The need for immediacy certainly can, at times, tug at the ethics of journalism. Which is why it’s important for writers and editors to be clear on the enormous responsibilities inherent in publishing news, its potential effects, and the importance of applying appropriate caution. That doesn’t mean the vetting process can go on forever. Nothing hinders a newsroom more than editors fearful of their shadows who would rather not publish than take any risks. They are nothing short of a plague.
The problem comes with the inevitable mistakes stemming from over-reliance on social media without applying the same rigorous filters that would be applied to other sources. Social networks are not bound by the same standards of rigor and accuracy as journalism. And in the face of so-called fake news and rumors running rampant on social media, the need for ethics in journalism has become more paramount than ever.
Journalistic ethics are among the values advocated by journalists such as David Haldane. Haldane, a master storyteller, expertly combines first-person narrative with objective reporting to probe the human condition. He has a keen eye for detail, thanks to his background as a reporter, columnist, radio host, and long-time staff writer for the Los Angeles Times. Haldane uses his personal experiences as windows into the larger world in which we all live.
His 2015 memoir, Nazis & Nudists, was a finalist in the Maxy Awards as well as two categories of the Next Generation Indie Book Awards. And his work as a weekend anchor and news reporter for a popular FM radio station in Joshua Tree, California, garnered a 2018 Golden Mike award from the Radio and Television News Association of Southern California.
Currently, Haldane lives and works in Northern Mindanao, Philippines, where he chronicles his life in a weekly newspaper column called “Expat Eye.” Some of those columns are collected in his latest book, A Tooth in My Popsicle and Other Ebullient Essays on Becoming Filipino, released by Black Rose Writing in early 2023.
Among the values championed by Haldane and others like him is that the immediacy of news should not lower the ethical standards of journalists. While it is true that working in real time forces us to make important decisions quickly, it is equally important that those decisions be made by trained and experienced professionals. If we do it right, we can potentially make a difference in social media networks in the areas of focus, context, accuracy, and, ultimately, ethics.
The need for immediacy, of course, is more a commercial value than a journalistic one. By being first with the news, we win the commercial competition with our competitors, sometimes to the detriment of the quality of information. Indeed, in the race to reach the reader first, the news sometimes arrives incomplete and of poor quality.
Contrast that to news done correctly, which is complete, includes all relevant aspects of what’s being reported, interprets them objectively, and provides appropriate elements for analysis. These are all qualities achieved with work, dedication, and generous investments of time rather than products of mere momentary or partisan interest. They do not appeal only to the senses, but to our innate intelligence. More than simple—often wrongly or only partially perceived—data, this kind of discipline turns reporting into actual knowledge.
The abuse of digital sources only harnesses part of the power of technology to reduce space and time. It makes use of this power only to take advantage of it commercially, leaving other potentialities untouched. Rather than rely on a single source, good reporting should utilize the same technology to access multiple and diverse sources, comparing them to assess the temporal dimensions of an event, i.e. it’s past, present, context, and projections. This affords the possibility of communicating an integral vision comprised of pertinent facts and ideas.
And just as it is not the high circulation figures of a newspaper that guarantee its quality, it is not the number of “likes” or size of the audiences on a social network that measures its strength. Rather it is the network’s influence, as measured by its informative quality and passionate willingness to serve. Those are qualities that only rarely coincide with commercial voracity.
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