The power given to journalists under the Constitution is vital to the operation and preservation of the democratic system, and journalists have a responsibility to go about serving their role for the people in the most fair and ethical manner possible. The content of a news story is worthless if it is not obtained using the proper measures because holding power accountable means journalists must hold themselves to the same standards. The importance of law and ethics also boils down to the smallest things, as I have learned, because the best journalists always strive to do what is right even when it may seem like an insignificant decision.
MV Media is fortunate to have school administrators who respect the right of our program to publish as well as be present to cover all school events within the guidelines set forth by the Colorado High School Activities Association (CHSAA). We did not encounter any major issues as a program during our coverage of the year’s events. However, I am grateful to have had the opportunity to personally deal with a few issues throughout the year that expanded my experience with the powers and limitations of journalism and strengthened my confidence in my personal ethics.
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Junior Ezra Engelmann studies “The Communist Manifesto” during AP US History. "’The Communist Manifesto’ is the perfect embodiment of my beliefs because it represents the working class equally in the working union in the most fair way possible," Engelmann said. Engelmann enjoys reading up on political subjects in his free time. Photo by Brendan O’Keeffe
As we approached the end of the first semester, one of our staff members gathered content for this photo and caption regarding a student’s beliefs in the communist manifesto on our Instagram account. This subject can be controversial due to the nature and history of the ideology, which prompted the overseeing editor of the staff member to harbor concerns about posting the photo. I encouraged the editor to go ahead and post the content because we were both convinced that the statements contained within were authentic and represented a piece of the student’s story, which we felt was fair to share as journalists.
Recently, we began the nomination and voting process for senior superlatives in our yearbook. These awards are important to the student body because they are a fun way to look back on the year, and it was our job to eliminate any bias in the selection of candidates and represent the choices of the students fairly.
Included in our categories for senior superlatives were a few that could be interpreted negatively, such as “worst driver” or “most likely to procrastinate.” In order to protect the right of every student to determine their role in the voting process and ensure that no one was offended by the their nomination, we contacted each nominee of a potentially negative category and asked for their permission to be included in the public voting stage. If they declined, we respected their wishes and simply removed them from the ballot to avoid any embarrassment.
I strive to go about writing stories and gathering content in the most professional and honest manner. I am always aware of simple things that I may be tempted to do because they make a photo look more appealing, writing appear to be more meaningful, or otherwise fit more easily into the scope of what I am attempting to accomplish. I have a strong set of standards as a journalist to ensure that my work is legitimate.
When it comes to photo editing, there are so many programs out there that allow a mass array of tools to manipulate photos, but it is important to ensure that the content of a photo remains undamaged and that the true work is done to shoot the photo, not create it on a computer.
» I only alter the brightness of photos minimally in order to make the subject clearly visible if it is not.
» When shooting events, I always attempt to frame my photos with the camera so that I am able to crop the photos minimally, if at all.
» I never remove or add any elements of a photo and restrict all of my editing in general in order to maintain the true emotion and action captured in the picture.
» Following the guidelines set forth by CHSAA for positioning of photographers at events is something I have especially learned the importance of, and I make sure to be aware that I am not hindering the athletes, officials or coaches in any manner.
» It is vital to never pose the subjects in a photo and only capture them in legitimate action because I believe that doing so would not be demonstrating reality to the viewers of a photo and would be violating the tenants of good journalism.
Online coverage is often the immediate method of sharing news with an audience, and it is important in the moment to abide by strong ethics and report only the facts of a story.
» I was often on our program’s Twitter account providing live updates on sporting events. Due to the rapid nature of immediate updates, I occasionally made mistakes in the process of tweeting, just as in this recent example during the College National Championship football game. Rather than quickly delete the incorrect tweet and replace it with a new one, I always replied with a correction so as to be transparent with my mistakes. Though this is a small example, it demonstrates the value I placed in the transparency of the program.
» I always reported the facts in the most clear manner possible. I posted this on our Twitter account at the end of Wish Week, when students were eagerly awaiting the announcement about the total money raised by the high school. Due to the excitement, this tweet could have been misleading and caused students to believe it was the actual total for our feeder school, but I made sure to specify that the total was unofficial and that it was from the middle school, not the high school.
The process of news gathering truly makes or breaks the value of a story because if the collection of any aspect of information for the story is completed in an unethical manner, the story is invalid.
» Before I record any interview, I always ask the person I am interviewing if it is okay that I record the conversation for the story I am writing. This ensures that the subject is comfortable with being a part of the story and aware that what they say is quotable.
» When writing the story, I only include the facts, and all the facts, that I have found from credible sources. The inclusion of any other piece of information without attribution or verification would essentially be an opinion of mine and the absence of any facts would mean the absence of the full story, which it is my responsibility to tell as a journalist.
»It is also important to find at least a second source for every story that I write because it allows me to gather information from many different perspectives and tell the full story to our audience. In the following story, which I wrote after finding that the wife of a fallen police officer graduated from Mountain Vista, I took a week to gather information from three sources at my school as well as from multiple credible online sources, such as The Denver Post.