Integrity in journalism more important now than ever

Integrity in journalism more important now than ever

Signy Mastel, Editor-In-Chief

For as long as humanity has existed, there has been news. It has come in many forms, ranging from TV to newsboys to carrier pigeons, but one thing has remained constant: it’s new or noteworthy information which is reported to the public.

Unfortunately, the information that is reported on isn’t always reliable or true. There has been a huge trend over the last century in yellow journalism, also known as “fake news.” This sensationalistic storytelling has been happening even since the Spanish-American War in the 1890s, which was widely acknowledged as the first ‘media war.’

During that period, newspaper giants such as Joseph Pulitzer and William Randolph Hearst published completely false stories about Cuba and the sinking of the USS Maine in order to incite the people to start a war with the Spanish. After all, a war is great for selling papers. This sort of unreliable reporting was somewhat put in check by the end of the Spanish-American war, but has gotten worse over the last few decades with the development of new communications technology.

There’s also been a huge increase in the bias in the news. Whether you like it or not, every news source is biased. Many are biased politically, like Fox News to the right or MSNBC to the left, and almost everyone has heard President Trump complain about the liberal bias in the media, declaring “fake news” to be “the enemy of the people.” But fake news is entirely different from biased news. Fake news is completely untruthful, while biased news is true and has a type of “spin” on it. And, while this bias does exist, it is important to acknowledge that it goes both ways depending on what source you’re using, and some sources are still very neutral.

In July of 2017, I traveled to Washington D.C. for the Washington Journalism and Media Conference (WJMC), a convention for high schoolers interested in the field of journalism, and one of the press exercises we did sticks with me to this day.

All of the students were put into groups, given a list of barebones facts and news stories, and told to put together a broadcast with an assigned spin. Some groups were assigned to be neutral, and others were assigned to be on the left or right side of the political spectrum. It was amazing to see the difference that the so-called journalistic spins made in the overall report.

One group with a left bias took a fake report we were given, “President Trump approval ratings at 51%,” and turned it into a news report on how Trump finally made it to 51% and focused on how low his approval ratings normally were. The group assigned the right spin, however, focused their story on how President Trump’s approval ratings were steadily climbing and it showed that overall political opinion was changing. Both groups were given the same facts, but delivered those facts in vastly different styles, which had the effect of completely changing the meaning of the news.

For me, this exercise, along with the presence of yellow journalism and media bias in real news sources, highlighted one certain truth: the importane of integrity in journalism is paramount. Unreliable or corrupt news sources have been around for a very long time, and they have been destroying the trustworthiness and ethics of journalists.
Even in smaller scale news publications, such as this one, there have been issues in the past with bias from reporters and editors. “The Scroll” has been called many, many different things over the years, some complementary and some not so much, but this year that is going to change.

This year, “The Scroll” is going to be called ethical and dependable. This is my mission as editor and my promise to you, Fargo North– we are going to do the best that we can to deliver to you real and unbiased news in the news section, and keep the satire and the opinions where they belong: the opinion section.