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Major Disappointment: Ethics in journalism, off the record

Sara Warzecka
By Sara Warzecka
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Thursday, February 19, 2004
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Ethics in journalism, off the record

When one thinks of the world's most powerful citizens, politicians, business CEOs and the ungodly rich may come to mind. However, this list excludes the most powerful citizen of all: the journalist. One can be rich or powerful, but reporters can take that away in a moment. Journalists are responsible for providing the world with the facts the information that shapes the average person's perception of the world's current events.

Some American journalists have a flair for the dramatic and the sort of embellishing that does not belong in the news. Many people no longer trust the American media for news and feel they must consult international Web sites to find out what's really going on in the world. It's hard to blame these cynics when looking at the news events of the past decade. Journalists react to "what the people want" and decide what is best to be aired, written, published or broadcasted.

Unfortunately, the people are apparently morons and really need to be told what makes news.

News programs and even newspapers go for the stories that appeal they want what sells. Of course we know that sex sells. So when Britney Spears gets married for less than a day, that takes news priority over any breaking news in the Democratic primary. Al Sharpton could have said he would perform a striptease on national television if he wasn't elected, and it wouldn't have mattered. Mentioning the publicity surrounding Michael Jackson's newest scandal or the Kobe Bryant trial is worthless because the country has already made sure these topics have been over-publicized to the point of giving me nightmares.

Looking at the war in Iraq and the events in Afghanistan after Sept. 11, 2001, most people would agree that the news had a certain flavoring, and jump on board the nationalistic bandwagon. Perhaps if the media hadn't taken such a strong patriotic stance, I wouldn't have felt the need to cover my entire body with American flag stickers. Political satirist Al Franken penned the book "Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them: A Fair and Balanced Look at the Right," which focused on the Republican leanings of the news media. President George W. Bush has a friend in Fox News.

Politicians, senators and representatives vote according to the opinions of their constituents. It's the only way to get elected. When it came time to decide about going to war with Iraq and the real existence of weapons of mass destruction, the people went by what they were told. Perhaps journalism is, then, a part of the reason the country is in the midst of another unnecessary war.

Broadcast journalists have always been depicted as obsessed with their own careers, willing to do whatever it takes to find the story. Sometimes the movie version of the freedom of the press goes too far. People are left to wonder if the toupee-wearing news show anchors who deliver bad news really enjoy the public pain in the day's events.

Journalism majors are faced with the choice of facing the world through broadcast news or dispensing the necessary facts in newspapers around the country. Broadcast journalism sometimes has to be sensationalized because, otherwise, it would bore the average viewer. By the same token, city newspapers can often fail to capture the people's interest due to a lack of visual stimulation. Future journalists need to find a happy medium between sometimes overstated broadcast journalism and the written word, which at times fails to appeal to the masses. However, whether aiming for broadcasting or publication, you don't need to major in journalism to be a journalist.

Many of the top journalists graduated from college with majors other than journalism, if you can actually believe that. English majors take note: Bob Woodward, Dave Barry and Barbara Walters majored in English. Ted Koppel completed a bachelor's of science degree.

The point is, you don't need to be a journalism major to make it in the media. Learning all of the different editing styles and newspaper formats will probably not be what gets a person hired at The New York Times. Newspapers are looking for the people who know how to write an interesting story. But it's time the population evolved. Journalists should be able to report the real news without having to worry about appealing to the masses, though it should still be interesting.

Sara Warzecka is a journalism major. She can be reached at

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