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The recent investigative report by msnbc.com about journalists contributing money to politicians and politically motivated organizations proves once again how important it is for journalists and journalistic organizations to remain vigilant in their quest to provide important information in an accurate, fair, balanced and objective manner. People count on journalists to help them keep informed and educated about the important events and issues of the day. Even though public trust in journalists is declining, most people still turn to the news media to help them make the important decisions in their lives.
Abusing the public trust is one of the cardinal sins in journalism. When journalists have a conflict of interest in connection with a story they’re working on, how can they be trusted to report in an accurate, fair and unbiased manner? If journalist gives money to a political candidate, isn’t it logical to assume that the journalist favors that candidate over others? Will coverage of the favored candidate be more sympathetic than that of his/her opponents?
Ideally, journalists and journalistic organizations should do all they can to avoid conflicts of interest, but it’s unlikely that goal can be achieved in all cases. At the very least, journalists and journalistic organizations should identify real and/or perceived conflicts of interest and ensure that news staffers who might have a stake in an issue or event are precluded from reporting on such issues/events. Conflicts of interests should be disclosed to the public, too. This can help news consumers to make up their own minds about how much trust to place in the information they’re receiving.
Journalists and journalistic organizations should be more transparent about how they do their jobs. When appropriate, full disclosure of the interests, beliefs, attitudes and values of the involved reporters, editors and other news staffers should be made available to news consumers. Journalism is all about seeking and reporting the truth. As news consumers, we need to know the truth about the interests, beliefs, attitudes and values of the people who purport to report fairly and accurately about the important events and issues that affect our everyday lives.
What do you think?
— TIM WULFEMEYER