The Heart Of Democracy

by Christine Tatum

In the public’s eyes, just about the only folks struggling with believability issues more than the Bush administration are journalists.

And journalists largely have themselves to thank for that.

Last week, newsrooms nationwide observed Ethics in Journalism Week, and they had a sorry state of affairs to consider.Since the mid-1980s, Americans have been increasingly skeptical of the information they receive from the news media, and no major news outlet has escaped the trend, according to The Pew Research Center for the People and the Press.

Last year, only 19 percent of people surveyed by the Project for Excellence in Journalism said they believed “all or most” of what they read in their daily newspaper, a drop of 10 points in eight years. Another 40 percent believed only “a good deal” of what they read in the paper.

The loss of public trust should come as no surprise. Journalists have been caught making up stories (Jayson Blair, formerly of The New York Times, and others); rushing stories into the public domain (“Al Gore is our next president. No, make that George Bush. No, make that …”); accepting payment from the government in exchange for news coverage (three journalists formerly at El Nuevo Herald in Miami,  and others); plagiarizing (too many culprits to name here); and juicing their stories with loaded language and sensational imagery (again, we don’t have enough space to start naming names).

Business agendas are also getting in the way of good journalism. What else would explain an ABC reporter’s “story” about a medical procedure that just happened to play a starring role in the episode of Grey’s Anatomy that aired right before the newscast? What happens to local news coverage when hundreds of reporting positions are cut to satisfy investors’ expectations, or one corporation owns hundreds of news outlets?

Good journalism is at the heart of our democracy. Like it or not, a free press

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