Foundation of democracy

He who attacks my family attacks me personally. As our nation’s embarrassing president once again turns his wrath on professional journalists, I am driven to respond. Full disclosure: For most of my adult life, I have been a journalist. I still am. I practiced the craft as the editor of two college newspapers, then as a reporter, editor, performing arts critic and columnist on two of America’s daily newspapers, then served for more than 20 years on the faculty of a leading journalism school and conducted workshops and coaching sessions for professional journalists. Journalists are my sisters and brothers.  I regard attacks on journalists as personal.

I joined the Society of Professional Journalists as a young reporter, then later served as faculty adviser to a student chapter of this fine organization, which emphasizes ethical behavior. We’ll discuss journalistic ethics in a moment, but first let’s invite SPJ to summarize what it stands for. Here is its own statement:

“The Society of Professional Journalists is the nation’s most broad-based journalism organization, dedicated to encouraging the free practice of journalism and stimulating high standards of ethical behavior. Founded in 1909 as Sigma Delta Chi, SPJ promotes the free flow of information vital to a well-informed citizenry through the daily work of its nearly 7,500 members; works to inspire and educate current and future journalists through professional development; and protects First Amendment guarantees of freedom of speech and press through its advocacy efforts.”

How important is a free flow of information to the citizens of a nation? Absolutely crucial. We all need accurate information, information we can trust, in order to conduct our lives and make informed decisions about them. SPJ is big on accuracy., the opposite of so-called fake news. Here is the preamble to its Code of Ethics:

“Members of (SPJ) believe that 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.”

The foundation of democracy. Free exchange of information that is accurate, fair and thorough. Are you listening, Mr. President?

SPJ’s Ethics Code goes into more detail, of course, but this summary should suffice to make our point. Certainly, every field of endeavor will include some unethical practitioners, so know your sources. But be grateful with me for the ethical newspapers and television outlets in our country that report on the actions of the people we have elected to serve us. We trust these professional journalists to be ethical, accurate, fair and thorough. They work for us, and they are not fake.

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