2.2 Journalism and Editing

Most mainstream news sources and all dependable news sources adhere to journalistic and/or editorial standards of practice. To understand this better, we first need a basic understanding of journalism and editing. Craft and Davis define journalism as “a set of transparent, independent procedures aimed at gathering, verifying and reporting truthful information of consequence to citizens in a democracy” (as cited in Vos, 2018, p. 3). Most descriptions of journalism include the key concepts of truth, facts, and informing. When describing the profession, most mention that to be considered a journalist one must adhere to guidelines that uphold social values. Journalism is not meant to support private business or financial gain but to inform society in a well-rounded way. Journalism might include collecting information (researching), preparing it (writing and editing) and distributing it (reporting, broadcasting or publishing). It is threaded throughout most news media (Martin, 2018).

Editing is another important part of the news process that separates good information from bad. In Canada, an editor is likely to follow the Professional Editorial Standards, a document that outlines “the knowledge, skills, and practices most commonly required for editing English-language materials” (Editors Canada, 2017, para. 3). Editors following standards ensure that articles are consistent and correct. When a writer or reporter invites an editor to review their work, they are usually looking for neutrality. To be neutral means to not favour one viewpoint over another. Ideally, an editor is someone who does not have a strong stance on the issue being written about.

Some organizations that publish trustworthy online information, for instance in medicine and health, hire knowledgeable editors to proofread articles and ensure their accuracy. Mayo Clinic (2018) is an example of a health information website that has a strong medical editorial staff. It includes a chief medical and specialty medical editors who review and update every article published. A specialty editor is an expert on a particular topic, so a doctor specializing in cardiac health is likely to review any articles pertaining to heart health. On websites such as these, the medical information provided is written based on the best research available. It is also interesting to note that the Mayo Clinic (2011) has a strict advertising policy, stating that they only accept advertising and sponsorship from companies that support their mission of “making reliable health information available to the public” (para. 1).

It is the hallmark of a good editor to be unbiased, to uphold standards, and to assist authors in presenting the facts in a way that is understandable to their audience. These elements of journalism and editing inform many news outlets’ codes of ethics and standards. It is through the history of journalism that we see the emergence of terms and concepts that uphold truth: neutrality, objectivity, verifying facts (Jordan, 2021).

2.2.1 Journalistic and Editorial Standards

Disinformation is often present in the media; in fact, it has a long history throughout traditional news. An example that continues to occur is the use of questionable headlines during periods of unrest (like wartimes). News outlets from the countries involved have often felt required to publish censored news to ensure that populations continue to support wars. Censoring is when a person selects which part of a story to include and which to remove with a specific purpose. During the first World War, also known as the Great War (1914-1918), the British government enacted regulations so that news articles were heavily controlled. The Defence of the Realm Act was enacted to stop news outlets from publishing anything that might cause “disaffection or alarm” among the British population – in other words they did not want the truth about the atrocities of warfare to leak to the public (Greenslade, 2014, para. 3).

We have repeatedly seen people’s frustration with false information in the media. This always begins when the public realizes they have been misinformed and they begin to demand more accurate information. Turning back to the Great War, in America, shared exhaustion with the publication of misinformation and propaganda by newspapers led the New York Times to embrace professional ethics (Jordan, 2021). The mechanism that allowed news companies to do this was the subscription model, in which people select what newspapers to subscribe to, and halt their purchase if they were dissatisfied with what they read. Within this structure newspapers adopted objective reporting to differentiate themselves from tabloid journalism and to maintain a balance to satisfy all readers (Giansiracusa, 2021; Jordan, 2021). This started the creation of journalistic standards and it eventually led to the Fairness Doctrine, which stated that American television and radio broadcasters must “present all sides of important public questions fairly, objectively and without bias” (Jordan, 2021, para. 18).

Today, most large news providers in Canada adhere to standards that are made publicly available. They do this to prevent the publication of false or misleading stories. Here are three Canadian examples:

There are three important promises presented in each of the policies listed above. First, corrections policies stating that the source will fix errors in a timely manner. Second, conflict of interest policies stating that the source will not accept gifts in return for reporting a story in a certain way. Third, fact-checking standards which describe how the source ensures the information shared is correct. A person who is seeking accurate information can be more certain they are reading high quality reporting if they begin by looking for and reviewing the journalistic and editorial standards.

However, it is important to remember that to be considered news, one does not have to adhere to guidelines such as those listed above. There are various websites that claim to produce news but provide readers with inaccurate or skewed information to achieve a specific goal. Millions of the news sites, blogs, and social media channels that have emerged in the Internet age do not adhere to standards. Some may even claim to adhere to journalistic standards, but often don’t. It is important to read these statements closely and ask questions when reading an article of interest, before trusting the information.



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Disinformation: Dealing with the Disaster Copyright © 2023 by Saskatchewan Polytechnic is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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