Since the advent of the printing press, around 1436, by German goldsmith Johannes Gutenberg (and much earlier, in China and Korea), the written word has had a staggering effect on our world. Venice – a primary, Mediterranean shipping hub in the late 15th century – was fertile ground for a fledgling global news network, as shipping captains were happy to purchase and later distribute everything from religious texts and literature, to breaking news sourced from around the world.
Despite low literacy rates, once the floodgates were open, nothing could hold back humanity’s thirst for communication. Paid readers would recite the latest news, received daily at seaports, while runners were dispatched to carry the written word deeper into the countryside, laden with juicy topics covering everything from royal scandals and natural disasters to war reports and discoveries of distant lands.
In the spirit of “the light and the beautiful dark,” it can be said that everyone recognizes the power of written communication. On this, we clearly agree. Where we find ourselves at loggerheads lies in the realm of ethics and under the judicious gaze of morality. As it should! For when power goes unscrutinized, bad things happen.
In February 2014, Taryn Champion wrote about the importance of ethics in journalism saying, “Ethical journalism entails factual information, hard evidence, opinions from all parties involved, objective information steered away from subjectivity, and outstanding grammar, spelling, and punctuation.” Taryn went on to say, “Journalists have the power to influence what society believes and should, as a result, provide objective information allowing society to interpret what is being said and done using their own discretion.”
In other words, ethical journalism should NOT control communication. It’s moral purpose is to facilitate discourse on complicated topics for which there is rarely a single straight answer. Should the colonies have revolted against the British? Maybe. Maybe not. Should China be locking healthy people into their apartments? Maybe. Maybe not. Should the U.S. government play a role in personal medical decisions – like abortion, end of life choices, blood transfusions, and disease management? Maybe. Maybe not.
The list of questions is literally endless and never-ending. Similarly, those of us in a position to bring these conversations to light are forever obligated to ensure that we express the greatest respect to our readers, as we present the questions of the day. If we already have a preferred answer to a question … if we seek to lead our readers to agree with our viewpoint … if we write with an opinion or outcome in mind … then we have left journalism behind, and we have become propagandists.
As journalists, we hope to avoid earning that label. As editors, we regret our limited pages, for even the curation of news – the selecting of what does and does not receive our ink – is an act of power. Ignoring a topic can be as detrimental to society’s processing of current events as heavily biased coverage.
And so, our journey along the ethical pathway continues. One day, one story, one headline, and one word at a time. Thank you for traveling this road with us, as readers and contributors.
Note: Our Ethics Column is not a news report. It is intended to present the opinions of the Editorial Team of The Vashon Loop, and as such, it will usually present a persuasive argument. According to the Stony Brook Center for News Literacy, “Opinion journalism is valuable because once you have studied a subject using reliable information, you often have to make a judgment or decide what action to take. Especially in your powerful Fourth Estate role as a check on the tyrannical tendencies of the executive, legislative and judicial branches. Someone who is working on the same questions, and publishing their conclusions, can help you make up your mind, particularly if they are trustworthy, which means they verify their information, they aren’t on the payroll of one side or the other…and they are accountable for what they say. An evidence based opinion in that case is helpful.”