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Principles of Journalism Cheat Sheet by

Principles to be followed by journalists
american     press     principles     association     journalism

A STATEMENT OF PURPOSE

After extended examin­ation by journa­lists themselves of the character of journalism at the end of the twentieth century, we offer this common unders­tanding of what defines our work. The central purpose of journalism is to provide citizens with accurate and reliable inform­ation they need to function in a free society.

This encomp­asses myriad roles helping define community, creating common language and common knowledge, identi­fying a commun­ity’s goals, heroes and villains, and pushing people beyond compla­cency. This purpose also involves other requir­ements, such as being entert­aining, serving as watchdog and offering voice to the voiceless.

Over time journa­lists have developed nine core principles to meet the task. They comprise what might be described as the theory of journa­lism.

1. JOURNA­LISM’S FIRST OBLIGATION IS TO THE TRUTH

Democracy depends on citizens having reliable, accurate facts put in a meaningful context. Journalism does not pursue truth in an absolute or philos­ophical sense, but it can and must pursue it in a practical sense. This “journ­alistic truth” is a process that begins with the profes­sional discipline of assembling and verifying facts. Then journa­lists try to convey a fair and reliable account of their meaning, valid for now, subject to further invest­iga­tion. Journa­lists should be as transp­arent as possible about sources and methods, so audiences can make their own assessment of the inform­ation. Even in a world of expanding voices, accuracy is the foundation upon which everything else is built: context, interp­ret­ation, comment, criticism, analysis and debate. The truth, over time, emerges from this forum. As citizens encounter an ever-g­reater flow of data, they have more need not less for identi­fiable sources dedicated to verifying that inform­ation and putting it in context.

2. ITS FIRST LOYALTY IS TO CITIZENS

While news organi­zations answer to many consti­tue­ncies, including advert­isers and shareh­olders, the journa­lists in those organi­zations must maintain allegiance to citizens and the larger public interest above any other if they are to provide the news without fear or favor. This commitment to citizens first is the basis of a news organi­zat­ion’s credib­ility; the implied covenant that tells the audience the coverage is not slanted for friends or advert­isers. Commitment to citizens also means journalism should present a repres­ent­ative picture of all consti­tuent groups in society. Ignoring certain citizens has the effect of disenf­ran­chising them. The theory underlying the modern news industry has been the belief that credib­ility builds a broad and loyal audience, and that economic success follows in turn. In that regard, the business people in a news organi­zation also must nurtur­e–not exploit their allegiance to the audience ahead of other consid­era­tions
 

3. ITS ESSENCE IS DISCIPLINE OF VERIFI­CATION

Journa­lists rely on a profes­sional discipline for verifying inform­ation. When the concept of object­ivity originally evolved, it did not imply that journa­lists are free of bias. It called, rather, for a consistent method of testing inform­ation – a transp­arent approach to evidence – precisely so that personal and cultural biases would not undermine the accuracy of their work. The method is objective; not the journa­list. Seeking out multiple witnesses, disclosing as much as possible about sources, or asking various sides for comment, all signal such standards. This discipline of verifi­cation is what separates journalism from other modes of commun­ica­tion, such as propag­anda, fiction or entert­ain­ment. However, the need for profes­sional method is not always fully recognized or refined. While journalism has developed various techniques for determ­ining facts, for instance, it has done less to develop a system for testing the reliab­ility of journa­listic interp­ret­ation.

4. ITS PRACTI­TIONERS MUST MAINTAIN AN INDEPE­NDENCE

ITS PRACTI­TIONERS MUST MAINTAIN AN INDEPE­NDENCE FROM THOSE THEY COVER
Indepe­ndence is an underlying requir­ement of journa­lism, a corner­stone of its reliab­ility. Indepe­ndence of spirit and mind, rather than neutra­lity, is the principle journa­lists must keep in focus. While editor­ialists and commen­tators are not neutral, the source of their credib­ility is still their accuracy, intell­ectual fairness and ability to inform, not their devotion to a certain group or outcome. In our indepe­ndence, however, we must avoid any tendency to stray into arrogance, elitism, isolation or nihilism.

5. MUST SERVE AS AN INDEPE­NDENT MONITOR OF POWER

Journalism has an unusual capacity to serve as watchdog over those whose power and position most affect citizens. The Founders recognized this to be a rampart against despotism when they ensured an indepe­ndent press; courts have affirmed it; citizens rely on it. As journa­lists, we have an obligation to protect this watchdog freedom by not demeaning it in frivolous use or exploiting it for commercial gain

6. IT MUST PROVIDE A FORUM

IT MUST PROVIDE A FORUM FOR PUBLIC CRITICISM AND COMPRO­MISE
The news media are the common carriers of public discus­sion, and this respon­sib­ility forms a basis for our special privil­eges. This discussion serves society best when it is informed by facts rather than prejudice and suppos­ition. It also should strive to fairly represent the varied viewpoints and interests in society, and to place them in context rather than highlight only the confli­cting fringes of debate. Accuracy and truthf­ulness require that as framers of the public discussion we not neglect the points of common ground where problem solving occurs.

7. IT MUST STRIVE TO MAKE THE SIGNIF­ICANT ..

IT MUST STRIVE TO MAKE THE SIGNIF­ICANT INTERE­STING AND RELEVANT
Journalism is storyt­elling with a purpose. It should do more than gather an audience or catalogue the important. For its own survival, it must balance what readers know they want with what they cannot anticipate but need. In short, it must strive to make the signif­icant intere­sting and relevant. The effect­iveness of a piece of journalism is measured both by how much a work engages its audience and enlightens it. This means journa­lists must contin­ually ask what inform­ation has most value to citizens and in what form. While journalism should reach beyond such topics as government and public safety, a journalism overwh­elmed by trivia and false signif­icance ultimately engenders a trivial society.

8. IT MUST KEEP THE NEWS COMPRE­HENSIVE ..

IT MUST KEEP THE NEWS COMPRE­HENSIVE AND PROPOR­TIO­NAL
Keeping news in proportion and not leaving important things out are also corner­stones of truthf­ulness. Journalism is a form of cartog­raphy: it creates a map for citizens to navigate society. Inflating events for sensation, neglecting others, stereo­typing or being dispro­por­tio­nately negative all make a less reliable map. The map also should include news of all our commun­ities, not just those with attractive demogr­aphics. This is best achieved by newsrooms with a diversity of backgr­ounds and perspe­ctives. The map is only an analogy; proportion and compre­hen­siv­eness are subjec­tive, yet their elusiv­eness does not lessen their signif­icance.

9. ITS PRACTI­TIONERS MUST BE ALLOWED TO ..

ITS PRACTI­TIONERS MUST BE ALLOWED TO EXERCISE THEIR PERSONAL CONSCI­ENCE
Every journalist must have a personal sense of ethics and respon­sib­ility–a moral compass. Each of us must be willing, if fairness and accuracy require, to voice differ­ences with our collea­gues, whether in the newsroom or the executive suite. News organi­zations do well to nurture this indepe­ndence by encour­aging indivi­duals to speak their minds. This stimulates the intell­ectual diversity necessary to understand and accurately cover an increa­singly diverse society. It is this diversity of minds and voices, not just numbers, that matters.

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