Dean Wright on Ethics, Innovation and Values
One final point
After six of the most rewarding years in my career, this is my final week at Reuters as global editor for ethics and standards. In this role, it’s been my job to make sure Reuters journalists have the guidance, tools and oversight to help them practice journalism in a way that is consistent with the highest ethics and standards. I’ve spent most of my life doing more-or-less daily journalism, and now my wife and I have formed a media consulting company. But before I move on, I’m taking one last opportunity to reflect on why I’m proud to have been a Reuters journalist.
Some say journalism’s golden age has passed. But speaking as someone who has been at this for 38 years, I think we’re living in it.
The news cycle of the first three months of 2011 has clearly shown the value of having experienced journalists in place around the globe to tell the world’s stories and provide insight into how those stories affect the lives of our audience.
I’m humbled by the skill and courage our journalists have shown in reporting on the wars and revolutions in the Middle East and the earthquake, tsunami and nuclear crisis in Japan. Just this week, Sabah al-Bazee, a freelance Iraqi journalist who had worked for Reuters since 2004, was killed while reporting from Tikrit when gunmen attacked a government building.
I’m also proud that, at Reuters, we do our work in the open.
In 2009 we made the Reuters Handbook of Journalism available for free online. The handbook is the guidance Reuters journalists live by and we were proud to make it public.
As I wrote in 2009, we made the handbook public for three important reasons:
–Transparency. At a time when public trust of the media is in short supply, it’s important that news consumers see the guidelines our journalists follow.
–Service. Sure, anyone with an internet connection can be a publisher. But publishers have varying standards of truth, fairness and style. Our handbook is a great starting point for journalists and publishers as they build their own standards.
–Geography. Reuters serves a global audience and or handbook recognizes the cultural and political differences that our journalists face in reporting for the world. This is a handbook not just for English-language journalists in the United States or the United Kingdom, but for wherever English is used.
The response was gratifying. I heard from journalists and journalism educators around the world who were grateful for free access to this resource. We also heard from people who pointed out occasional inconsistencies between the handbook guidance and the way we actually reported stories. And that’s great–because we believe in transparency.
Not all interactions have been so pleasant. Partisans on all sides of Middle East issues are particularly prone to alleging bias in our reporting—and I’ve long since lost hope of convincing them that journalists can indeed put aside their own viewpoints and even ethnic backgrounds and report a story fairly and completely. That’s what our journalists do every day.
I’ve also given up on looking for wisdom in the anonymous comments that we and most other news organizations allow on stories. There is some wisdom there, but it’s drowned out in a cacophony of vituperation and recycled partisan attacks. It’s great to have interaction with our customers and readers, but I’d really like to know you better—not just as Johnnycat99 or Teaweasel.
Technology has liberated us and presented new challenges. How can we be sure that images we gather through social media or from third parties are legitimate at a time when photo manipulation technology can make doctored photos virtually impossible to detect? We’ve even had isolated instances of our own journalists using such technology improperly, instances that have been dealt with swiftly and decisively.
And yet, as I said earlier, there is so much reason for optimism about journalism.
Journalists are better educated than ever, have more powerful tools for gathering and transmitting news than ever and, as we’re seeing this year, are having a greater impact than ever.
And judging from my contacts with the Reuters journalists who do the hard work of daily journalism, they’re less cynical and more idealistic than ever. So many have told me that they see themselves as evangelists of truth, of independent reporting and the free flow of information. For most, this is much more than a job. They believe, as do I, that the world would be a poorer, meaner place without their efforts.
I salute them and pray for them.