By Zach Garner, SPJ student member and freelance journalist
Independently. Not alone.
One common mistake people make is confusing journalists as lone wolves — picking and choosing what subjects they cover and how they cover them. Not so much.
If that were true, I would be publishing roughly 100 percent more Game of Thrones fan theories than I am currently. (Expect Ned Stark to make a big comeback this season.)
Even I, the illustrious Intern #692 and freelance writer, have an editor to answer to when I write an article. Aside from the star power this grants me at every collegiate cocktail party I attend (Oh Zachary, tell me again when to use an ampersand), this also means that every work I write is seen by my editor and others like her before it reaches publication.
Journalists pride themselves on acting independently. Lining up interviews, double-checking source information and writing the stories themselves. You can earn a Pulitzer Prize while writing in your living room at 3 a.m., but by no means does that mean they act alone.
Half of this article has been written in my underwear, for some context.
Whether it is as a freelance journalist or a reporter working in a newsroom, every article first has to be pitched, discussed and approved before any interviews take place. I answer to an editor and that editor answers to someone else and they collaborate with a team … the list goes on.
Reporters, editors, producers, anchors and even full legal teams are all dedicated to presenting a fair, even-handed message. Each story may only have a single byline, but it’s always a team or pack effort — an effort to serve the people and inform them to the best of our ability.
In order to do that, we have to learn how to ” … avoid conflicts of interest, real or perceived.” – Quite literally the document you are suppose to read at the beginning of this Op-Ed.
They’re a lot like ass#%$&s …
There’s been a lot of talk about bias in the news. Liberals unfairly attacking Trump and conservatives blindly defending him. In journalism, we have to avoid conflict of interests such as political affiliation.
“But Zach” you may ask, “didn’t you just say something incredibly witty at the President’s expense not 293 words ago?” First of all, impeccable attention to detail.
Yes, I did.
I can do that sort of thing because this is an opinion piece (An Op-Ed for those looking to impress their friends) This is where I get to speak my mind and let you know exactly how I, personally, see things. Backed up with thought-provoking information, obviously.
Where that opinion does belong is in any straight news reporting. One of the hardest parts of this field, I find, is keeping your opinion to yourself.
It is up the sources to tell the story — reporters simply help connect the dots.
The moment a reporter’s personal feelings bleed into their work is the moment it stops being responsible news journalism. We are the unique position in society where what we write can influence what the public thinks. It must be based in fact and objectivity. To wield this power with either is as irresponsible as it is dangerous.
History has shown to be malleable when the press is subject to opinion and political sway when reporting news.
We must recognize that there is a bigger picture here. No matter how excruciating it may be to listen to Trump, someone I vehemently disagree with, it is my job to put aside those feelings when reporting on the subject. Just because I disagree with him doesn’t mean I get to alter the facts to paint the image as I see fit.
This is about us.
Take a moment, swallow your pride, and report honestly. It will result in the least damage.
In theory, anyway.
Watch for Zach Garner’s next article as he dives into why young (and veteran) journalists might want to go back to the basics by taking another look at the Society of Professional Journalists’ Code of Ethics. Contact Zach Garner at firstname.lastname@example.org