," under the civilized auspices of C-SPAN's Brian Lamb.
The 90-minute discussion yielded diverse theories.
"People distrust big media and trust little media," said Steve Yelvington of Cox Interactive Media.
"We need more ethics and less glamour," noted Drew Barry of WMAR-TV in Baltimore.
"Everyone talks of a 24-hour media," sighed Louis Boccardi, president of Associated Press. "That's what the AP has been into for 150 years."
"The media should aspire to be trusted, not loved," said Rem Reider of the American Journalism Review.
Does the public hate the press?
In times of high-intensity coverage the Monica Lewinsky matter, for example quickie polls showed folks got downright annoyed with caterwauling, self-important journalists and saturation coverage.
Yet the National Credibility Index, a five-year study from the Public Relations Society of America, found the public tolerates the media just fine.
Reporters and news anchors are "trusted" more than governors, lawmakers, mayors, the president and professional athletes. They are outranked by religious and military figures, teachers and "ordinary citizens."
There is still confusion.
Last year, the Pew Research Center interviewed more than 500 media members and found most thought reporting had gotten sloppy, sensational, rife with hidden agendas and tainted by the financial pressures of ratings and readership.
At almost the same time, however, the Newspaper Association of America advised members to use fierce marketing to attract readers despite the "high calling" of journalism.
Others lowered the boom.
Gannett Co., the nation's largest newspaper company, issued guidelines to its 73 papers governing "news-gathering conduct" after its own Cincinnati Enquirer agreed to pay Chiquita Brands International Inc. more than $10 million and apologize in print when accused of basing an investigative report on stolen voice mail. Ethics issues have also caused problems for the Boston Globe, CNN and the New Republic.
The guidelines included the most old-fashioned tenets of journalistic integrity: Reporters should not misrepresent themselves and their intentions and editors need healthy skepticism.
Horrific live TV coverage of the Columbine High School massacre in Littleton, Colo., last year inspired the Radio and Television News Directors Association to offer a 15-point guide for news organizations faced with hostage or terrorist situations.
The Media Studies Center followed suit with a "fairness handbook" for live coverage and the use of hidden cameras.
Media evolution continues as the players try to balance out the financial, creative and ethical needs. Still, integrity counts, agreed the folks at the recent Scripps Howard forum.
"As the media goes through radical changes, people must stay true to their journalistic integrity," said Bruce Sanford, a lawyer who specializes in the First Amendment.

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide