Journalism’s Justification

Journalism is defined as, “Writing characterized by a direct presentation of facts or description of events without an attempt at interpretation.”

According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, journalism is a collection of facts, “without an attempt at interpretation.” This means that a reporter should simply state the facts of a given situation or circumstance without assumption, opinion or any form of prejudice or partiality. Said reporter would merely read into a camera what news was written on the teleprompter, and the information written on the teleprompter would be utterly transparent.

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USA Today is one of the more reliable news sources. Photo from Creative Commons.

For those of you thinking, “Well, duh, that’s how it’s always been,” I’m going to have to stop you right there. Journalism has traveled far from its initial presentation. It’s fallen into every hole, stumbled over every rock and tumbled down countless cliffs of ethical systems and professional dignity along the way. What was once considered a noble career has turned into a 24-hour gossip engine.

Not every news source has these less-than-desirable qualities. Roanoke Times journalist Tonia Moxley visited one of my classes on Feb. 8, and she informed us of the extensive Roanoke Times News Standards and Policies. The online document begins with a foreword that clearly defines the intentions of the paper:

“Our reputation for fair and complete reporting will distinguish our enterprise amid a growing din of confusing and sometimes contradictory information. Our depth of knowledge of the communities we cover, reflected in accuracy and timeliness, will earn our readers’ trust. Our commitment to service, as we document problems and possibilities for this region, will sustain us as an essential resource. Our ability to chronicle clearly the lives and events of this region will constitute the bedrock of our credibility. We realize that our integrity is our future.”

In an increasingly artificial society, it’s indescribably refreshing to know that a valid news source exists somewhere in the world.

“I want to hear the whole story from birth to death,” Moxley explained. “I want to write about that, and it helps so many people.”

Unfortunately, that is not the case in most places. We’ve reached a sad day when television shows like “The Daily Show with John Stewart” and “The Colbert Report” present information in a less biased fashion than cable news networks. I don’t support the use of either show as a true news source, but the evidence of twisted stories by the hands of cable news journalists has come to rival the number of times John McCain has referred to an audience as “my friends.”

One couldn’t help but notice the media bias involved in the 2012 election. Reporters were tearing each other apart, glorifying each candidate according to the supported party, and basking in the opportunity to sway the opinion of any unfortunate viewer.

“That is a media product. It looks like journalism and it sounds like journalism, but it is not journalism,” Moxley said vehemently.

The most recent example of dirty journalism involved the school shooting in Newtown, Conn. Reporters rushed to the sight, some even arriving before police made the scene. Cameras recorded personal moments between families as cameramen danced through the crowd of emergency workers and grief-stricken parents. Microphones were shoved into tear-stained faces, and parents of the children in the classroom were asked for interviews mere days after the tragic incident. Try defending that kind of professional conduct in ethical terms.

It’s because of events like this that I am so thankful for Moxley’s visit to my class. After several years of slowly losing faith in the existence of integrity and respect, she proved to me that there are those in the world still holding fast to the ethical principles of journalism. Moxley gave me a reason to continue swimming through the whirlpool of opinion and fact and hold true to my ideals of ethical demeanor. If I persevere in my search for true news sources, I may eventually come across a national news source with morality comparable to that of The Roanoke Times. Maybe one day we can remind ourselves of the true meaning of journalism with Moxley’s mindset.

“If I write this, I can provide a service. I can help others with what I write about,” she said. Thank you, Tania Moxley, for your incredible public service.