By ROBERT JUMPER
ONE FEATHER EDITOR
The evolution of journalism is an interesting and somewhat disturbing process in today’s culture. News gathering and reporting is science that is as old as humanity. Ancients would paint on walls with the blood of an animal, mixture of plant juices or carve into wood or stone the happenings to document the their lives so others could relive the moment. In its purist form, that is journalism.
The American Press Institute defines journalism as “the activity of gathering, assessing, creating and presenting news and information”. News, according to the MacMillian Dictionary, is (1) information about something that has happened recently (2) information about recent events that is reported in newspapers or on television or radio.
Journalism is documentation of what will become a historical record. Today’s events are tomorrow’s history. It matters how journalists go about the gathering and reporting of news. There is a moral imperative to “get it right”. Early journalists were duty bound to be impartial and factual in the documentation of events and people. As much as humanly possible, personal opinion was excised from journalism. Some of the greatest scandals in history occur when “journalists” deviate from the facts and inject personal opinion in their writings-articles become stories.
Sales departments in early news organizations (in the beginning, printed newspapers were the only vehicle) were nonexistent or an afterthought. The content was the news of the day and income was driven by that content. In the late 19th century, a form of writing gained popularity that focused on sensationalism more than facts. This type of writing was and is known as “yellow journalism”. The term came to be when two big newspaper publishers in New York battled over a popular cartoon of the day, each wanting the cartoon for their own paper. A bidding war ensued that was so public that it overshadowed the rest of the content of the paper. The two newspapers battling sold more copies than most other relevant news articles. It was during this time that many publishers realized that the sensational or embellished stories would sell more papers.
And so today, we are a society that thrives on the sensational. Journalist Edward Pooley, New York Magazine (a television program) said, “The thoughtful report is buried because sensational stories must launch the broadcast: If it bleeds, it leads.”
This saying, “If it bleeds, it leads” refers to the idea (fact) that the majority of audiences will be more interested in emotional stories than factual articles or that they will be drawn to a more sensational account of an event than a purely factual one.
We recently observed a rather graphic example of this on The Cherokee One Feather Facebook page. Facebook measures the number of people who have seen a particular post on your newsfeed or page. This measurement is referred to as “post reach”.
We noted that when we posted our normal fare we got an average number of viewers as such:
- Sunday, Feb. 14 – “Braves Cruise in first round of SMC tournament” with pic from the game-Reach = 1,835
- Monday, Feb. 15 – “Ethics Committee nears Policy Presentation to Council with no photo – Reach = 2,570
Then, on Monday, Feb. 15, we posted “Elk killed in traffic accident near Ela” with a picture of a blood-soaked roadway and the reach for that one post was 9,192.
Along with sensationalism, no form of media or communication is immune to bias. Whether it is the owner, publisher, editor or journalist, it is very difficult to not skew a report based on personal opinion. Especially with the advent of internet and social media, it is more and more difficult to find factual reporting that is not infused with the writer’s opinion. Even professional news organizations fall victim to journalistic bias.
Good journalists and editors treat the issues of sensationalism and bias very seriously. Many times, it is up to the individual writing an article and/or the editor approving the article to identify and address situations in which subjects for print are selected for shock value without true substance or if opinions of the writer have slipped into the factual recounting of an event. Recent articles written and published in local newspapers concerning tribal business have been riddled with conjecture and assumptions of the writer.
Readers need to be alert to the possibility that what they read that is presented as news may only be someone’s take or slant on a particular issue. With respect to social media, the reader should use caution with social media pages and websites that may look like legitimate news organizations but have no affiliation to organized, commercial media. There are internet landing pages posing as legitimate news that are nothing more than propaganda distribution points. Keep in mind that anyone may create a Facebook page, Twitter feed, Instagram account or website and claim to be a legitimate news source. You are not required to have a communications degree or subscribe to a code of ethics. All it takes to become an independent page owner is an internet account and a digital interface.
The Cherokee One Feather makes every effort to provide the community with factual, relevant information. Written into the Cherokee Code are parameters within which each of our staff operate. We are bound to provide you with information that, as much as possible, is free from bias and sensationalism. You will see a complete copy of the Society of Professional Journalist’s Code of Ethics in this edition of the paper. All of the members of the Cherokee One Feather Editorial Board affirm that they will abide by this code of ethics as closely as we follow the human Resources handbook and the tribal code. There are four guiding principles in Journalist’s Code of Ethics; (1) seek the truth and report it, (2) minimize harm, (3) act independently, and (4) be accountable and transparent.
Take the time to consider the source when you are reading or watching “news”. We are not in the days of Walter Cronkite, a television news anchor who was once dubbed “the most trusted man in America”, injected his own personal bias into news coverage. On important issues that affect your life and livelihood, it is important to depend on news sources that will give you an unclouded picture of the current events.