With local elections fast approaching, it’s time to hash out what it means to have objective and honest journalism.
It’s especially relevant now since many candidates will vye for an elected position by having news coverage. After all, it’s the best way to reach most of the voters. But there’s principles to follow when approaching these sorts of things.
My editor, Tyson Whitney, explained to me an easy way to report news. Think of journalism as reporting on the facts – what really went on at this event? Now, when you write opinion pieces, he went on, it’s all about developing an opinion – a definitive stance – using those facts in an argument.
Given it’s only been my second week as a reporter, this idea was slammed in my face. In my opinion, journalists should always try to cover the whole truth, because there could be many truths to a story that need digging up. However, the facts of a story are what is always necessary. It’s our job to pursue all the facts and then convey them into a reliable, relevant account to the public.
Not to mention those facts have to be accurate. Honest journalism means double-checking, even triple-checking, facts. And in those moments of doubt, thinking, “did that really happen here?” If it didn’t, then it’s probably safe to say it’s not a fact, but speculation.
On a different note, honest journalism doesn’t pander.
It reports on what really went on at the event. It also means reporting on stories that may not be sensational to the majority of the audience.
It’s not our job to be gatekeepers of what’s worthy of news. News is news – there’s no controlling what happens in the community. In fact, honest journalism is precisely when we cover stories that may be unpopular or controversial, but it’s nonetheless important for the community to be made aware of what’s going on.
While I recognize that journalism is similar to storytelling – making an event interesting and relevant – it’s not just that, it’s meant to engage the reader. That means running stories that are worth the paper they’re printed on; it’s not running fluff pieces that reassure the reader that all may be well with the world.
With that said, in the coming weeks when covering stories on elections, or candidates, or any local event for that matter, it’s important to keep in mind the spirit of proper journalism.