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Digital Media Literacy

How to Uphold Journalistic Standards

1.  Use News Sources with Explicit Editorial Policies and Ethical Standards: Look for journalistic standards of reporting.  High-quality, investigative news sources have explicit editorial policies and follow a code of ethoc or professional standards.

            Does the news source you are using have an explicit Editorial Policy? 
          Does it follow a Code of Ethics?

Lack of an explicit and prominent editorial policy or a statement of ethical standards is a red flag indicating suspect content. Specific examples of policies and standards:

Accountable sources issue corrections for errors and inaccuracies they subsequently discover. Fake news sources are not accountable for their content. Fake news creates or uses content that is partially fabricated or contain misleading information as well as outright falsehoods.

2.  Look for Qualified and Credible Authors:

  • Accountable sources usually sign their stories and take personal responsibility for the content.
  • Articles should have bylines (the names of the authors).  An individual or group of individuals take personal and professional responsibility for the accuracy of the information in the article.  Lack of a byline is a red flag indicating suspect content.

             - Click on the byline if it's linked.  Where does it lead?

  • Google the author names. Is there a LinkedIn profile? some other form of biographical information? What has the author done in the past? Does the author's background and experience qualify them to write on the article topic?

          Source: adapted from Center for News Literacy, Stony Brook University School of Journalism. Lesson 8: Source Evaluation.

Journalistic Standards and Ethics

Members of the Society of Professional Journalists believe that public enlightenment is the forerunner of justice and the foundation of democracy. Ethical journalism strives to ensure the free exchange of information that is accurate, fair and thorough. An ethical journalist acts with integrity.

The Society declares these four principles as the foundation of ethical journalism and encourages their use in its practice by all people in all media.

  • Seek Truth and Report It
  • Minimize Harm
  • Act Independently
  • Be Accountable and Transparent

Factual Reporting vs. News Analysis

Evaluating news sources is one of the more contentious issues out there. People have their favorite news sources and don't like to be told that their news source is untrustworthy.

For fact-checking, it's helpful to draw a distinction between two activities:

  • News Gathering, where news organizations do investigative work, calling sources, researching public documents, checking and publishing facts, e.g. the getting the facts of Bernie Sanders involvement in the passage of several bills.

  • News Analysis, which takes those facts and strings them into a larger narrative, such as 'Senator Sanders an effective legislator behind the scenes" or 'Senator Sanders largely ineffective Senator behind the scenes.'

Most newspaper articles are not lists of facts, which means that outfits like The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times do both news gathering and news analysis in stories. What has been lost in the dismissal of the New York Times as liberal and the Wall Street Journal as conservative is that these are primarily biases of the news analysis portion of what they do. To the extent the bias exists, it's in what they choose to cover, to whom they choose to talk, and what they imply in the way they arrange those facts they collect. The news gathering piece is affected by this, but in many ways largely separate, and the reputation for fact checking is largely separate as well." [italics and emphasis added]

Quoted from Michael A. Caulfield's Web Literacy for Student Fact Checkers. 26: Evaluating News Sources

The Free Press

“A free press is not a privilege but an organic necessity in a great society. Without criticism and reliable and intelligent reporting, the government cannot govern. For there is no adequate way in which it can keep itself informed about what the people of the country are thinking and doing and wanting.” -- Thomas Jefferson

Freedom of the press is similar to free speech. It means that people have the right to give information and express opinions through publication without fear of government censorship, interference, or retribution, such as physical violence or imprisonment. The First Amendment prevents the American government from passing laws that would threaten this right. In the U.S., the press is often dubbed the fourth branch of government because of the critical role it plays in holding powerful people and institutions accountable. This is only possible because the government is not allowed to censor content.

However, A free press can only operate when the citizenry is capable of freely accessing reliable and intelligent reporting. The people of a democracy need to be able to evaluate news effectively and have the capability to recognize credible sources. For more information on how the Free Press works in the U.S. (and the world), you can check out this article: The "Free Press," Explained: What It Is and How It Works

The Fairness Doctrine

The Fairness Doctrine originated in 1949 by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) as a way to help carve out a noncommercial sector on the nation’s airwaves and  incentivize broadcasters to be socially responsible and offer the public a range of opinion on important issues. The doctrine mandated that broadcasters cover issues of public importance in ways that presented opposing perspectives, operating under a view of free speech that privileged an audience’s rights to diverse voices and views over broadcasters’ narrower First Amendment protections. Such content regulations were based largely on the notion that the tremendous political power wielded over our core media infrastructures by large commercial firms threatened democratic society by potentially skewing the nation’s discourse. Then as now, a handful of corporations dominated the entire media system.

While the Fairness Doctrine’s overall effectiveness and enforceability are debatable, it encouraged sensitivity toward programming biases and empowered local communities to hold broadcasters accountable. Activists used the Fairness Doctrine to help combat racist broadcasting, most notably in the WLBT-TV case when a pro-segregationist broadcaster in Jackson, Miss., was ultimately driven off the air in the late 1960s. The Fairness Doctrine also enabled activists to contest advertising for tobacco and other harmful products. From the 1960s into the ’80s, consumer advocates like Ralph Nader saw it as an essential means for publicizing causes in the nation’s media.  In 1987, the Fairness Doctrine was repealed

If you’d like to know more: Victor Pickard, UPENN professor and author if Democracy Without Journalism?, offers his insights on The Fairness Doctrine in this perspective piece from The Washington Post

Last updated on Jun 3, 2024 2:24 AM