Striving to serve the public

Trust. Skepticism.

These words may appear to be unrelated, even antonymic. In general usage, maybe, but in the realm of journalistic ethical standards and decision-making, trust and skepticism are intertwined.

Last week, we were forced to walk the fine line between trust and skepticism after it came to light that a letter we received contained words taken directly from another author’s work without attribution.

First and foremost, we want – and should – trust our readers, our contributors, each other. Trust that their intentions are pure, that the work is their own.

But, we learned a valuable lesson last week – we trusted that the words, the opinion, were that of the person who signed the letter. We trusted blindly. We weren’t skeptical enough.

As a result of this lesson, we will strive for more diligence in checking the authenticity of the letters and articles we receive – not because we don’t trust, but because we have a duty to ensure that the information we provide to our readers is as honest and accurate as possible.

The Society of Professional Journalists Code of Ethics Preamble states: “Conscientious journalists from all media and specialties strive to serve the public with thoroughness and honesty. Professional integrity is the cornerstone of a journalist’s credibility.”

We have an obligation to report honestly and thoroughly the events of last week as soon as they came to light.

To do anything less, by our ethical standards, would challenge our integrity, and our credibility.

Journalistic credibility is the foundation that allows the public to trust that the information the media provide is true, accurate, and supports our duty to enlighten in the pursuit of democracy.

While articles in the paper should be unbiased accounts of facts as they are reported, the standards for the Viewpoints page are less stringent.

It is an open forum for all who choose to express their ideas, their opinions, freely and openly.

Viewpoints and letters to the editor are direct applications of the First Amendment, which is at the core of democracy. *As Professor Thomas I. Emerson once said, “A citizen who seeks truth must hear all sides of the question, especially as presented by those who feel strongly and argue militantly for a different view.”

We, the staff of The Northerner, value the open exchange of information, the pursuit of truth and democracy and strive to encourage all who wish to contribute to do so through Letters to the Editor.

All we ask is that is that the opinion be your own, in your own words and, if you wish to use someone else’s words to support your views, give them credit through proper attribution.

*source: The Law of Public Communication, 2002 edition