by Joann Byrd, former Chair - ASNE Ethics Committee
From "balance" to "balance/ fairness/wholeness" and from "accuracy" to "accuracy/ authenticity:" In seminars across the country, editors in ASNE's Journalism Values Institute revised the core values of journalism.
The other essentials, the JVI participants affirmed, are leadership, accessibility, credibility and news judgment.
Following those deeper and broader definitions of our principles can certainly improve journalism as we know it today. And it's obvious that in the unlimited newshole of new media, we can practice those values like never before.
So it's tempting to say we'll just transfer the values into cyberspace, and get on with it.
But it may be early to say that: online media can take us and our readers to places journalism hasn't been before. And in those places, our values may be obstacles or antiques.
Hypertext links to more information can guarantee thorough reporting.
But we should decide:
- When we should link to ads, to editorials or columns, to sites of partisan organizations, hate groups, charities seeking contributions, other news media.
- What to do about readers leaving a report (via links) before they read all sides.
- Since we can, when we should use all the photos and words from the scene.
Online media have room to get the facts right, and to cover the right facts.
But authenticity also asks us to understand and convey background, context and nuance - in a medium that moves at the speed of light.
Furthermore, reporters will come upon interesting remarks online and want to use them in stories.
And if we divide news from ads on a page of newsprint, do we want some design devices for the computer screen?
Interactivity is perfect for getting people in touch with important issues and the people with whom they share community problems.
But some people don't have access and others tailor their news packages: How can newspapers make sure that communities have some common knowledge?
In an avalanche of information, glitter and noise attract attention. How can we rescue the planning commission report?
Interactivity is accessibility. Newsroom-sponsored chat rooms and forums were invented to connect readers to a subject, the newspaper and each other.
But that may get tricky if anonymous comments don't pass an editor en route to a forum, and too restrictive (and legally complicated) if they do.
And if we invite readers to respond to writers, photographers and editors, we ought to think through the level of civility we hope for - and how we'll deal with its absence from either direction.
With no worry about costly space, we can make our reporting and our judgments transparent.
A linked sidebar explaining our news decisions and policies would announce we are accountable to our readers.
And readers could do their own evaluation if we linked to our sources. (But we'd need to warn a source beforehand if we might post an interview transcript.)
And leaked and anonymous information would be an even greater credibility problem if readers got accustomed to knowing more about sources.
While thinking about this, would it be self-serving or public service to weigh in on the credibility of other people's sites?
In the JVI thinking, good news judgment means we reflect on our coverage, know our communities and issues, offer clear thinking and explanations, respect all people and cover all dimensions of our community.
Newshole no longer limits coverage of our communities. Lists and boilerplate and civics guides stay posted. We will be very interactive (won't we?).
Ergo, being online can improve news judgment. (Though understanding communities, thinking clearly and reflecting on coverage are still plain old brainwork.)
All in all, it's a sure bet that cyberspace will help us keep our promises.
This new vehicle also allows who-knows-what, invites new interpretations, and begs for invention.
So it takes two decks to answer the question, "Can these six core values guide us into cyberspace?"
But absolutely, not absolutely.