Just how true is our journalism?
Today, when image is everything, “truth” is often perceived as a matter of spin, a tweaking of the “facts.” [Maureen Dowd, IHT 8/6/98] When spin Doctoring is done by our sources people and groups we report on, we need to apply anti- or reverse-spin to catch the truth in slow motion — even freeze-framing the sleight-of-hand artist in the act. Otherwise, we’ll spin out onto the soft shoulders of hype and hoax.
But the other side-of spin doctoring is taking scrupulous care that we ourselves are not doing the spinning. The temptation is to boost the story’s “gee whiz” factor. Or enhance or own “hippness quotient” as a zippy, “with-it” journalist who brings “attitude” and “voice” to his or her work. Resist that!
Even as responsible and respected a newspaper as the Wall Street Journal can be seduced by the temptation to tweak the truth to make a flashier story ("The Viagra Business Isn’t THAT Good,” letter to the editor from Jim Coone, M.D., commenting on WSJ story Part B, June 15, 1998).
As a Christian who is journalist, you’ve probably never done that. Or have you? Have you ever bent information, shaped the facts, ventured just a little beyond what you knew was fair, in order to “heighten” the story? To maybe get it on Page One instead of somewhere “inside”? Or maybe, even, to bolster the copy enough to just get it into the publication or on air?
Well, I have. Just a little … “Seems such a shame to spend all this time and effort … ” That’s how the rationalization goes. “My editors won’t think much of me if I come up with a non-starter . . .” Women and men, we are called to highest standards of Truth. I urge you not to compromise truth in order to tell a story or sell a book. Take the high ground. People are tired of productive propaganda and doublespeak.
As Christians who are journalists, adhering to truth and traditional values also means saying we’re sorry when we make a mistake (something the TV news hates to admit), asking forgiveness when it is appropriate, and correcting errors. It means walking humbly (and modestly) with our sources, our colleagues, our superiors, our readers, and ultimately, with our God.
Plank No. 5: “Dealing”; Compromise; Caving to Power.
What do I mean by that “D” word, “Dealing”? Well, there is that unpleasant tension of printing the truth and displeasing influential people. Sometimes it is people in your own newsroom who are displeased. And the postmodern world just says, "Bend for the bottom line."
Eugene Patterson, the former editor of the St. Petersburg Times and a former Washington Post editor, speaks about the current trend of newsroom brass becoming soft. This, he thinks, plays a part in the decline of professional standards in journalism ("Extra! Extra! Newsies Nix Facts for Glitz,” Eugene Patterson, the Wall Street Journal, July 8, 1998, P. A-14).
At the same time, the business side, which is suffering pressure on its own values, has begun dismantling that supposedly sacred and impregnable wall between the advertising department and the newsroom.
So the newsroom brass “deals” with the business-side moguls who want the stock prices of the company to go up. And the business moguls “deal” with the advertisers and the big corporations and the influential PooBahs who make the financial uptick happen.