We discuss ethics in all of our journalism classes here at UW-River Falls. We are taught to try to report objectively, even though we will never fully achieve true objectivity. We are reminded day in and day out of the consequences for the reporter and the news organization if ethical standards are not adhered to in the newsroom. We hear horror stories of reporters doing atrocious acts that we UWRF students, being so thoroughly trained, would never imagine ourselves doing. But then suddenly all that changes when we take on the actual role of reporter, and are released out into the “real world” to use our skills and everything we have learned thus far when we take the practicum course.
Fortunately, I did not encounter any of the majorly difficult issues I heard some of my peers were facing, things I could hardly imagine would occur within our happy little campus community. However there was one instance that helped me flex my ethical muscles, and helped me realize that in the real world, these scenarios we learn about in class do come up.
While interviewing sources that shall not be named for a story I was working on early in the semester, I was asked multiple times by more than one person if they could receive a copy of the story I was going to write before it was printed, so they could approve of it and ask me to make changes as they saw fit. As this is not a practice that the Student Voice engages in, I had to kindly inform them that I was unable to do so, and if there was something they didn’t want me to print in the paper, to please refrain from telling me, as it is my job to report what my sources tell me. I put their fears at ease by letting them know I was writing the story from an “objective” viewpoint, and I was not trying to make anyone appear in a negative light, only trying to get the facts and the affected people’s point of view represented equally.
After all was said and done, my sources thanked me for representing them in a fair and honest manner, and I was very proud of the reporting I had done and the story I had written. I learned that as a journalist I will undoubtedly face more ethical decisions in the future, and they will likely be less black and white than this issue. I feel that my ingrained ethical standards will help me stand up for what I have learned is ethical, and be confident when making ethical decisions.
I often wonder what the world would be like with no newspapers. I grew up in a household that subscribed to a daily paper, the Sacramento Bee. For as long as I can remember, the first thing I would do in the morning after getting up would be to ask if I could go out to get the paper. My motives were purely selfish, I wanted to be the one to snag the comics page before anyone could get to it.
I remember being struck by the bold headline announcing Princess Diana’s death, and keeping the sports section folded up on my bookcase when the Green Bay Packers won the Superbowl. I never thought I wanted anything to do with journalism until college, when I realized I actually love writing and finding out stories.
People often say that in coming years there will be no more demand for newspapers, as news consumers are increasingly getting their news on their computers or “smart” phones. As sad as this day will be, when kids can no longer fight over who gets to read the comics first, it does seem inevitable.
However I don’t believe the death of newspapers equates to the death of journalism. Jeff Zeleny, political correspondent for the New York Times, said it best when he came to speak at the Working Journalist’s Seminar last year. He said that even though the way we receive our news will likely change, people are always going to want to hear good stories, as long as there are stories to be told. And our job as journalists is to to our job to tell those stories as honestly and objectively as possible.
So whether it’s through our iPhones or whatever the next development in technology is, I believe there will always be a demand for people who know how to find the good stories, and report them.
This semester I learned a lot about journalism and myself as a journalist. At the beginning of the year I felt extremely uncomfortable in the practicum course, as I had not yet taken the news writing course and was enrolled in both at the same time.
My first assigned story in practicum was about the women’s hockey team and how they were doing in the season. I have absolutely no knowledge on the sport of hockey, I have never watched a game and I honestly don’t know or understand the rules or objectives, apart from getting the puck in the net. I was terrified, and thought there was no way I would be able to pull it together and get a story written by deadline.
However, I took everything I had learned in other journalism courses and started doing my homework. After researching the sport and the team to death and not feeling any more confident in my ability to write a relevant and coherent story on the subject, I decided to just start interviewing. After talking to the players, the coach, and some fans, I felt like things were starting to fall into place in my article.
I definitely don’t believe this was the greatest reporting I have ever done, and it was surely not the best article I have ever written. Reporting on something I knew nothing about seemed impossible, but I learned very quickly it can be done if you do your due diligence and ask as many questions as necessary to understand what your sources are talking about. Also, there was something about being “thrown into the fire” and not crashing and burning that gave me the confidence to continue, even though I felt completely out of my element.