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Continuation of class discussion

by on September 16, 2011

I didn’t get a word in during class discussion, so I just wanted to raise an interesting point about the dilemma dealing with the politicians. We talked a lot about whether or not we would print the story based on our knowledge of the scenario or accuracy of the press release. We know the engineer  sent the accusatory press release which referred to “police documents.” Now, lets leave it at that. We had little time to research that night, but we come up empty-handed, and polls open the next day.

Here is what we didn’t do much talking about: Normally, a press release is sent to a number of news sources, so your newspaper is probably not the only one debating publishing the story. Regardless, the story is going to break over night, you just have to decide if you want to be a part of the reporting or not.

This is where all of those ethical questions arise again, but I want to narrow in on the idea that your competitors are MOST LIKELY going to publish the story. Being a journalist is all about informing the public, and doing what might be in their best interest. If I was the head-honcho at a newspaper, I would not want to lose readers or deal with backlash for NOT printing the story.

This is where I think that it would be fine to simply say, “In a press release over night, ____ accused ____ of pedophilia. The release refers to ‘police documents’ but the Gazette was not able to find additional information to support or reject these accusations.”  Obviously there would be a little more to it–but, people are going to be buzzing about this situation whether you report it or not. Would this change your mind at all?

You aren’t lying in your story. You are telling the public exactly what you know. Maybe this still creates some kind of moral dilemma for you, but in my opinion the story in worth running. Why exactly?

  1. The story is going to get out regardless. You do not necessarily have these politicians lives and reputations in your hands.
  2. I wouldn’t want my readers to be disappointed if they heard the story from other sources. I feel that disappointing readers is worse than stirring up a little controversy about ethics.
  3. Since the story is out (whether you tell it or not), the politician being accused is going to hold some sort of press meeting–which would be a follow-up story to your very vague one. Once you had more information, you could give your readers a better article to read.
  4. The polls open the next day! If I were voting for the accused politician, or the potentially mudslinging politician, I would want to be able to find the truth behind the matter before it is too late. I feel like reputations would be damaged more if this information was withheld and came out after elections.

There are a few more reasons I might publish the story, based mostly on the notion that I would not want to be one of the only newspapers to withhold that information. Maybe you would prefer to ignore the press release, or maybe you can think of ethical reasons that might (still) stop you from publishing–but, this would be enough for me.

Of course, all of this would change if you were the only newspaper to get the press release, or the only paper that actually decided to run it (and then you look like a jerk)–but that conversation would go on forever.

 

Emily McLaughlin

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2 Comments
  1. You brought up a good point that if it is a press release, there are most likely other magazines who received it and WILL put it in the paper. I think it would be a good idea to write about it because what if those other papers twist the story or write it in a way that makes the pedophilia accusation seem like it has been proven correct.

    The only thing I wouldn’t do is put the word pedophilia in the title only because readers might scan over it or only read the first paragraph and get the idea that this accusation is actually be proven.

  2. I actually agree with your post 100% and I wish it had been brought up in class. It’s a great point that because it is a press release, your paper most likely isn’t the only one debating whether or not to publish the story. And it is true, you have to assume that at least one of the other papers will choose to publish, regardless of what you do. We get so caught up in making sure that we do not ruin the reputations of politicians and other prominent figures that we forget our duty is not to them. It is the public, the readers that rely on us for information so that they can make good decisions throughout their day. In some cases, a story may not affect many people to the point where it is absolutely necessary. But in this case, with a looming election the next day and an audience of readers that have no idea the person they are planning to vote for is being accused of a heinous crime, deciding whether or not to publish does drastically impact them.

    Imagine what would happen if the Republican did get elected, and was later found guilty of pedophilia. Imagine how much chaos that would cause for the state, how much talk there would be about whether or not to remove him from office, who would replace him, and more so, why no one knew anything about this beforehand. People would lose more trust in the government and in the media.

    I know this is worst case scenario, because the guy could be completely innocent and nothing would come of it. But isn’t it important to let the public know that there is a chance this politician is a pedophile? Yes, the man’s reputation could be damaged, but it is not necessarily going to be your fault, especially if other papers do choose to publish the story. Also, the engineer who made the accusation will probably bring it up sometime the next day if he doesn’t see it in the papers, just to make sure the news gets out. If he really wanted to, he could blog about it, and I’m sure people would see it and it would end up making headlines anyways.

    Our job is to get the truth out there. We are not saying he is a pedophile- we are saying that one politician has accused another politician of pedophilia the day before an election. That in itself could be mentioned in the story, that the election is the next day and bring it to the readers’ attentions that they need to be wary of both sides of the story, especially with the types of sources the engineer is falling back on. And the people deserve to know exactly what is going on in their government. Years from now, if Casey Anthony decided to run for a governmental position, don’t you think people would like to know that she had once been charged with murder, even though she was found not guilty in an extremely controversial case? I know I would.

    Politicians expect that the press is going to thoroughly examine their lives and inform the public of anything relevant and negative. It’s just a part of democracy, whether we like it or not. When people have the power to elect officials to represent them, the people want to make sure they are making the right choice.

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