How we get news has changed drastically since the invention of the printing press in the 1400s. From pamphlets and newspapers to TV, talk radio, internet, and smartphones–Gutenberg probably couldn’t have predicted this! What’s more, with advances in technology, anyone can be a creator of news content.
While the credibility of legitimate journalists is increasingly called into question, we can’t forget the importance of having a free press. For it is the Free Press that keeps the public informed and holds people accountable.
Dictionary.com says “Free Press” is: A body of book publishers, news media, etc., not controlled or restricted by government censorship in political or ideological matters.
Fact vs. Opinion
In a world full of polarization, the distinctions between opinions and facts are increasingly unclear. Now, more than ever, people question matters that should be objective. This issue is a result of attacks on the free press, an ability to find information that confirms any belief, and constant bombardment of information.
When interacting with news and media, identifying the creator’s purpose will help you think critically about the information presented. The infographic on this page will help you differentiate between different types of news content. While some outlets label these stories clearly, other places don’t. To the seasoned consumer, this may not seem like a huge problem. But not knowing the intended purpose of a piece can leave naive audiences believing a seemingly credible opinion is a statement of fact or vice versa.
*It is important to note that the application of these descriptions isn’t always cut and dry. Some pieces of news can be a mixture of several types of content.
Journalists are IMPORTANT
Journalists are vital to a functioning democracy. It is their job to inform us about issues so that we can make informed decisions. Additionally, journalists act as watchdogs that hold people accountable.
In an article about the importance of a Free Press, Youngzine (a website dedicated to presenting the news to kids in an engaging way), says: “The press has changed a lot with newspapers being replaced by online media. This has allowed online trolls to spread false information and to distort facts as we saw in the 2016 U.S election…”
The spread of false information and attacks on news agencies aren’t new, but the frequency and intensity are. Lots of good things come from advances in technology, but they also open the floodgates for bad actors.
There are multiple codes journalists are taught to follow. According to Ethical Journalism Network, they all revolve around these same basic themes. This list is a good starting point when trying to determine the overall credibility of a story or a person.
- Truth and Accuracy
- Journalists cannot always guarantee “truth,” but they need to get the facts straight.
- Strive for accuracy by providing all relevant facts and ensuring they have been checked.
- If information cannot be corroborated, the journalist should say so.
- Journalists should be independent voices.
- They should not act, formally or informally, on behalf of special interests, such as governments or corporations.
- Journalists should be transparent (to editor or audience) about any political affiliations, financial arrangements, or other personal information that might be a conflict of interest.
- Fairness and Impartiality
- While it is not necessary to present every side in a piece, stories should be balanced and add context.
- Objectivity is not always possible, but impartial reporting builds trust and confidence.
- Journalists should do no harm.
- What is published or broadcast can be hurtful, and journalists should be aware of the impact on the lives of others.
- A sure sign of professional and responsible journalism is the ability to be accountable.
- Errors must be corrected, and expressions of regret must be sincere, not cynical.
- Listen to concerns of the audience and provide remedies in instances of unfairness.
The Society of Professional Journalists has an excellent PDF that explores these codes further.
Journalists get a lot of flack these days. For all the bad actors, there are many more who do their job and do it well. In an era where journalists are berated, attacked, jailed, and even murdered, it is more important than ever to find the good ones and show your support. Let them know you appreciate their dedication to fair, accurate, and truthful journalism.
(For more information on the high-stakes challenges that journalists face, check out the Committee to Protect Journalists.)
If you would like to learn more about journalism, check out some of these great organizations:
The Journalism Education Association is a national non-profit organization of scholastic journalism teachers and school media advisers. The JEA supports free and responsible scholastic journalism by providing resources and educational opportunities, by promoting professionalism, by encouraging and rewarding student excellence and teacher achievement, and by fostering an atmosphere which encompasses diversity yet builds unity.
First Draft is a global non-profit that supports journalists, academics and technologists working to address challenges relating to trust and truth in the digital age.
Pew Research Center is a nonpartisan fact tank that informs the public about the issues, attitudes and trends shaping the world. We conduct public opinion polling, demographic research, content analysis and other data-driven social science research. We do not take policy positions.
Through the Thinkalong™ interactive multimedia format, students can delve into topics that directly affect their lives and communities. Thinkalong™ can be used in traditional or blended classrooms supporting individual, small group, and whole-class learning.
Journalism in our everyday lives…
Share your story and let us know what journalism means to you! Where have you run into problems? What are some of your favorite sources? We look forward to reading about your experiences and feelings about journalism and will be picking our favorites to feature here!