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Media Outlets Aren’t Impervious To Lapses In Judgment

American journalists are continually considered to have a “get the story at all costs” attitude. Television, movies and other forms of entertainment repeatedly depict the stereotypical reporter who makes unethical decisions to get the scoop.
More often than not, Hollywood has journalists doing things such as sleeping with various people, stabbing each other in the back and sometimes even killing someone to get the story first. To the American public, the news industry is portrayed as one of the most competitive, sleazy businesses that exists. It would be ridiculous to stand up and say that immoral things don’t go on in the media, but then again, wouldn’t it be hard to say that it doesn’t go on in every field.
Last Wednesday, the CCSU journalism department hosted a panel discussion that focused on covering trauma. More specifically, the panel talked about the media’s role in something as heartbreaking as the shooting in Newtown that occurred last December.
The panel included Bruce Shapiro, executive director of the Dart Center For Journalism and Trauma, Tina Susman, national correspondent for the Los Angeles Times, and Jeff Cohen, WNPR reporter who covered the Sandy Hook shooting. The event was moderated by John Dankosky, Vance Chair in Journalism at CCSU and host of WNPR’s Where We Live.
The overwhelming consensus amongst the panelists was that the most important part of covering a traumatic event is to be sensitive to the victims and their families. One panelist, Susman, argued that when reporting on something like the Sandy Hook massacre, a journalist shouldn’t normally approach someone that isn’t an official. She recommends that a journalist wait at the scene of the event with a notebook and press pass and eventually the people who actually want to speak to the media will approach them.
The entire event was designed to show the public that journalists aren’t all bad, despite the stigma that comes with being a reporter. There will always be those that sacrifice principles in the interest of securing the story. But in most cases, those that aren’t willing to forgo their beliefs and values outnumber those that do.
There will always be difficult decisions and occasionally a news publication will make the wrong choice. But the public has to put faith in the idea that the organization that did make a mistake will learn from it and make a better decision next time. Not to mention, when a publication does do something immoral, it has to hear about it through columns and editorials from its peer organizations.
Media outlets were originally designed to report the news, no matter what that meant. However, at the end of the day journalism is a business like any other. And the necessary evil that makes the world go around that all establishments have to contend with is money. Organizations are around to make money, plain and simple. They very often provide some sort of a service to the public, but it all comes back to dollars and cents some way or another.
Sometimes the business aspect of journalism blinds the editors that are making the tough calls, but most news organizations have the public’s best interest in mind. The public needs to trust us journalists that we try to always make ethical decisions and report the news as honestly and neutrally as we can.