Reporters Are Actually Forced to Have Integrity – Here’s How It Works

Reporters Are Actually Forced to Have Integrity – Here’s How It Works August 23, 2017

fakenews.001I’m so tired of hearing the fake news meme, especially because true reporters are actually forced to have integrity. Here’s what I mean.

The phrase fake news entered the American lexicon during the 2016 presidential campaign. Headlines like “FBI Agent Suspected In Hillary Email Leaks Found Dead In Apparent Murder-Suicide” were completely fabricated. This particular article, written by a man named Jestin Coler, was shared on Facebook over a half-million times. That kind of traffic generates income for fake news writers like Coler. (read an interview with him here)

Coler makes up fake news stories that naive people repost on social media so he can make money off of the web traffic – $10-30 thousand a month. He once fabricated a story that he saw someone buying pot with food stamps in Colorado. A state representative actually introduced legislation to make buying pot with food stamps illegal, all based on an article that was completely fabricated.

Coler runs an outfit called disinfomedia, employing over twenty writers who fabricate news for his many fake news sites. Stories that get the most traffic usually play into existing conspiracy theories. Gullible people will click on false headlines that they want to be true. Here are of the most popular fake news headlines:

  • “Obama Signs Executive Order Banning the Pledge of Allegiance in Schools Nationwide” (over 2 million views).
  • “Pope Francis Shocks World, Endorses Donald Trump for President, Releases Statement” (a million views).
  • “FBI Agent Suspected in Hillary Email Leaks Found Dead in Apparent Murder Suicide” (over a half million views).

President Trump uses fake news to refer to anyone who writes something negative about his administration. It’s a classic logical fallacy called ad hominem, where you attack your interlocutor instead of engaging the argument itself; attempt to discredit the source of the argument without having to deal with the actual elements of what they are saying.

The way the president uses the phrase fake news is misleading and wrong.

The reality is that new reporters are incredibly careful to get their stories right, and it’s a good thing because we all depend upon reporters to inform us about what government is doing on the national, state, and local levels. Reporters are incredibly important to a society that depends upon a well informed citizenry. If reporters make up fake news they are disciplined or fired by their editors.

In fact, reporters are required to conform to the SPJ code of ethics. The code sets out very clear guidelines for legitimate reporting. Here are just a few of them:

  • Work must be accurate and verified, usually with two legit sources.
  • Never intentionally distort facts or context.
  • Never plagiarise; always attribute sources.
  • Do not oversimplify or misrepresent when promoting or summarising a story.
  • Gather data throughout the life of a story, i.e., keep reporting as a story unfolds.
  • Identify sources clearly and consider their motives.
  • Offer subjects a chance to state their side of a story, a chance to comment or explain themselves.
  • Be vigilant, holding those with power accountable to the public.
  • Support an open and civil exchange of views, even views you find repugnant.
  • Give voice to the voiceless; seek out voices we seldom hear.
  • Disclose to your readers when you are advocating something, or picking sides.
  • Avoid conflicts of interest and disclose them.
  • Don’t take bribes, and don’t pay sources.
  • Deny favored treatment to advertisers.
  • Acknowledge mistakes and correct them publicly.

This is a how-to list for personal integrity. Reporters are forced to adhere to this strict code of ethics or they are disciplined or fired by their news organization. That’s part of how to tell the difference between news organizations and propaganda mills.

Forget about all of the Op-ed writers and pundits. Ignore the 24-hour cable news stations and their never ending panels of pseudo-experts and talking heads. That’s opinion, punditry, histrionics and foolishness, and the truth is that President Trump is right about much of what happens there. But that’s not the news.

The news is generated by reporters, and they are part of a noble profession. Reporters hold to a praiseworthy code of ethics or they get fired. It’s that simple. They should be revered and applauded, not attacked and maligned. We need reporters watching over every aspect of our society telling the truth about the way things really are.

Here are a few of the news sites I have bookmarked. This is where I go to get real reporting, because these institutions force their reporters to hold to the SPJ code of ethics:

If you really have to have reporting with a right-wing slant, then at least go to sources that hold to the SPJ Code of ethics. My two favorites are: The Weekly Standard and National Review. If you really have to have reporting with a left-wing slant, these sources hold the the SPJ Code as well: The Nation and New Republic.


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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Scott

    I’ll stick with BBC Radio and World Radio Network (WRN), not to be confused with the awful site WND, World Net Daily. I can’t remember the last time I watched any form of broadcast news, be it cable or the big three. In my opinion, most of the reporting in the States is for crap. It’s commentary disguised as news. Your list of go-to publications is impressive but I find them to be untrustworthy. We all have, I believe, innate biases based on our environment. When Chris Cillizza from the Washington Post reports that only 7% of journalists vote republican year in year out, I see a built in bias. The vast majority of those who work in the news business live in blue counties. It’s not so much of a direct bias, but a liberal sensibility that is projected. Very seldom do you just get the facts. I do believe journalism is a noble profession but our desire for 24 hour news has tainted the mechanics of delivering news.

  • Todd Henderson

    Great article, Tim. I appreciate the list of news organizations that still adhere to SPJ standards. Keep up the great work!

  • Two comments, both emerging from the UK Brexit campaign: the UK newspapers who adhere to SPJ standards are not mass circulation. The Daily Express, which is a mass circulation newspaper, published at the height of the campaign a completely false story about twelve million Turks ready to immigrate into the UK if the UK did not leave the EU. and while you cite BBC radio as one of your preferred sources, BBC TV news distorted coverage of the campaign by giving long-standing publicity to the Leave campaigner Nigel Farage, and by selective quotation and interviewing has been strongly biased in favour of the Conservative party, and that Leave faction within it. Not fake news exactly, but misleadingly biased reporting

    • Scott

      Interesting points. I could be wrong but hasn’t the BBC always been a bit nationalist? i don’t mean that in a negative sense, just that they’ve always been pro-UK.

      • “Always” is a long time. It used to have a reputation for objectivity, much vaunted at the time of the Falklands War, but that has faded over the past two decades. It is now strongly anti-Scottish independence as well as the other biases I mentioned

  • Kurt T Simon

    I would think that those who know that Trump’s allegations of “fake news” are the rants of a rather demagogic simpleton are the only ones reading this article. His Brownshirts believe everything he says and are the only ones buying into the insanity. I’m not sure who you were trying to convince.

  • lewlorton