Don't sell the people short.
Mainstream media pander to purian interests and excuse the behavior by claiming that it's what the public wants (and people are too stupid to care about real news anyway). The truth is that if you expect little from people, that is what you will receive. The job of journalists is to inform-- not entertain-- and if there is no public interest in a story, then we must conclude one of two things: either the story is not really relevant to the lives of our audience, or we are doing a poor job of explaining the issue. People cannot care about something they do not understand. Do not assume prior knowledge of an issue, and make sure always to explain why that issue or event is relevent. Use accessable language and avoid jargon-- you don't have to dumb things down, just take the time to fully explain. "People are stupid" is the lazy (not to mention snobby!) reporter's excuse.
Keep to your word.
If you agree to go off the record, don't print it. If you promise not to reveal a source, hold your silence. Sometimes the consequences for keeping your word can be severe-- reporters have gone to jail for refusing to release the names of their sources-- but these are some of the risks you accept with the job. It is imparative that we not lose the trust of the public: we want all those potential whistle-blowers, disgruntled workers, government informers, and other sources to feel safe talking to us. Journalists must be willing to put themselves on the line in order to get at the truth. If you are unwilling to do this, then journalism isn't for you.
Be humble and consciencious.
The world doesn't owe you anything, and you're not doing anyone any favors by reporting the truth-- you're doing your JOB. Get over yourself! The work we do is important, but remember who we're doing it for. Treat people with respect and don't get personal. You can still be hard-hitting and critical without being malicious or cruel. Watchdog does NOT equal attack dog!
Know when to stop.
One courageous thing about reporters is that we do not shy from the truth even when it is controversial, gruesome, or painful. On the whole, the public believes what we tell them. This is an awesome responsibility, and we cannot afford to violate that fragile trust by sensationalizing or exaggerating events, or by printing unnessecarily explicit material. When weighing whether or not to print/air explicit or overly personal material, think sincerely about the possible consequences your actions could have.
- How important are the images to telling the story?
- What is my motivation for covering this story?
- Is the story of vital interest to the physical, political, or social well-being of our community?
- Who is hurt by publishing the material?
How would I feel in their place? Is it still worth it?
Sometimes reporters get carried away by the excitement of unearthing stories. Their hackles raise at the idea that anything should be concealed from them, even personal matters of no particular significance to the public. With the single-minded determination of a shark getting that first whiff of blood in the water, they go on the attack. In these instances, reporters end up hurting or utterly destroying people and groups that do not deserve journalism's wrath. Is it any wonder that the public questions our humanity?
Remember that what you say and do will affect people's lives. Tread carefully.