Monday, December 5, 2011

Integrity and Integration for a Journalist

Below is the second reflection paper on The Elements of Journalism by Bryce Lungren.  The students were asked to apply the elements to their experience as a journalist this semester.  Bryce Lungren:

The second half of The Elements of Journalism (TEJ) by Bill Kovach and Tom Rosestiel has been just as intellectually refreshing as the first.  The ten essential elements that the authors illustrate are like a code of ethics for the field of journalism.  As they say, "Ethics are woven into every element of journalism" (Kovach 232).  This moral dimension of journalism is something I thought the media had forgotten about.  Thanks to The Elements of Journalism, I have discovered that the integrity of a journalist requires an integration of their whole person.

There is always that fine line of implementing one's own writing style without letting it dominate the article.  As was pointed out early in TEJ, journalism is about conveying the facts.  Just listing the facts, though, would largely be an ineffective way of communicating the news.  A journalist has to make their article palatable to some degree.  The eighth principle element listed in TEJ is that "journalists must make the significant interesting and relevant" (Kovach 187).  This element gives clarity to the balance between author and subject.

It is hard to put your heart into an article without letting a little bit of your personality show through.  The basic guideline TEJ introduces is to make "the significant interesting and the interesting significant" (Kovach 196).  To do this takes some creativity by the reporter.  I can think of some topics here on the hilltop that, at first glance, a reader might not find appealing enough to read.  However, if an article is written in a manner that is engaging and relevant to the audience, it might prompt an otherwise uninterested person to read it and learn something from it.  I find this balanced approach between a reporter's writing style and the information itself to be a virtue that brings out the natural gifts unique to each journalist.

The tenth and culminating element that Kovach and Rosenstiel emphasize is that "journalists have an obligation to exercise their personal conscience" (Kovach 231).  This I think is the overarching ethical element that codifies all the others.  Here they point out that journalists must use their conscience when making judgements concerning their own investigations and writings.  This may seem obvious to MAS students who talk often about being guided by their conscience.  But, in regards to the secular media and some of the scandals that are brought about by inaccurate reporting and plagiarism, it is evidently not so clear.  This principle about conscience is one we should never take for granted.  We are all susceptible to temptation when certain deadlines arise, but dishonest journalism can never be justified.

Not only does a journalist have an obligation to exercise their personal conscience concerning their own work, but they also must act according to its guidance in regards to the work of others.  If someone they know is conducting dishonest or inaccurate reporting, then it is their duty, if prompted by conscience, to confront the situation.  As Chicago newscaster Carol Martin said, "I think a journalist is someone who believes in something that they would be willing to quit over" (Kovach 232).  These are strong words, but this is how tuned in a journalist must be with their conscience.

We all have a conscience.  Some may listen to it more than others, but nevertheless, it is something integral to our human nature.  That does not mean, however, that is comes preloaded with all the proper guiding principles.  We often have to form our conscience.  It is not different in the case of journalism.  In my opinion, the book The Elements of Journalism is a perfect way for a new journalist to form their conscience properly.  These ten essential elements are like the Ten Commandments for conducting honest, accurate, and successful journalism.

According to Kovach and Rosenstiel, "In the end journalism is an act of character" (Kovach 230).  This pretty well sums it up.  An honest journalist is one in whom there is no duplicity.  Their work reflects the kind of person they are.  Journalism is not about reporter recognition: "The primary purpose of journalism is to provide citizens with the information they need to be free and self-governing" (Kovach 12).  Thanks to The Elements of Journalism, I have discovered that the integrity of a journalist requires an integration of their whole person.

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