On Ethics and Journalism

I’m gonna tell you a story (that I’m copying from a discussion I had on Facebook).

Back around the turn of the century I was a contributor for a site called the Detroit Sports Rag. It was specifically built to be a watchdog group for the Detroit sports media. Now this was a city in which the media was (and is) pretty much blatantly in bed with the teams they were supposed to cover.

I mean, they didn’t even try to hide it. The Ford Family hosted media events specifically for supportive journalists. Beat reporters that asked uncomfortable questions would find their press credentials revoked by the very papers they wrote for.

When Rob Parker had a book deal go south, then General Manager of the Detroit Pistons, Joe Dumars, straight cut the dude a check to cover the failed book launch. The ramifications of that? Absolutely nothing. Parker continued to write for the Pistons beat for years.

This was an industry where Mitch Albom could write and have published by the Detroit Free Press about a Michigan State Final Four appearance that he couldn’t have attended, since at the time he sent it into press, that event HADN’T EVEN HAPPENED YET. His punishment? A two week supension… oh, did I mention Albom at that point was writing articles about once a month?

Michael Rosenberg had a personal relationship with former U-M coach Lloyd Carr, to the point where he openly declared in public that he was going to get then coach Rich Rodriguez fired. When a potential rules infraction was uncovered, did Rosenberg recuse himself from the obvious conflict of interest? Nope. In fact, he gleefully took the investigation, intentionally misrepresented facts, trumped up the charges, and tried to get the man he wanted fired fired. His punishment? Absolutely nothing. He works at Sports Illustrated now.

The site I contributed to? It’s now a one person blog that even he admits caters to nothing but a small group of people.

That’s the sort of problem with “ethics” in journalism, and there’s really not a debate to be had. We (as a society) KNOW what the problem is. We just don’t care, and certainly don’t care nearly enough to foot the bill that would help keep journalists free of the influence of the people they’re reporting on.

~~~

So when people who fly the #GamerGate hashtag wonder why everyone outside of gaming kinda rolls their eyes and dismisses their concerns, this is pretty much why.  This isn’t unexplored ground here, and it’s a debate that has been had in far more important fields as well.  It’s a debate that society has pretty much settled itself on, and that answer has been, “Sure… unbiased reporting would be cool and all, but if we have to support it… eh… we’ll take the yellow journalism.”

Hell, I would argue in some fields (especially in politics), we kinda… like it.  Biased reporting is rewarded.  The pundits (not the reporters) are the ones that make the big money.  Op-ed is what makes the front page, not the fact-checking.  We chase the clickbait, not the accurate correction.  We want to get worked up and in a froth, and the best way to do that is to stomp our feet angrily at something we know is “wrong.”

If we want ethical journalism, there needs to fundamental changes in the very fabric of our society (and possibly even ol’ human nature itself).  I don’t see that happening any time soon.

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