Journalist uses caution to ensure his success

26 Apr

by: Shannon MacNeil

Starting off your career can be a challenging thing for some, it’s like one wrong move could jeopardize the rest of your life.  This causes some recent grads to be extra cautious on the job. Will Dean, a recent graduate from West Virginia University, has been working as a journalist for the Dominion Post in Morgantown, WV, for less than a year.   He has been making sure everything he does is by the book.

A couple months ago Dean was assigned to cover a dinner with the school board and local legislatures, but was also personally invited to the event.  He wasn’t sure if this would be a conflict of interest.  Was he allowed to cover the event even if he was attending it? There had been times where he was offered free books and concert tickets that he had to say no to, was this the same kind of situation?  Unsure, he asked his editor, “she said common sense prevails and that it would be fine,” Dean said.  His editor helped him work through what all that really meant.  The logic boiled down to that fact that his eating dinner there wasn’t necessarily giving him special treatment above the other guests; it was a simple gesture of hospitality.

This may seem like a little dilemma, but what Dean learned was that it is always important to just ask if you don’t know the answer to something.  He loves having an editor that he can trust and confide in.  “Honestly having an editor is great because any time you have a problem they tell you what to do. [Their] experience helps too.”

With all the fire that comes in journalists way, I don’t blame Dean for being extra cautious.  “The duty of journalists in this post-truth environment is the same as it has always been – to separate lies from facts,” states Aiden White in the Ethical Journalism Network Report, “…to inform readers as honestly as possible and to aim at the closest approximation of the truth.”  Many ethical dilemmas that journalists of today deal with are: properly verifying online news, releasing viral videos and photos, hate speech, and the race to post a story first, according to the report.

A more extreme example of Dean’s question of whether its ethical or not to put yourself into the scene you’re writing about, comes from Sanjay Gupta, a neurosurgeon and CNN reporter.  Gupta covers stories after many natural disasters and is sometimes the most qualified person there to perform medical care.  There are pictures of him on assignment cutting people open and cradling injured babies.  This again boils down to what Dean’s editor told him, common sense prevails.  I don’t know if as a journalist you can ever stay completely out of the story, your presence there alone makes an impact.

“Going forward, I’ll probably keep relying on my editors for now; I haven’t even been in the field a full year yet.”  Dean explains, “Even after I’m more experienced I’ll definitely talk over any possible ethical snares with coworkers.”




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