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Press Credibility Study Leaves Journalists With Much to Consider

SPJ Ethics News

From [former] SPJ Ethics Committee Chair Steve Geimann:

Professional journalists have much to consider today with the release of a new national study on press credibility conducted for the American Society of Newspaper Editors (ASNE).

The ASNE study confirms that readers take note of spelling and grammar errors and they note factual mistakes that are happening all too often. They also don't like anonymous sources, or unbridled cynicism in how we cover the news. An uncomfortable percentage of those questioned find such errors far too often, sometimes every day.

By ignoring small details such as street names, historic dates and even percentage calculations to cite just a few basic skills we have sent a loud signal to the readers that our concern for accuracy is only partial.

The public demands more, and we should, too.

But the ASNE study also notes that many readers think the press covers sensational stories because they're sensational, not because they are important. They think we are too easily manipulated by special interests because we don't often explain why certain stories are being covered.

Readers want the story with all the facts, not a story with only some facts published in a rush to be first. And they want sources named, and when we can't name them, they want to know why.

In short, the public wants journalists and journalism to get back to the basics of telling stories about the people and events in their communities, to offer those stories in a fair and balanced presentation with sources identified, either by name or agenda.

And while such surveys are useful and helpful, journalists who are responsible and professional should be guided by a strong set of ethical principles, a dogged determination to be fair and accurate and a commitment to be open minded about every story they cover.

I hope this study, and a similar study released last week by the Radio-Television News Directors Foundation about attitudes toward TV news, can lead to a more vigorous debate, inside the profession and outside the business, about professional journalism.

Steve Geimann,
[Former] Chair, Ethics Committee
Society of Professional Journalists
(Disclosure: I served on the ASNE journalism credibility think tank group)

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