While the revelations in Bob Wordward’s new book about President Trump have dominated front pages of newspapers across the country this week, they have also prompted a raging debate among journalists about Wordward’s decision to withhold many of Trump’s most sensational comments for the book, rather than report them immediately. The journalism ethics involved are complicated and well worth a discussion. The strongest summary I’ve read to date comes from Erik Wemple’s blog. You’ll find it here.
When we conducted an informal survey last year asking people when it’s okay to tell a white lie, a large majority, 71%, came down hard on politicians, saying it’s wrong for them to shade the truth, even when it’s just a matter of emphasizing facts that support their point of view and ignoring those that don’t.
But lying by politicians remains rampant. Continue reading
This is a tumultuous time for those concerned with journalism ethics. Reporters, editors, and publishers face enormous challenges as they grapple with social media, failing economic models, new rules of privacy, and even disagreement over the very definition of a journalist. There’s already an international debate over a new code of ethics, with lots of argument over what it should look like. Meanwhile readers and viewers remain skeptical. A new survey by the Pew Research Center shows only 21 percent of Americans give a high rating to newspaper reporters for honesty and ethics.
On Aug. 1, the Eagle-Tribune, a daily newspaper in North Andover, Massachusetts, took a courageous step. It stopped allowing users to comment anonymously on its Web site.
In a column announcing the decision, Executive Editor Al White said that while he understood that some people were unable to comment freely under their own names, allowing anonymity created bigger problems. “Too many used the feature to spew vitriol, bigotry, obscenity, cheap shots and juvenile taunts, no matter how hard we worked to keep the conversation civil.”
The following question about how to handle a soldier’s sexual orientation in an obituary was recently posed on a writers’ listserve to which I subscribe. It provoked such a heated discussion that the moderator had to shut off debate. It’s worth another look here.