Jennette Ballas and Aliza Elbert

Dilemma: I was reading a newspaper article last week and recognized that it appeared that the author was trying to persuade the reader in a certain way. I felt that both sides of the story weren’t presented. The article was extremely biased. Is it fair for journalists to write an opinion article in a section that is meant to be factual? – Anonymous

Journalists have the responsibility to present the whole issue from all angles. They interview all parties relevant to the issue, and somewhere in the matrix of all information gathered lies the truth. It is the duty of a journalist to uncover that truth. It is the duty of the reporter to see the issue from 360 degrees, and we rely on them to remain unbiased and forthcoming.

The freedom of the press is guaranteed by the Constitution, so the powers that be cannot prevent the masses from seeing the whole picture. What happens when the very people we rely on for accurate information no longer take their responsibility seriously? What happens when they no longer uphold their ethical duty? What happens when the media lets personal opinion dictate their portrayal of a story? We are deprived of the truth. We are subject to the opinions of a few on issues that affect all of us. Readers should be given the right to judge the information themselves. According to the Society of Professional Journalists, there are four main responsibilities:

1. Seek truthfulness and report it – journalists should be honest and fair in collecting, reporting and interpreting information. There should be a distinction between advocacy and news reporting. This also includes testing the accuracy in the sources and identifying sources whenever viable, because the public is entitled to as much information as possible on sources’ reliability. Misrepresenting quotations, oversimplifying or highlighting incidents out of context is wrong. Analysis and commentary should be clearly labeled and not misrepresent fact or circumstance.

2. Expect news that is proportional and relevant -to provide a complete picture, our successes should be as apparent as our failures. We expect journalists to cover those aspects of society that are functioning well and if the news presented is not pleasant, journalists need to show compassion toward the affected individuals. Journalists should also balance the public right to know with the personal right to privacy.

3. Maintain independence from those they cover – a journalist’s No. 1 obligation is the public’s right to know. It should be clear that commentary, columnists and editorials are serving the citizen debate, rather than the narrow interests of a particular outcome. Their work should show evidence of independent thinking – not always criticism of one side and praise of the other. And whether the sources of information are official or unofficial, don’t hesitate to give voice to the voiceless.

4. Accountability – last but not least, if a journalist presents it, he should stick behind it. A journalist is responsible for what is and what is not being said. If a mistake is made, the reporter should ‘fess up to it. News providers should offer e-mail, phone contacts or public forums for readers and viewers to make story suggestions or raise criticisms.

As students at Cal Poly, we have an obligation to read or listen to the news. Even if you don’t agree with it, give journalists feedback and read the editorials. Doesn’t it bother you to not know what’s going on in the world?

The Bottom Line: Journalism can entertain, amuse and lift our spirits, but responsible news organizations must also uphold the moral and ethical conduct that is expected from the profession.

Aliza Elbert and Jennette Ballas are both marketing concentrations with a knack for changing the world- one ethical dilemma at a time. This article is written on behalf of SIFE (Students in Free Enterprise). For more information go to www.sife.calpoly.edu

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