Journalism, when executed properly, has never been a simple task. But especially in the 21st century, we see a rise not only in the bias swelling within the news media but also in a physical hostility toward the divulgence of truth. Modern journalism is characterized more so by calling people to action than it is to pointing out truth. If truth is not fully articulated, then people’s actions are going to be more frequently flawed.
Due to the constant interior turmoil and possible outward hostilities facing journalists in the field today, the career can be seen as risky, delicate, even daunting. Columnists, photojournalists, and other reporters culturally receive a bad rep. Their image is one commonly marred, often regarded and portrayed as poorly as the police officer’s. Perhaps this is because honest journalists, like good police, are striving to promote public welfare, either through the sharing of knowledge or the instilling of a sense of safety.
Different times and places call for different reactions which breed a variety of journalistic subgenres. Some occurrences are better suited as being reported through editorial comics, others as op-ed think pieces, and still others as straightforward, unbiased articles. There are some news events, if they are important enough, that will be tackled in several of the journalistic subgenres.
From there, bias has a place only in some types of journalism. Propaganda of any kind is journalism at its narrowest – for research and accuracy are some of the ultimate goals of the reporter. These aspects are often undermined in biased propaganda. However, this practice is protected, at least in the United States, by the rights of free speech and freedom of the press.
It is these liberties which permit the beautiful expression of ideas through journalism. Journalism in which the writer can become personal with the reader has its place such as in an op-ed. Reporter bias has a place in other media as well including editorial comics, environmental emotional appeals, creative criticism, etc. But bias has no place in the mainstream genre of journalism.
When one is reporting on a shooting, a fundraiser, a storm, anything, the primary concern of the reporter needs to be delivering the bare facts of the situation. That is a journalist’s first and foremost objective. Following the reporting of just the skin and bones of an event, the journalist may then consider crafting pieces such as an opinion feature. Once again, this deserves to be done after the chief goal of providing the simple unembellished truth has been accomplished.
The appropriateness for the time and place of bias is part of a set of journalism ethics. Other ethics pertain significantly to the crafts of photojournalism, video documentation, and other multimedia. The code of ethics is meant for both the reporters as well as their editors.
They are to question the appropriateness of an image in regards to elements such as violence and sexuality. Journalism must keep its audience in mind even though the audience might not like what or how the news is presented to them. But the documentarian and the editor must make decisions on what is visually acceptable. Do you show the starving nude child? Do you show the corpse of an activist cold in the street? Such questions have to be resolved.
Back to the dilemma of bias, a good rule of thumb to follow is that the reporter is in the safe spot if both left and right audience members dislike the manner of reporting. That said, this displays another dimension of the aversion that may face journalists who do their job. Live coverage of an event can be particularly dangerous, but in the whole history of journalism, writers are continuously put in harm’s way. Some journalists’ deaths seem to be freak accidents or fatalities of war; others seem to be planned and targeted.
In recent years, there has been a growing number of hostile acts committed against press representatives. In 2001, less than a month after the 9/11 incident, reporters started receiving lethal mail with anthrax bacteria. Bob Stevens, who worked for American Media, was hospitalized during this crisis. He died the next day.
In the days that followed, reporters with affiliations to companies like NBC, ABC, and CBS and their family members, were diagnosed with anthrax poisoning. This calamity also affected people working in the U.S. Postal Service. In total, five people were killed and many more were hospitalized.
In late June of this year, a young man named Jarrod W. Ramos stormed into the Capital Gazette‘s newsroom in Annapolis, MD and started shooting the employees seated at their desks. The atrocity claimed the lives of journalists John McNamara, Wendi Winters, Rob Hiaasen, and Gerald Fischman and sales assistant Rebecca Smith.
Asbury Park Press and other publications drew our attention to the death of Jerry Wolkowitz, an American-Jewish freelance journalist who was the victim of what has been called an “allegedly racially motivated beating” on the part of Jamil S. Hubbard in Freehold, NJ on May 1, 2018. Hubbard even ran over Wolkowitz with a vehicle. However, the 56-year-old journalist did not die on the spot. He held on for close to six months before he passed away. Hubbard was charged with a number of injustices in this terroristic act, among them murder and bias intimidation.
Then we come to perhaps the most notable, most disturbing journalist fatality of the year – at least that we know about. This is, of course, the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi. The man entered Saudi Arabia’s consulate on October 2 and never came out. He was there for some personal documents and not as a reporter.
In the past, Khashoggi had had the dangerous job of interviewing Osama Bin Laden on numerous occasions. He also served as an editor to several publications over the years, and rather recently in his career he moved to the U.S. and began writing for the Washington Post.
After the disappearance, Turkish authorities soon claimed Khashoggi’s murder, even going so far as stating they could provide audio evidence. Not until October 19 did the Saudis admit to the reporter’s death. It has been suggested that he was attacked, drugged, and dismembered with a bone saw. This is simply a disgusting, horrific act. The last notable journalist fatality in Saudi Arabia was BBC’s Simon Cumbers 14 years ago. Journalists remain endangered to this day in the United States, Saudi Arabia, and around the world.
The media bias is a problem with actual reporting, and journalists are the ones that need to repair it. Hostility toward journalists is another animal entirely, one which is not as readily remedied.
Journalists can be attacked for any number of reasons. There are complex circumstances around many of these instances. Unfortunately, such attacks are not likely to be utterly done away with.