Featured: Top of Home Page

The Golden Rule #7

Musings on the Ethics of Contemporary Journalism

As author and UCLA Professor of Social Research Methodology Mike Rose once wrote in Lives on the Boundary, “Mistakes are the place where education starts.” Unfortunately, for too many journalists, mistakes are the place where good journalism ends.

For years, the Society of Professional Journalists’ Code of Ethics has outlined the template for good, ethical journalism. That code states, “Admit mistakes and correct them promptly,” and that sentence contains three mandates: the admission, the correction, and the speed in which a mistake is corrected.

So, before I type further, I should admit one of my own: in April, I wrote The Golden Rule #1, and in that dispatch I wrote, “wikis themselves raise ethical concerns because they allow any user to update or edit the content. I have no idea who Robert Niles is, but he has edited the content on this page.”

My second statement was a mistake: I should have searched further and identified Robert Niles, who is the editor of Online Journalism Review. His identity is available for anyone who cares to look; I embarrassingly didn’t look hard enough. I realized my error and should have corrected it sooner. Two out of three isn’t bad.

Some people may not call that a mistake, but I do. According to the Merriam-Webster Online dictionary, a mistake means, “to blunder in the choice of; to misunderstand the meaning or intention of: misinterpret; to make a wrong judgment of the character or ability of; to identify wrongly: confuse with another; to be wrong.” I (mis)took Niles as an average wiki user and not the journal’s editor. Mistakes are not, at least according to these definitions, grounded in factual errors. Mistakes are embedded in our misunderstandings, misinterpretations, mischoices, and misidentifications. Daily, I read and watch journalists make mistakes; rarely do I read or watch them correct those mis-takes.

Journalism professor, media critic, and blog Jeff Jarvis has opined about the speed in which journalists, through new media, can correct their mistakes. In his popular blog, BuzzMachine, he writes, “The internet can be better at corrections than old media. A fix can be attached to an error where it occurs, and many online denizens pride themselves on confessing missteps faster than their print and broadcast counterparts.” However, Jarvis warns, new media can conversely spread misinformation faster than old media. This is exactly why correcting online mistakes is so important.

I started thinking more about the power of admitting mistakes for two reasons: Rudy Giuliani and Tracy Thompson. During a recent debate, Giuliani and the other Republican presidential candidates were asked the following question: “What is the defining mistake of your life and why?” Some of the candidates gave thoughtful answers; others gave self-righteous ones. However, Giuliani said (quoting directly from a transcript),

“To have a description of my mistakes in 30 seconds?

(LAUGHTER)

STEPHANOPOULOS: Defining mistake, Mayor. Just one defining mistake.

GIULIANI: Your father is a priest. I’m going to explain it to your father, not to you, OK?

(LAUGHTER)

STEPHANOPOULOS: OK. I guess that’s a pass.

Sure, the mayor astutely dodged the question; however, he also implied he has made many mistakes and opened himself to further scrutiny of what that implied laundry list entails. He candidly humanized himself and connected to the American people better than any candidate in either party has done thus far in the debates.

Thompson is an author and contributing writer for the Committee of Concerned Journalists. She essentially did the same, but in a journalistic context in “Learning from Our Mistakes”. However, unlike Giuliani, she describes in detail her errors. Her words, intentions, and point of view are refreshing. For those same reasons, I enjoy ESPN’s

Pardon the Interruption, which features Washington Post columnists Michael Wilbon and Tony Kornheiser debating current sports topics. The show is entertaining, but since both men are acclaimed journalists, they realize the ethical value of admitting mistakes. That’s why they have Tony Reali, aka “Stat Boy,” correcting their errors to conclude most shows.

During the past several years, journalists’ credibility has been getting whacked. If journalists did a better job of admitting their mistakes, that credibility would begin to rear its attractive face once again.

Chris Justice is the Director of Expository Writing at The University of Baltimore.



Music


Books


Film


Television


Recent
Books

A Fresh Look at Free Will and Determinism in Terry Gilliam's '12 Monkeys'

Susanne Kord gets to the heart of the philosophical issues in Terry Gilliam's 1995 time-travel dystopia, 12 Monkeys.

