High-quality journalism is vital to community, nation, and the world. Chaos ensues when the truth is obfuscated, confidence in the Fourth Estate is lost, and governments can fall from within.
Today’s readers are confronted with fake news and must wade through logical fallacies, whataboutism, and whataboutery. There is no room for these shenanigans when reporting the news.
In this article, readers will learn how and why responsible reporters do their jobs. They will also learn how to spot fake stories and gain an understanding of the terms listed above.
Reputable Journalism Is Ethical
“The primary purpose of journalism is to provide citizens with the information they need to be free and self-governing,” writes Bill Kovach and Tom Rosenstiel.
Therefore, a journalist’s primary responsibility is to their readers; the news must be relevant.
According to Kovach, Rosentiel, and the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ), reputable news reporters are dedicated to several principles.
Ethical reporting must be accurate and fair. As a result, reporters’ first duty is to tell the truth.
They must take responsibility for the accuracy before publishing their work using original sources whenever possible. According to SPJ, “speed nor format excuses inaccuracy” in journalism.
Journalists must remain independent from the entities and people they cover.
Unbiased journalism is vital because the public is entitled to truthful information to judge the reliability and motivation of sources.
Reports should be interesting, comprehensive, and balanced. Journalists must provide context to avoid misrepresenting or oversimplifying reports when summarizing a story.
Ethical journalism requires that every reporter “diligently seek subjects of news coverage to allow them to respond to criticism or allegations of wrongdoing,” explains the SPJ.
Nonetheless, many media companies continue to disregard these basic principles. As a result, they neglect to inform their audiences factually.
Deviation From Ethical Journalism
Unfortunately, because people are psychologically wired to respond to anything that intrigues them, unscrupulous content creators use this to their advantage. They earn money whenever someone opens their page or clicks on a link.
When the almighty dollar is the goal, there is an incentive to deviate from ethical journalism. These so-called news agencies craft titles designed to elicit adverse reactions such as fear, anger, malice, and more. They do this in subtle ways that are not often easy to spot.
Imagine if a morning headline warned there were “10 dangers hiding in your home; tune in at 4:00 for more information.”
This tactic presents the following logical fallacy: “You won’t be prepared for the hidden dangers if you miss the 4 o’clock news.”
MindTools states, “Logical fallacies can be persuasive and are often used in rhetoric to encourage people to think a certain way or believe certain things.”
“This is why we need to be careful and question the things we hear that don’t quite ring true.”
Headlines are powerful tools; they encourage people to react.
For example, Book Banning Weakens Democracy or Forget Book Banning, Town to Close Library. In response, the writer entices the reader to believe they must enter the battle against book banners. This is not responsible journalism.
Recently, a Chicago News station published a story needed to combat fake news intended to hurt its recipients. According to Fox News, Cook County property owners received fake letters ordering them to surrender their homes for migrant housing.
Another disturbing story spread across Twitter and sparked false headlines about a news release saying President Joe Biden had released Israel an $8 billion aid package. However, the fake report was accompanied by an altered document.
NBC News said, “The fact that it was fake did not stop it from being posted across the internet and rising to the top of Google search results.”
Bothsideism never works effectively. Traditionally, if a journalist wanted to show both sides of the story, readers know the writer clearly states their position.
Their articles would focus on one side of the idea, and the other would be introduced as an opposite point of view as opposed to both positions interwoven into a nearly undecipherable story.
Honestly, there is little credibility in flip-flopping throughout an article.
Whataboutism or whataboutery is another tradeoff against traditional journalism. This logical fallacy occurs when a critical question or argument is unanswered or not discussed. Instead, there is a retort with a counter-question, which includes a counter-accusation. Notably, this is a commonly used propaganda technique.
How to Combat Unethical Journalism
MindTools says, “The ability to discern a valid argument from a false one is an important skill.” Avoiding this pitfall requires critical thinking to avoid falling for fake news.
Challenge yourself to look at your media diet for a week. Research the corporations backing the media sources you consume. Using Media Bias/Fact Check will help since it offers transparent information on journalism websites, politicians, and journalists.
Finally, highlight the title of a news article and search Google for related articles. Choose two sources besides the one you highlighted, one from a conservative and one from a more liberal source.
Read and compare them. Decide for yourself which one leans toward your personal values. It is equally important to note the differences in emotion-laden language or words.
Written by Cathy Milne-Ware
Penguin Random House: The Elements of Journalism by Bill Kovach and Tom Rosenstiel; July 24, 2021
MindTools: Logical Fallacies
Society of Professional Journalists: Code of Ethics
NBC News: Verified accounts spread fake news release about a Biden $8 billion aid package to Israel; By Ben Goggin
FOX 32 Chicago: Cook County property owners given fake letters ordering them to surrender homes for migrant housing
Featured and Top Image by Andrej Lišakov Courtesy of Unsplash+
First Inset Image by Getty Images Courtesy of Unsplash+
Second Inset Image by Getty Images Courtesy of Unsplash+
Third Inset Image by Jorge Franganillo Courtesy of Unsplash
Fourth Inset Image by Jametlene Reskp Courtesy of Unsplash