Those are the four principles that the Society of Professional Journalists says are the foundation of ethical journalism. These days, though, there seems to be a debate as to whether those codes are being regularly honored in reporting. We regularly hear phrases like “fake news” and “alternative facts.” The line has blurred so much between news reporting, satire, and commentary that it’s often hard to tell where the lines used to be.
Thanks to our steady consumer diet of 24-hour news, the world of communications has taken on a whole new look. Suddenly, the standards of journalism seem to have taken a hit. News outlets of various sizes and manner of communication seem to crop up almost daily, each offering its own unique take on reporting the news. Sometimes the news is factual. Sometimes it’s not. Often it’s a combination of both. A lot of times it’s hard to tell.
Wheat or Weeds
In his 2017 message for World Communications Day, Pope Francis weighed in on the issue. “Access to the media—thanks to technological progress—makes it possible for countless people to share news instantly and
spread it widely. That news may be good or bad, true or false.”
He then noted that “the early Christians compared the human mind to a constantly grinding millstone; it is up to the miller to determine what it will grind: good wheat or worthless weeds. Our minds are always ‘grinding,’ but it is up to us to choose what to feed them.”
That is our challenge—both here at this magazine and as consumers. What are we choosing to feed ourselves and others when it comes to the news we are served?
What’s Your Source?
It seems that not a day goes by that I don’t see someone sharing or citing an article that, with a minimal amount of digging, proves to be untrue. Yet there it is, being distributed as if it were the truth.
Stop and think about the last time you shared an article on your social media feed. Did you do any checking before you hit the Share button? Do you know if the information the article contained was accurate? Or did you just share it because it supported your point of view?
“But how am I supposed to know if it’s true or not?” you might ask. Good question.
Do you remember the game “telephone”? In that game, a message gets passed from person to person until the last person says what he or she thinks the message is. Usually, the message ends up bearing very little resemblance to what was originally said. News reports can sometimes be like that.
Someone makes a statement, which is then reported by someone else, and then that story is picked up as part of another story, and so on. Sometimes in the process, the original message can become a bit garbled and misconstrued.
How do we counter that? We go back to the beginning. For instance, if you read a quote from Pope Francis that gives you pause, or makes you wonder about the context, go to the Vatican’s website. It has the texts of the pope’s talks right there.
It never hurts to check something from multiple perspectives, either. Read a range of reports to get a multifaceted snapshot of the story. Be a diligent consumer of news.
The reality is that the growth of the many outlets through which people get their news is not going to stop. That means we must figure out how we are going to foster the good wheat and counter the worthless