Credibility Key for Journalists

It’s the most wonderful time of the year! Yep, that’s right – the pigskin is finally back and it’s Football Time in Tennessee!

Football is definitely one of the best things about fall, which just happens to be the season I love most. Autumn means the weather is getting cooler (supposedly, but around here it generally takes a while before you finally feel a little nip in the air), the trees are turning beautiful shades of red, gold and orange and Friday nights are all about high school football.

Back in the day, my Friday nights were all about going to those games. I went to Tennessee High in Bristol and there was absolutely nothing better in the world than cheering on the Vikings. I was kind of a sports nut in high school (and still am) and when it came to my Vikings, I was a super fan. If there was a game going on, I was there, no matter what the sport.

To no one’s surprise (except maybe for me) I ended up becoming a sportswriter. In Bristol. And one of the prep teams I was responsible for covering was Tennessee High. Now, one might imagine that I’d be all kinds of excited since I was not only getting to write about sports but that I was getting to write about my alma mater.
While I was happy to have such a great job – because let’s face it, a serious sports fan actually getting paid to write about games was way cool – I was also a little worried. Coaches, teachers and administrators I knew when I went to school at THS were still there, and while I knew I always had to be impartial, I also realized it might not always be easy.

When the Vikings would win, I was happy for them and when they lost, I hated it for them. The thing is nobody ever knew how I felt personally and it didn’t show in my writing. I conducted interviews the same way regardless of the outcome and my stories were always fair and balanced. I know this because my editors really got tired of me hounding them about it. I worried about it way too much, while they never gave it a thought. In fact, according to them, they would have never known that I even went to school at THS. Can’t tell you what that meant to me.
Recently, I spoke with a friend who works for ESPN. He’s well known and regularly reports on football and NASCAR. Like me, he is a huge Tennessee Vols fan, having gone to school there. And like it was for me when he has to cover a Vols game he worries about remaining objective. Even after all these years, he’s concerned that the fact that he bleeds orange on the inside will somehow come through in his reporting. I’ve watched him for years and I can say unequivocally that it never has.

The point to all of this is that when you’re a journalist, whether you’re working at a newspaper, television or radio station, magazine, etc. you are expected to adhere to the principles of journalism, which include truth and accuracy, as well as fairness and impartiality, and accountability, just to name a few. Regardless of the kind of story you’re reporting on and ESPECIALLY if you have some type of tie to the story, these principles should always be at the forefront of your thinking, and if they’re not, you definitely need to find a new line of work.
And while there are certainly cases where some individuals have chosen to disregard those principles and ethics, most journalists take them very seriously. MOST would rather cut off an arm than to ever report something that wasn’t accurate, true and fair.

In today’s world, journalistic ethics and principles are constantly being questioned and doubted. It’s been a long time since I was actually a member of the media but I believe emphatically that the majority of journalists still abide by those standards and their intent is to simply tell the stories with truthfulness, accuracy, objectivity, impartiality, fairness and accountability.