The Journey Towards Truth

In The Elements of Journalism, Bill Kovach & Tom Rosenstiel discuss the way by which journalists can use a scientific-like method to assure that accurate facts are presented. Let’s take a deeper look. 

Journalism is the process and product of gathering, assessing, creating, and presenting news & information. In essence, the work of journalists is the is the way in which they “find and present facts” and the “truth about the facts.”

The History of Objectivity

In the 1920’s, the term “objectivity” implied that journalists were often full of bias information. Objectivity called for journalists to create a method to ensure that their personal and cultural biases were not undermining the accuracy of their information. At the beginning of the twentieth century, journalists were developing a greater recognition for human subjectivity—journalists were looking for ways to present “clear and free of irrational, unexamined” information. (73) Walter Lippman, an associate editor for the New York World, proposed an idea that journalists should act more as scientists. Lippman believed that “the field should make its cornerstone the study of evidence and verification.” (73) Although this “scientific method” system for testing the reliability of journalistic interpretation had potential, it was never actually achieved. Today, there is no law or agreed-upon method to verify information presented. So what should journalists do?

Receivers vs. Gatherers

Instead of journalists actually creating and discovering their own stories, more time is spent looking for information to add to existing news. Journalists are turning into receivers instead of gatherers. Once a story is published, the information presented is assumed true, when it fact that may not be the case. Newspapers and other companies often take ideas from others and slightly change the words although the original story itself may be false. The methods that these journalists have developed to verify information are being destroyed by the modern press and the internet.

What should be done?

Authors Bill Kovach & Tom Rosenstiel believe that we need to go back to Lippman’s “scientific method” idea and the original idea of objectivity. We need to decide what to investigate by objective means. We need to refine the terms “fairness” and “balance” as techniques and devices which can be used to help guide journalists to verify their information.

 

A Journalist’s Core Set of Concepts

Although Kovach & Rosenstiel’s core set of concepts to solve this problem of verification may not be the answer, they are at least a start. (78)

  1. Never add anything that was not there: If it didn’t happen, don’t add it.
  2. Never deceive the audience: Never mislead or fool the audience.
  3. Be transparent as possible about your methods and motives: Be open and honest with the audience, reveal as much about the sources and methods used as you can.
  4. Rely on your own original reporting: When in doubt, leave it out. Follow the basic standards of sourcing and get your information from multiple sources.
  5. Exercise humility: Be skeptical of what you hear & see from others and your own ability to know what it really means.

I think that if journalists attempt to exercise Kovach & Rosenstiel’s five steps, the information that is published throughout our world will be more accurate. We all need to take part in ensuring that we are presenting the truth. If you have a question, ask it and if you have a problem, make sure to say it.

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