Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Placing trust in today's media

A panel discussion drew over a hundred students in Chesapeake 3, UU on Tuesday, April 28, to discuss journalism ethics and media credibility.

The panel included Andy Schotz, SPJ Ethics Committee Chairman, Paul Milton, Executive Editor of Patuxent Publishing, and Michelle Butt, News Director for WBAL-TV.  Each gave their input on the state of today’s media and how ethics and credibility are being questioned by the general audience.

Why is there a need for the media to restore its credibility?  “There are a variety of sources and types of media that audiences are getting their information from,” Schotz said. This includes blogs, podcasts, Wikipedia, late night entertainment, etc. By looking to these forms of media instead of sources like The New York Times or The Baltimore Sun, WBAL-TV or WJZ, we are allowing the credibility of journalism to become a blur. 

Some bloggers or commentators like Bill O’Reilly talk like journalists, but are often just there for entertainment, not to give the general audience reliable facts on current news.  Paul Milton said sometimes this can also be blamed on the media because there is competition to appeal to more audiences by telling them what they want to hear and sensationalizing news.

Are journalists to blame for the decline in media credibility? Currently, not as much time is dedicated to developing beats.  Many reporters must branch out to photography, editing, fact-checking, etc. to fill in the gaps during this economic crisis.  In a haste to put the information for their beat online, many reporters don’t even stop to question the credibility of their sources for their news.  This may be another reason for the decline in media credibility because journalists are not being curious enough to see holes or biases in their own story. 

Is network coverage credible if the audience only watches one or two networks? It is the audience’s job to be able to distinguish between national and international news.  We shouldn’t blur them together when they appeal to different audiences and approach news differently.  We need to be open to a variety of news networks in order to get a balanced look at the news and avoid biased network coverage.

“The ethical standards we place locally are so important, so different than what national news does…’cause we’re your neighbors, we’re your co-workers, we’re your friends, we’re in your carpool lines, and we’re behind the Girl Scout cookies. And our standard has to be different and our standard, frankly, has to be a little more human,” Butt said.

Towson University’s Society of Professional Journalists hosted this event led by Lori Aritani, a Poynter Ethics Fellow and reporter for the Washington Post. 

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