So then, brethren, stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught by us, either by word of mouth or by letter (2 Thess. 2:15). Guard what has been entrusted to you. Avoid the godless chatter and contradictions of what is falsely called knowledge, for by professing it some have missed the mark as regards faith (1 Tim. 6:21-22).

Friday, January 29, 2016

Institutionalized gossip and the quest for journalistic integrity.

Gossip is destructive. This we all know. Bearing false witness and giving false testimony about another person, in a casual encounter or in a public forum, is a serious offence against charity. In the context of a courtroom or in print, whether on the internet or in a newspaper or magazine, calumny (libel, slander) constitutes an actionable offence that can be remedied by employing the full force of the legal system. However, even after a judge has pronounced judgement against a libellous or slanderous action and awarded compensation or ordered a retraction of libellous material, the damage done by irresponsible journalism remains like a bad scent on the wind.

How do we encourage journalists to practice their craft responsibly? There are monitoring organizations and professional associations to which journalists belong that provide a measure of oversight. Every profession can benefit from fraternal correction among peers.

Another way to encourage journalistic excellence is to invite journalists and their employers to colloquia. Surely journalists aren't above ongoing professional development, are they? If journalists consider trial and error to be the only form of professional development rather than, say, attending annual seminars at the Medill School of Journalism (Northwestern University) to have learned teachers adjudicate their work, it is more likely that the number of retractions issued and ensuing court cases which proceed from badly constructed articles or reports will increase and will become the 'I told you so' for those journalists who have ignored the absolute necessity of constant integrity.

After certain radical political special interest groups representing so-called progressive politics, journalists are perhaps the best at attempting to bully others into submission by entering something into the public record or manipulating a public forum to disseminate corrupted information that does not rise to the level of responsible journalism.
Rolling Stone Article on Rape at University of Virginia Failed All Basics, Report Says
College campuses are particularly prone to behaviours by individuals who, entering a culture of tabloid journalism, all too often fail to fact check, fail to represent the facts accurately and fail to disclose exculpatory information in a timely manner. Lacking skill, some aspiring journalists resort to sensationalism, manipulative juxtapositions of decontextualized information, paraphrasing, and transmission of gossip to weave together a narrative that is, at best, comedic (for its obvious awkwardness and editorial bias) and at worst libellous. In the case of the latter, colleges would do well to protect themselves from liability by ensuring that student journalists are properly formed and vetted through a process that requires students to have excelled in a mandatory ethics in journalism course that, rather than merely teaching students how to avoid prosecution, enables students to achieve the highest standard of journalistic excellence.

Another way to encourage professionalism in journalism is to return the focus to the facts of a story away from the need to construct a narrative that is, for all intents and purposes, often nothing more than a reflection of personal editorial bias. That is, political bias. The demise of print media, which is not merely due to people having access to the internet, should remind journalists that their profession is undergoing a vast revision. People want the facts, not fiction. So, they are turning to the internet for unvarnished (or less varnished) information. It should come as no surprise, then, that many politicians want to control the internet. The free flow of information without a relatively small cadre of handlers moulding content is undermining the monopoly of the mainstream media and unsettling their political associates who depend on the control of information to enable control of the voting populace. The identification of media political bias and the role such bias plays in the political sphere hardly requires a zeal for conspiracy theories.

Democracies depend on journalists who are informed and skilled writers who uphold the highest ideals of their profession. Does it really need to be said that the many if not most journalists wear their political biases on their sleeve? Does it really need to be said that journalists have succumbed to the same temptations as other capitalists who, in order to maintain profitability and market share, behave in a manner that is at times inhuman merely to curry favour with political entities and establish and sustain themselves in the marketplace?

This year we have seen priests and journalists target bloggers for speech that is accurate and at times offensive (because it is accurate speech!) but certainly necessary in a society that values the free and responsible exchange of ideas. It may be offensive to a person to have their own words accurately recorded and then challenged in a public forum. Ideas can and must be challenged, especially in an academic environment. However, for journalists to misrepresent what has been said in a manner described above most assuredly requires a defence of the person whose character has been maligned. Legal recourse is certainly an option for anyone who has had words placed in their mouth by an irresponsible journalist who, for example, resorts to not-so clever editing because he or she has allowed his or her own biases to colour their judgement for whatever untenable reason. If the pressure of the courts is not brought to bear upon such a journalist, the weight of their shoddy journalism recorded in their online and print media forums will surely cling to them and expose itself when they commit their next journalistic atrocity. The internet allows, as mentioned above, the dung and detritus of shabby journalism to cling to a journalist as much as their crass work clings to those who have been maligned by said journalist.

The dispassionate journalist is almost a thing of the past, if there ever was a completely dispassionate reporter of the news. Professional dispassionate reporting does not reduce a reporter to a robot. The great Walter Cronkite could demonstrate emotion, though he did so very rarely, without compromising substance. Knowlton Nash of the CBC was another consummate professional who could represent facts with fairness, balance and precision without verbal drama or hyperbole. Sadly, examples of their kind are all too rare these days. Presenters of the facts have been reduced to media personalities.

Journalists—remember your dignity!

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"A multitude of wise men is the salvation of the world(.)—Wisdom 6:24. Readers are welcome to make rational and responsible comments. Any comment that 1) offends human dignity and/or 2) which constitutes an irrational attack on the Catholic Faith will not go unchallenged. If deemed completely stupid, such a comment will most assuredly not see the light of day. Them's the rules. Don't like 'em? Move on.

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