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Thoughts on the Relationship Between Journalistic and Academic Values


Thoughts on the relationship between journalistic and academic values

By Olivia Broome

When Immanuel Kant summed up the values of the Enlightenment period in his essay What is Enlightenment? using the phrase “Sapere Aude” journalists have since followed this philosophy in order to spur on their work with truth, honesty, and curiosity. Daring to know, questioning reality, and using rational analysis to write are just a few of the ethics that bond journalism and academia together. According to Ward (2009) journalistic values were created in order for journalists to “conduct themselves in accord with the general ethical principles such as being truthful, keeping promises, avoiding harm and serving the public good.” Without academic values overlapping with journalism, the pursuit for the truth and knowledge when writing would be hindered by misinformation and lack of understanding. This essay will discuss why research, transparency, and clarity are three of the most important points to consider when writing as a journalist.

From the very beginning it is vital to gather evidence and rigorously research your chosen topic in order to create a meaningful, coherent piece of writing. Without thoughtful in-depth research, it is impossible to produce an unbiased piece of work. When reading an article in a newspaper or online, it is immediately clear as soon as you start reading whether research has been done or not. If work lacks research then it is usually padded out with opinion, making it subjective instead of objective. Recently with the switch to digital media, some journalists believe that the quality of academic research in journalism nowadays is quite low, making the articles useless or much weaker. Journalism that makes a difference in the world is measured by impact: “by the jailed people who are freed, by the criminals who are jailed, by new laws or policies that save lives or stop government waste.” Even though we may believe that publishing in academic journals is antiquated or over-complicated, it is what furthers the pursuit of knowledge and what counts the most when we are researching (Newton & Robertson, 2012). Furthermore, the use of quotes and ideas from intellectuals or philosophers when relevant to a subject can add life and voice to your words. Quotes show that not only have you researched work surrounding your topic, but that as a journalist you have that curiosity and interest to further your writing to produce more academic work. With journalism, time and effort must be taken when researching in order to appreciate the immense efforts of past journalists such as Karl Marx or Adam Smith. Voicing and accrediting other works not only adds colour and interest to writing, it may also open up new ideas and make the reader think about what is being said and want to read on. When reading written work, for example in an article or in a feature, quotes stand out and can be memorable. The quotes that can be added to your writing have the potential to make your writing memorable.

Research also has a lot to do with respect for the people who you use as sources in journalism. If research is rushed or if facts or names are wrong, then this leads to unprofessional writing and discredits not only your own work, but that of the people from whom you’ve taken ideas. In recent years with the domination of the internet as a researching tool, writers can source large amounts of information in a short amount of time. However because it is largely uncensored, it is up to “the author to ensure that all sources are authentic.” A prime example of misquotation due to lack of research appeared after the death of French composer Maurice Jarre when the Guardian used a quotation for his obituary “that the composer had never uttered.” It then appeared in other publications like the Independent and the Canberra Times as well as on multiple websites, “despite the fact that it had remained on Wikipedia for a mere 24 hours before being removed” (Traynor, 2009).

Transparency in all written work done by journalists is vital for the profession to remain dedicated to always delivering the truth to the public. Just as Jeremy Bentham said utilitarianism is “the greatest happiness of the greatest number,” (Mill & Bentham, 1987) journalists should always want to deliver the honest truth to the greatest number. There is a very important “social contract between journalism and society” that comes from the ethical duties of being a professional journalist and serving the society they live in (Ward, 2009). This is why when it comes to journalism plagiarism leads to enormous consequences. There have been in recent years a few cases of plagiarism among reporters which not only damages the reputations and credibility of the journalists involved, but that of all journalists. Again with the digital revolution and access to the internet, plagiarism has never been so easy, whether it is intentionally done or not. With writing there are three main types of plagiarism: information, writing and ideas, all of which can lead in extreme circumstances to libel (Rogers, 2012). If information from another reporter is used, passages from articles are copied or paraphrased, or if ideas are stolen from other people then transparency is destroyed.

Acknowledging sources and transparency is especially important in the field of journalism because of the fight to rid journalism of government censorship. The imprisonment and persecution of journalists during the French Revolution lead to the creation of the free press we know today. 19th Century France saw artists and editors imprisoned and prosecuted for “press crimes.” However many publications were passed “under government-imposed censorship.” It was not until the Charter came into existence in 1830 that the promise that censorship would never be reestablished was made (Anonymous, 2010). Because of the power of the press and those who fought to keep it uncensored, we now have a free press and should use transparency in order to maintain this status. Unreliable writing which doesn’t have transparency loses its value and impact, leading to society losing trust in journalism.

Clarity in writing is just as important for keeping the reader’s interest and trust. Misinformation can be produced just by forgetting to correct one letter, yet changing the whole sense of the word. With too many grammatical mistakes, writing cannot be taken seriously. It is vital for journalists to maintain a high standard of writing and not let any errors slip past otherwise they could lose their credibility. In extreme cases, an accidentally insulting headline or a changing a word in a quotation can lead to a whole publication losing respect and readership. This is why good English and simple yet clear writing is used in journalism, be it with articles, features or reports. Information that is well-written and easy to understand is what journalists aim to produce so that news can be understood by as many people as possible. This important academic standard ensures that a clear, concise message is passed to the widest audience, and so that news can be spread efficiently. When local newspapers first appeared in the United Kingdom, towns would collectively buy a newspaper and everyone would be able to find out what the news was from other parts of the country. If the writing hadn’t been clear and easy to understand, then news would never be read and understood. Clarity means that journalism can remain a profession for the masses, and nobody will be excluded from its reaches.

It is because of clear, transparent, well-researched journalism that society still has a free press supported by academic standards. Dickens, Marx and Paine are just a few examples of journalists and writers who have done remarkable things and written great journalism because of their intellect and academic values. The academic time and effort that has gone into all of the great literature and journalism that we know of has ensured that works such as Capital and Hard Times have withstood the test of time and revolutionised journalism. When put together, academic and journalistic values mean that journalists can serve the public and deliver the truth to the greatest number of people.

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