Does truth in reporting still matter?

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Photo courtesy of Brian Turner on Flickr

By: Lauren Kassien

The Columbia Journalism Review recently published an article about a “culture war” that is dividing journalists. On one side, we have the tried-and-true reporters, the ones who seek truth and report hard, unbiased facts. On the other, we have an emerging group of digital reporters. This is the army of Gen-Yers who say they care more about breaking the news first than taking the time to cover it accurately.

According to the SPJ Code of Ethics, reporting the truth is a journalist’s most basic job. But as today’s crop of young reporters pumps out stories about blonds going extinct and Bill Murray stopping a bank robbery in an attempt to go viral or break the news first, the core value that once shaped our industry is lost.

The author of the Columbia Journalism Review article argues that the future of journalism may involve a truce—one that establishes middle ground between these two warring types of reporting. As digital news continues to change, so does what’s considered “news.” At the end of the article, the author states, “What’s news is out there, whether or not it’s been checked and verified.”

While this shift in reporting values may reflect the changes in technology, it’s important that writers and editors still bear in mind their job: to inform readers. While getting the news out first has become increasingly important for publications today, is it acceptable to assume that readers will sort out any reporting oversights on their own? In order to find the truth, these readers may turn to other sources for answers. If this is the case, what does this say about the credibility of your publication? If readers are relying on other sources for information, what’s the point of your publication getting the news out in the first place?

What do you think? Is this change in reporting style is necessary for publications to survive in today’s fast-paced digital world? Or is the old-fashioned reporting model continue to be the best way to cover news?

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8 responses to “Does truth in reporting still matter?

  1. There are a lot of great points that I agree with. Being the first to report something is important in todays world, but another important thing is being accurate and reporting the truth. I do believe that it really hurts a publications credibility when the publish something as “news,” but it isn’t entirely accurate. Like you mentioned, readers will look at other sources to find out the truth, so even though you’re the first to report something, if it isn’t true then the reader will end up going to a different publication, so in my opinion being first isn’t more important than being truthful. Because in the end if what you’re reporting isn’t accurate, then you will lose readers to a different publication who reported the story accurately.

  2. Lauren, I also wrote about journalism values and the shift in reporting, so maybe we’re onto something, huh? I think that news mediums are becoming threatened by the online clock. Websites want to be the first to report the news, and this has become somewhat of an ethical problem. Journalists are losing their gatekeeper power in order to retain site clicks. Right now journalism is too focused on the “viral effect” and less focused on actually getting quality content online.

  3. I agree with Heidi that reporting the truth is more important than being the first one to come out with a story. Your publication won’t seem as valuable if people feel that they need to go to a more reliable source in order to fact check what you’re publishing. Another interesting thing to note is the generational changes you mentioned. While Gen-Yers may be trying to get the news out first, many young people are fed up with the news and what they deem irresponsible and biased reporting. No matter the generation, accurate reporting is the only way to ensure that readers continue to trust in your publication.

  4. I agree with you that citizen journalism presents a threat to the credibility of news publications. I think it’s pretty sad when “fluff” stories take priority over reporting news in a professional and verified manner. While unfortunately I think there is an increasing trend in people posting news that hasn’t been fact-checked, I think people will still be more inclined to trust those publications that have a reputation of being reliable. However, I don’t think a writer can assume a reader will know if something is the truth or not, after all, if they were reading something they didn’t know anything about, how can we expect them to instinctively know if what they’re reading is the truth? Unfortunately, unexperienced digital reporting does seem to be getting increasingly popular, but I believe that educated and professional reporting by experts in the field of journalism should take priority over these less reliable sources, even if they do take a bit longer to get into the news cycle.

  5. I think it’s interesting that more Gen-Yers think this way, and because it is a younger crowd thinking this, does this go back to what we are being taught? We receive an excellent education here at Drake in regards to reporting and knowing all the facts, but maybe other schools are teaching something different. Maybe it’s the culture. We always want to be the first one onto something. While we may think this makes us the best, does it really? If we put something out for readers, and it isn’t factual, that will only make us lose credibility. The only way we can stay responsible is if we continue the “old-fashioned” reporting and continue to fact check (and fact check again).

  6. Through my journalism classes, one of the first things I learned was to report the truth. I understand that journalists want to be the first to get the story out there, but if it isn’t accurate, people may not come back to you as a source for information. Writing is all about accuracy. If they want to be first to post something, they could post a small blurb first about what the big picture is and then later go back and expand on the story with details. They could do this through social media sights such as a “breaking news” type of thing, they just need to make sure they have someone on the scene to cover it thoroughly, accurately and timely.

    • I also agree that accuracy and truth should come first. However, many digital news sources try to come first in a way similar to the suggestion you gave. The difference is that they will write a full article and then post little blurbs and updates on errors or mistakes that were made.

  7. I think first and foremost the basic purpose of a reporter is to tell the truth. I understand completely that speed is important as well, but it should not come before accuracy. I agree completely with Lauren when she says, if sources begin just putting information out there how will the reader know what is fact? They will have to read other publications and even then how will they know that publication is telling the truth? I think if this continues we will have a large trust issue on our hands. Readers trust publications to inform them of accurate news going on in the world, if we lose that trust will readers even continue reading?

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