One of the tenets of the Society of Professional Journalist Code of Ethics is that media professionals should “expose unethical conduct in journalism” and publicly hold other news organizations and themselves accountable.
I have a copy of the SPJ code taped by my desk and saved on my desktop so that I am reminded of it daily, and it was that tenet I had in mind when I decided to write this piece.
Recently, Johns Creek was featured in The Guardian, a British newspaper, in an article entitled “Fake news and Kim Jong-un: US media wars play out in suburban Georgia.”
At first, it may seem exciting to have your city discussed in an international publication, but as I read the piece I was disappointed with how it (mis)represented the city I report on every day.
I encourage you to read the story for yourself and let me know what you think, but I believe this article is an example of an all too common phenomenon: a writer molds the facts to fit a story they already wanted to tell, rather than working to uncover the truth and reporting it as completely as possible.
The story concerns the conflict between members of the Johns Creek City Council, anonymous social media “trolls” and the Johns Creek Post blog.
“In recent years America has seen the decline of traditional news organisations, the rise of social media and internet publications, attacks on the press from politicians and a growing sense of partisanship in covering the news, culminating in a fear actual facts are now in short supply.” Khushbu Shah wrote.
The problem with that statement? While, sadly, many American communities have seen their local newspapers forced to shut down, Johns Creek is not one of them. Nowhere in the more than 1,000 word article does Shah even mention the Johns Creek Herald, the paper of record that hits the driveway of 20,000 residents each week.
And while I believe there is no better publication solely dedicated to Johns Creek, if you include the Gwinnett Daily Post, Atlanta Journal Constitution and several radio and television stations, the area is not facing a shortage of non-partisan, professional news organizations. And yet Shur claims the Johns Creek Post “dominate[s] the local media landscape.”
I started this piece by appealing to a code of ethics for journalists, a code that is entirely voluntary. There is no Hippocratic Oath for reporters, no bar certification. To create such a mandatory certification would infringe on the constitutionally guaranteed freedom of the press.
That means it’s up to readers, advertisers and other journalists to determine what is good journalism.
We have to ask constantly: Is this news outlet presenting opinion as fact? Does this article selectively choose facts that support a certain point of view? Is it trying to goad you into thinking a certain way?
Are the reporters transparent? Do they publish corrections? Do they tell you where they get their information? Are they easy to contact if you have a question or clarification?
At the Herald papers, we strive to do the right thing, and if you tell me a way I could do it better, I would sincerely appreciate it.
But from major British newspapers to local blogs, often writers in the name of “news” and “journalism” fall short of these standards.
And then there’s the ultimate question: Do you care?
Will you seek out good journalism even if it shines a light on truths you would rather ignore? Will you continue to give your eyes, your likes and retweets, your subscriber and advertiser money to one-sided reporting?
A few weeks ago, someone I was interviewing for a story asked me if I was worried about the future of print. She said she subscribed to a newspaper, always enjoyed reading it and cared about staying informed.
I said as long as there are people like you who know the value of good reporting, we aren’t going anywhere. The problem is too many people would rather read or watch things that tell them what they already wanted to hear.
So to those of you who read the Herald, thank you. I say that not just because without you I’d be out of a job, but because I truly believe our communities are better, our democracy stronger, when people support good journalism.