What is legitimate journalism? It is news that has been verified by an independent organization that is accountable for the information.
Verification, independence and accountability are the characteristics of quality journalism. Let’s examine Verification. It’s the process of establishing that information is truthful and accurate.
Journalists collect information with the goal of providing the most accurate version of events. They talk to sources, dig through information, and provide accurate documents to back up their stories.
In 2004, the CBS News broadcast 60 Minutes II claimed it had documents critical of the National Guard service of President George W. Bush. But CBS News failed to authenticate the documents and they were, in fact, forgeries. Several journalists, including anchorman Dan Rather, were fired.
Independence. It is a freedom from control or influence, combined with impartiality.
Independence includes objectivity, fairness and balance. But what is fairness? What is balance? And how do we determine that?
Let’s take, for example the myth that the measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine is the cause of autism. This claim has been completely discredited, yet several Hollywood celebrities continue to endorse it, some backing an anti-vaccine film made by pseudo-scientists. Should journalists reporting on autism give time to the position of the anti-vaccine believers? No. They are not scientists. Their “opinions” cannot be balanced against scientific knowledge and certainty. Both sides are not equal and it is misleading to treat them equally.
Accountability. The process of taking responsibility for the reporting.
News organizations should be clearly identified and journalists’ contact information, easily obtainable. But most importantly, any news organization or journalist should be prepared to admit errors when they’ve been made.
In 2005, the New York Times asked veteran reporter Judith Miller to resign after it became clear her reporting about the Iraq war was wrong. The Times wrote an extraordinary critique of its own editorial process. That is also accountability.
Verification, Independence and Accountability. These are the three main elements of journalism and what distinguishes it from other kinds of information.
In our next lesson, we will look more closely at verification.
This lesson is based on the News Literacy class at the Center for News Literacy at Stony Brook University. For more on how to become a news literate citizen, go to The Center for News Literacy.
Words in This Story
legitimate - adj. real truthful
accountable – adj. take responsibility for
characteristic – n. a feature of something
accurate – adj. truthful, correct
forgeries – n. something that is created to falsely look real
Impartiality – n. without any interest, seeing both sides equally
myth – n. In our next lesson, we will look more closely at verification.
autism – n. a condition or disorder that begins in childhood and that causes problems in forming relationships and in communicating with other people
mislead – v. to purposely give a false idea to someone
obtain – v. to get, to have
error - n. a mistake, something incorrect
critique – n. a careful judgment about something’s quality