Nearly 100 years ago, journalism organizations adopted principles of conduct for the profession. The American Society of Newspaper Editors and SPJ, the Society of Professional Journalists, have similar codes of ethics. Both organizations advocate for seeking the truth, and reporting it. Below is an excerpt from the SPJ code:
“Journalists should be honest, fair and courageous in gathering, reporting and interpreting information. Journalists should:
- Test the accuracy of information from all sources and exercise care to avoid inadvertent error. Deliberate distortion is never permissible.
- Diligently seek out subjects of news stories to give them the opportunity to respond to allegations of wrongdoing.
- Identify sources whenever feasible. The public is entitled to as much information as possible on sources’ reliability.
Significant errors of fact, as well as errors of omission, should be corrected promptly and prominently.”
So the news emerging last week about Manti Te’o’s non-existent “girlfriend” means that Sports Illustrated, ESPN, and other media outlets have become more obsessed about telling a good story than they are concerned about accuracy and correct sources of identification.
I’m sorry, media apologists, but any 12-year-old who knows how to use Google images could have figured out that Manti Te’o’s girlfriend simply did not exist.
Don’t muddy the water with discussions about hoaxes. Read the actual interview notes. Mr. Te’o, along with his father, said things that simply cannot be true.
Here’s just one small example: Imaginary girlfriends don’t visit the house. Check out the stories for yourself.
Until and unless the media starts taking responsibility, follows its own rules, and makes accuracy a high priority once again, journalism will continue in its downward spiral. Journalists should never accept lies.
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Today we remember the life work of civil rights advocate Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. One of the many profound things Dr. King said was this: “Nothing in all the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity.”
Professionals who practice journalism in 2013 should heed his words.