Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Celebrate National Ethics in Journalism Week

The Southwest Missouri Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists invites journalists and members of the public to join us in celebrating National Ethics in Journalism Week April 23-27. Promoting ethical journalism and freedom of information are the two principal missions of the Society of Professional Journalists.

The SPJ Code of Ethics can be found online. The SPJ Code of Ethics is an industry standard and was the first in the country, adopted in 1926. The code is a living document that has been updated several times, most recently in 1995. The code calls journalists to uphold four main criteria: Seek Truth and Report It, Minimize Harm, Act Independently and Be Accountable.

Good journalists recognize ethical behavior is crucial to their credibility and important in maintaining a solid relationship between the media and readers, viewers and listeners. The Southwest Missouri Chapter encourages working journalists to refer to the Code of Ethics for guidance as they tackle ethical issues in coverage.

The Society also invites newsroom staff to use its Ethics Advice Line at 866-DILEMMA (345-3662). To use the Advice Line: call, identify yourself, state your question and leave a call back number. Most questions will be answered by phone within 24 hours by a person trained in journalism ethics at Loyola University in Chicago.

SPJ works to improve and protect journalism. Founded in 1909 as Sigma Delta Chi, SPJ is dedicated to encouraging the free practice of journalism and to stimulating high standards of ethical conduct.

If you want to have some fun learning about journalist ethics, take the local SPJ Chapter ethics survey online.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

"Why Free News Media are Important," by Syed Naqvi

This award winning essay, interested in the regional SPJ First Amendment essay contest was written by Syed Muhammad Naqvi, a senior at Bolivar High School, Grade. This essay was a third place choice of the judges. Here it is:

Li Yuanlong will spend the next two years caged inside a Chinese prison. In July of 2006, the Chinese government charged and convicted this reporter for the Bejie Daily for treasonous acts against the state–in reality, he only mildly criticized the government for, ironically, not providing enough freedoms to its citizens.

While the leaders of the CCP clearly feel differently, one of America’s founding fathers Thomas Jefferson established the republic on the idea that “our liberty depends on the freedom of the press, and that cannot be limited without being lost.” While America is lauded worldwide as the “land of the free,” China is denounced as a repressive, tyrannical society.

Independent news and media present the population with unadulterated facts and feed the masses with a variety of opinions, even if they differ from those of the mainstream. By censoring all critics of the government’s policies and providing the people with only state-run newspapers and media reports, Chinese politicians hope to retain their iron grip over the country by providing for no room for dissent. Inherently, the Chinese establishment wishes to uproot democracy and subjugate the people into a life of servitude to their will, rather than being humble servants to theirs. In contrast, Americans are happy customers to thousands of news sources that constantly scrutinize and either support or criticize every single one of the government’s actions and policies. Most importantly, this keeps the population informed and educated, so that it may voice dissent or even take action (most often through protest or by electing new leaders) against any policies that do not represent the peoples’ best interests.

People like Li Yuanlong, who analyze and inform the public of the government’s many shortcomings, are not imprisoned as traitors but rather treated as patriots and guardians of the peoples’ will.

Perhaps the greatest tragedy of our age, then, is the willingness of the American people to murder this freedom of the press with the weapon of apathy. Record falls in newspaper circulation over the past few years, unfortunately, indicate that while billions around the world dream of and struggle for the liberty to express their views freely and publicly without persecution, Americans are more content to spend their time and money in front of the TV or in the theaters than to educate themselves on the inner workings of their government–in so doing, we risk becoming the only nation to ever willingly surrender the fruits of democracy rather than securing and expanding them.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

The Ire of All Despots

This essay is the submission from Matt Oursbourn, a student at Lebanon High School, placed 3rd in the 2007 First-Amendment essay contest sponsored by the Southwest Missouri Professional Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists.

Imagine the following: government-sanctioned mass murders proceed unnoticed by the public and undocumented in the news, flyers condemning religion padorn the streets, political competition ceases to exist—a single leader reigns absolute. This scenario may seem the ridiculous dystopia of some paranoid harbinger, but this very plot unfolded during the Nazi regime in Germany and a similar one was played out during the rise of Communism in Russia. Restricted news media made possible the evils of these instances.

As independent and in control as we humans proclaim ourselves to be, in truth, our opinions are determined largely by outside influences. Thus is the great importance of the media. Each news media agency persuades its audience in a different direction. The more sources that exist, the nearer the viewer draws to sound judgment. Without access to multiple unconstrained media outlets, the public becomes helplessly subject to the will of the regulating authority behind the media. This is where despotism begins.

But to the ire of all despots, free news media ensure a liberated society by keeping the government responsible to the governed. The State of the Union address is a perfect example of this. Once each January, the nightly routine of sitcoms and reality shows is cast aside as every major broadcasting company and news agency televises the scene inside the Capitol building. The Chief Executive of the United States must account for his actions of the past year and propose his agenda for the next in front of the entire nation. This direct communication between a head of state and the people is a rare thing in history and affirms the fundamental principle of popular sovereignty. But when the correspondence between a government and its subjects is distorted by controlled news media, the power of public opinion is lost and those governing can literally “get away with murder.”

The era of Stalin in Russia exemplifies this concept. His actions effectively obscured from the public by the Communist-regulated news outlet Pravda, a paranoid Stalin executed the Great Purge in which hundreds of thousands of assumed “enemies of the people” were systematically murdered. The contrast between the two former examples demonstrates the great value of free news media to all governed peoples.

In addition to holding governments to some degree of honesty, free news media bring a diversity of viewpoints to light, which allows for variance of opinions among the people. The resulting intellectual hodgepodge ensures the perpetual presence of a rebuttal for every presented argument and continually checks the increase in esteem of emerging ideas, both of which are vital to the preservation of personal rights and liberty in general.

Free news media are a necessary aspect of any society worthy of the prestige to be alled such. “Pride goeth before destruction”[1] and controlled media goeth before yranny. To vanquish free media would be to relinquish any claim to intellect and any grasp of the ideals of fair government and freedom.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

"Free Media" Essay by Skye Ronald a Top Three Pick

"Free Media," by Skye Ronald of Stockton High School was a top three finisher in the Southwest Missouri PRO Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists annual First Amendment Essay Contest for 2007. Here is the text of her winning entry:

The First Amendment of the Bill of Rights states that all citizens have the freedom of press. This right is important for many reasons and has never changed. This right gives the media the ability to say to the public the stories that tell what has been going on around the world. All citizens of the United States have the right to speak their mind and share stories through news media. News media is the way of life for U.S. citizens. With this they have a way of knowing facts about government and stories happening all around them.

The media provides a variety of opinions. During the vote for stem cell research some newspapers included articles that were for the research, while others came out with articles against the research. It is important to have more than one news outlet so that more than one opinion on a subject is available. People need to see more than one side of a story.

Another good reason for the freedom of media is the fact that people can have an opportunity to see what’s going on around them and within their country. It is important to be able to know facts about everything from outbreaks in disease to kidnapping to simply knowing the weather. For example, lately there was a big issue about salmonella in Peter Pan peanut butter. Without the ability for the media to freely tell us that story, many people would have not been able to know about this illness originating from peanut butter. Lost children’s pictures are posted as soon as the family is able to get out the information that they had been kidnapped. Without the freedom to post these pictures of the child, a kidnapper could get away with a crime. Recent posting of information helped catch a criminal in the St. Louis area. And though it may be small talk, people always are interested in what the weather will be like, and even more so in times of severe storms.

So from the everyday to the national, news media are important.

So is Skye correct? Give us your feedback.