Editorial

Public trust is a currency earned, mistrust is a reversal of value

February 13, 2015
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Every profession has a formal set of ethics, and every business owner desires to be known for ethical practices.

Trust, like no other currency, is hard earned even when nobody is looking, proven anew to an extremely skeptical society. Being trustworthy is an often-cited attribute in the West Michigan region, especially among business owners.

To deliberately mislead is unforgiveable when trading on public trust. It is as true among car dealers as it is among physicians and journalists.

The recent confession of “NBC Nightly News” anchor Brian Williams and the pall cast upon his employer is an important reminder that trust remains important even in a world that seemingly does not understand reality versus self-made virtual reality, such as the “debate” over vaccines. A journalist who admits to such wrongdoing is guilty of bypassing the ethics of journalism and breaking a commandment of professionalism.

The breach extends past Williams and rests with the network editors and producers who assure the public of its trustworthiness.

Some commentators have suggested that trust was traded for a currency of numbers — ratings and profit based on ratings. Some also debate Williams’ “celebrity status,” but the Business Journal believes the term “celebrity journalist” is and should forever be an oxymoron because celebrities are newsmakers, not news reporters.

Ratings will never be as valuable as trust and any gains made by this network in its reversal of values are lost for a very long time. Nor will its new revenue reality provide any building blocks to climb out of its public debt of mistrust.

The Society of Professional Journalists ethics statement reads: “Public enlightenment is the forerunner of justice and the foundation of democracy. Ethical journalism strives to ensure the free exchange of information that is accurate, fair and thorough. An ethical journalist acts with integrity.”

And that holds for all news, whether published in broadcasts, online or print.

The harm of misrepresentation need not be shocking to be hurtful. Some local broadcast affiliates scream “breaking news” so often, the general public ignores it. At some point it will be to their peril. “Breaking news” is not defined as a method of operation or a revenue source; it is an important announcement made for the public’s wellbeing. Some broadcasters understand the seriousness of words and cast a “news alert” for stories of general interest. It is a discernment not lost on the public.

Ethics in journalism vow truth, an unbiased narrative. Please look for it in Grand Rapids Business Journal.

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