Christopher Fox GrahamAs the recent Sedona city election headed toward the finish line, some of our readers wondered if the Sedona Red Rock News would endorse any candidates.
Other editorial boards in other major newspapers have endorsed presidential candidates, but more often than not, these endorsements have little effect on readers and only serve to reveal a potential bias in following new stories, whether they exist or not.
In our Internet culture, people are reading more, but are less likely to read the opposition. People want “news” about their candidate or issue, but they don’t want “news by journalists” to present an honest picture, flush with the acne, scars and high-class call girls with MySpace pages that may taint a public figure.
Liberals tend to skew toward left-leaning publications like Mother Jones or TomPaine.com whose writers inch more toward punditry that journalism.
Conservatives have “fair and balanced” Fox News, which is neither fair, nor balanced, nor really news. Discuss.
Punditry is not a bad thing in itself, but it should not masquerade itself as journalism.
Both The New York Times and The Washington Post are cited by the right and left as too liberal or too conservative, respectively.
At the other end of the spectrum, journalism must be free of any bias whatsoever, otherwise, it’s just opinion printed on broadsheet.
It’s that specter of bias lurking beneath the bed that defines a reporter from a writer.
When we begin in this career, cub reporters are terrified that readers may see a hint of their opinion on a issue, so they learn to pick words and phrases that avoid that bias but still tell an engaging story.
They call representatives on both sides, in part so they don’t get angry phone calls after the story goes to press, and get quotes so that readers have both sides.
The reporters also learn the hard way that even if the story is fair, they’ll still get angry phone calls from both sides.
Nobody likes the truth unless it’s their truth.
As cubs grow up into … lion reporters — I’m stretching for the metaphor here — they carry themselves with a certain proud nobility of being fair and unbiased. At this point they’re not much fun at parties, but certain costs must be paid for ethics.
While the Sedona municipal election was the impetus for this column, we dodge these bias bullets in Keanu Reeves-like fashion in all of our news coverage.
In the same issue, we run letters to the editor calling President George W. Bush a warmongering pinhead destined for a war crimes trial at the Hague to letters calling the sweet, mentally handicapped man a hero for doing his best to protect Americans from the dangers of militant Islamic fundamentalism.
This gut-twistingly fun sense of ethics is also what defines a newspaper from a tabloid or a newsletter, like many of those that have appeared in Sedona.
The journalists’ Constitution is the Society of Professional Journalists Code of Ethics.
Some of my favorite parts, which mark the distinct difference between the Sedona Red Rock News and other publications, include section three, “Act independently:”
Avoid conflicts of interest, real or perceived.
Remain free of associations and activities that may compromise integrity or damage credibility.
Refuse gifts, favors, fees, free travel and special treatment, and shun secondary employment, political involvement, public office and service in community organizations if they compromise journalistic integrity.
Disclose unavoidable conflicts.
Be vigilant and courageous about holding those with power accountable.
Deny favored treatment to advertisers and special interests and resist their pressure to influence news coverage.
In the interest of full disclosure, I am the volunteer chairman of the Sedona Youth Commission. As such, I will never write a story on the commission’s activities, I will not edit a story on the commission, nor will I read it until it comes off the press.
This is not a rule of the city government, nor has it been handed down from our publisher. It doesn’t need to be. It’s simply the ethical thing for a reporter to do.
Other publications, in stark contrast to the Sedona Red Rock News, publish bylined news stories by individuals quoted as sources in the story and — miraculously or with the help of a tripod and timer — appear in the story’s photographs, too. Will technological wonders never cease. Toss in a letter to the editor by the same person and you have a tabloid or a newsletter, not a newspaper.
The only thing that gives journalism its health and strength is ethics — without ethics, newspapers are merely pretty fishwrap. The Sedona Red Rock News’ readers have a healthy newspaper.
Deciphering Sedona is published every Wednesday in the Sedona Red Rock News. To comment, e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.