Music

The Devonns' Debut Is a Love Letter to Chicago Soul

Chicago's the Devonns pay tribute the soul heritage of their city with enough personality to not sound just like a replica.

Music

Jaye Jayle's 'Prisyn' Is a Dark Ride Into Electric Night

Jaye Jayle salvage the best materials from Iggy Pop and David Bowie's Berlin-era on Prisyn to construct a powerful and impressive engine all their own.

Music

Kathleen Edwards Finds 'Total Freedom'

Kathleen Edwards is back making music after a five-year break, and it was worth the wait. The songs on Total Freedom are lyrically delightful and melodically charming.

Television

HBO's 'Lovecraft Country' Is Heady, Poetic, and Mangled

Laying the everyday experience of Black life in 1950s America against Cthulhuian nightmares, Misha Green and Jordan Peele's Lovecraft Country suggests intriguing parallels that are often lost in its narrative dead-ends.

Music

Jaga Jazzist's 'Pyramid' Is an Earthy, Complex, Jazz-Fusion Throwback

On their first album in five years, Norway's Jaga Jazzist create a smooth but intricate pastiche of styles with Pyramid.

Music

Finding the Light: An Interview with Kathy Sledge

With a timeless voice that's made her the "Queen of Club Quarantine", Grammy-nominated vocalist Kathy Sledge opens up her "Family Room" and delivers new grooves with Horse Meat Disco.

Books

'Bigger Than History: Why Archaeology Matters'

On everything from climate change to gender identity, archaeologists offer vital insight into contemporary issues.

Film

'Avengers: Endgame' Culminates 2010's Pop Culture Phenomenon

Avengers: Endgame features all the expected trappings of a superhero blockbuster alongside surprisingly rich character resolutions to become the most crowd-pleasing finalés to a long-running pop culture series ever made.

Music

Max Richter's 'VOICES' Is an Awe-Inspiring and Heartfelt Soundscape

Choral singing, piano, synths, and an "upside-down" orchestra complement crowd-sourced voices from across the globe on Max Richter's VOICES. It rewards deep listening, and acts as a global rebuke against bigotry, extremism and authoritarianism.

Music

DYLYN Dares to "Find Myself" by Facing Fears and Life's Dark Forces (premiere + interview)

Shifting gears from aspiring electropop princess to rock 'n' rule dream queen, Toronto's DYLYN is re-examining her life while searching for truth with a new song and a very scary-good music video.

Music

JOBS Make Bizarre and Exhilarating Noise with 'endless birthdays'

Brooklyn experimental quartet JOBS don't have a conventional musical bone in their body, resulting in a thrilling, typically off-kilter new album, endless birthdays.

Music

​Nnamdï' Creates a Lively Home for Himself in His Mind on 'BRAT'

Nnamdï's BRAT is a labyrinth detailing the insular journey of a young, eclectic DIY artist who takes on the weighty responsibility of reaching a point where he can do what he loves for a living.

Music

Monte Warden and the Dangerous Few Play It Cool​

Austin's Monte Warden and the Dangerous Few perform sophisticatedly unsophisticated jazz/Americana that's perfect for these times

Music

Eleanor Underhill Takes Us to the 'Land of the Living' (album stream)

Eleanor Underhill's Land of the Living is a diverse album drawing on folk, pop, R&B, and Americana. It's an emotionally powerful collection that inspires repeated listens.

Music

How Hawkwind's First Voyage Helped Spearhead Space Rock 50 Years Ago

Hawkwind's 1970 debut opened the door to rock's collective sonic possibilities, something that connected them tenuously to punk, dance, metal, and noise.

Books

Graphic Novel 'Cuisine Chinoise' Is a Feast for the Eyes and the Mind

Lush art and dark, cryptic fables permeate Zao Dao's stunning graphic novel, Cuisine Chinoise.

Music

Alanis Morissette's 'Such Pretty Forks in the Road' Is a Quest for Validation

Alanis Morissette's Such Pretty Forks in the Road is an exposition of dolorous truths, revelatory in its unmasking of imperfection.

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews

Features
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.