Editorial: A look at journalistic ethics


In the haze following the 2016 presidential election, there has been a crackdown on fake news and a very justified air of frustration toward the media for failing at their fundamental purpose: providing the public with the truth. But the content we publish and the fake news that has circulated the internet should not be lumped together and referred to as “the media.” The journalistic ethics that our writers follow guide us as we take our four years in college to develop a stronger sense of ethical principles in the field of journalism. We at the Weekly would like to reiterate our dedication to accuracy and our policy of do no harm as we send out our final issue.

Fake news sites like RealTrueNews.org, American News or the DC Gazette are hoax sites, differing from satirical news like The Onion or The New Yorker. They appear on social media feeds and create big headlines that garner money and attention, but are fictional. These are the fake news outlets that do not abide by our journalistic ethics, unlike news from mainstream, well-established newspapers such as the LA Times, the New York Times and the Washington Post.

When we covered the occupation anniversary last week, we were criticized for directing the course of the narrative by providing the viewpoints of administrators, protesters, students who disagreed with the protest and staff whose offices were occupied. Students were concerned that voicing all the differing opinions on an even platform actually devalued and decontextualized the voice of the protestors.

The code of journalistic ethics teaches us to contextualize all of our stories and ensure every side of the story is covered. At the Weekly, using these consistent guidelines, we return to the media suite every Monday night and engage with the criticism we receive, questioning ourselves and learning our principles as we do. That is how we try as best as we can to deliver the truth every time.

At the same time, it is not our job to intellectualize what we report on. That is your job. It is possible that you will engage with our reporting and disagree with the facts or methods used, but our principles will never allow us to decide who gets to speak and who does not. That is censorship. What we can do is make sure that there is legitimate content for you to critically engage with, on a campus where we are taught to critically interrogate our thoughts and the events around us. The Weekly, and mainstream newspapers, serve a necessary purpose making events known and providing substance for critical debate that is essential to our growth.

Last week, we reached out to faculty to write a letter for the occupation issue which ended up validating the student voices in our feature who were still frustrated, bitter and weary. It also served to contextualize these faculty members’ place in the protest. We also give students stories with which they can engage, critique and enjoy.

We published the news about a stalker on campus because we felt that students deserved to know. We published the update on the “Demands for the occupation” because rumors were spreading across campus on what the administration has and has not agreed to do. As a body whose objective is always objectivity, we are uniquely suited to collect facts and distribute them to the student body.

Whenever we report on major events or offer unpopular opinions, we know there will be a certain level of scrutiny and critical review of our work. We purposefully undertake this criticism in order to provide the highest level of honesty and objectivity to you, our readers. We will never publish without confirmation from multiple sources, a solid context for any incident and due diligence asking involved parties for the chance to tell their story.

When our writers signed up to be reporters, they also pledged to abide by the journalistic ethics that guide us, much like doctors with the Hippocratic Oath. If we asked the reporter to insert their own emotions and personal take, then we would be publishing a sort of fake news similar to what we saw this election season, where the facts are buried under misleading opinions. We continue to learn to be more objective and careful with our language as we grow as writers and people throughout our four years at college, not always getting it right but never purposefully getting it wrong. The fake news that appears on the internet has no incentive to follow the same journalistic guidelines.

Most students understand that some news is fake, some is real, some is biased and some we frankly do not care about. We urge you to continue to be diligent consumers and embrace skepticism in your readings — especially when reading the same papers over and over again, because you (the reader) alone have the power to hold journalists accountable, and in turn it is our duty to hold institutions accountable, expose the unethical practices of journalists and the news media and tell our stories boldly, especially when it is unpopular to do so.

Truth is hard to carry, difficult to find and not very fun to consume sometimes. But we can reassure you that we will not embellish or unnecessarily editorialize in cases in which the truth has been investigated according to our basic journalistic principles.

This editorial represents the collective opinion of The Occidental Weekly editorial board. Each week, the editorial board will publish its viewpoint on a matter relevant to the Occidental Community.


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