Last semester, although I am not a journalism major, I took a course on ethics in journalism. My professor, who previously worked as a reporter and editor for several newspapers, taught us the four key principles of ethical journalism: seek the truth and report it, minimize harm, act independently and be accountable and transparent.
Ever since the number of media channels has grown, the demand for journalists to uphold the four key ethical principles has seemed to fade. Because of advancements in technology and the explosion of the internet, people can find news just about anywhere.
No one could have predicted the way technology has changed the world in the past 20 years or how it’s constantly replacing old traditions with new ideas. For example, journalists are no longer the go-to people for fair and balanced coverage.
Last week, I spoke to Bravo Group’s senior director, Sean Connolly, who worked as a reporter straight out of college and later made his way to the Pennsylvania Capitol Newsroom, where he covered state issues and politics for The Morning Call in Allentown and The Patriot-News in Harrisburg. Sean also served as the press secretary for nearly eight years for two Pennsylvania attorneys general.
In his role as a reporter in the Capitol Newsroom, Sean served as the traditional news gatekeeper, the person who determined what was news and what would be covered and published. With so many media outlets and ways to send and receive information, the role of the gatekeeper seems no longer to be needed.
When I asked Sean about the diminishing gatekeeper role in journalism and the rapidly growing number of media outlets pumping stories out to consumers, he said, “The changing landscape of media both helps us and hurts us in public relations.”
With more media outlets, public relations professionals have more channels to reach targeted audiences, increase exposure and identify consumers and engage with them. On the other hand, more media outlets mean more channels that can circulate bad public relations for clients with little ability to get in touch with them to tell your side of the story.
Today, almost anyone can create a blog to push out news and messages, including organizations and associations, but since the writers of the stories are often not traditional journalists, they don’t necessarily follow the ethics of journalism. Publishers of content, whether they represent traditional media or not, can write stories from their own points of view. Readers get accustomed to getting their news only from sources that match up with their beliefs and ideologies.
Without balanced and nonpartisan reporting, not only is the public robbed of access to the full truth but companies looking for news coverage are cheated as well.
“There are many channels we can use to inform and educate our audience, but, conversely, journalists are no longer unbiased observers,” Sean said. “Some have become advocates in their own right, as a way to appeal to their own constituents.”
Public relations professionals have the battle of creating and promoting their clients’ messages in alternative ways.
“We don’t always get a fair shake from some journalists who push their own agenda. So, we have to go around and do our own messaging,” Sean said.
As the key principle “seek the truth and report it” has turned into “write your own version of the truth,” the role public relations professionals play in getting attention for messages has become even more important.
Lauren Koppenhaver || Harrisburg Office