Actions taken by former Sun staffers reflect on members of The Sun past, present and future. As reported in a previous issue of The Sun, evidence was unearthed that former staffer Rick Flores committed potential crimes with access granted to him in part by his position with The Sun. His actions were immediately brought to light as soon as the evidence could be verified.
An unaffiliated pamphlet circulated anonymously claims to be produced by current and former Sun staff. It reflected poorly upon them. Every unsubstantiated phrase, every anonymous source is a needle in their eye.
The Sun’s mission statement reads, “Though The Sun is a student publication, staff members ascribe to the ethical and moral guidelines of professional journalism.” Ethics and morals are to be valued above everything else.
When he arrived in the fall of 1996, Sun advisor Dr. Max Branscomb began to make The Sun what it is today by hanging a copy of the Society of Professional Journalism’s Code of Ethics on the wall like Martin Luther posting the 95 Theses. And like Luther, the acts of Branscomb led to a reformation. Previously The Sun had been an immature rag. It was a class, not a newspaper. Students served themselves and not the community. In the spring more than half the class dropped out and from the ashes the new Sun rose. I remember, I was there.
The Code of Ethics calls journalists to do four things.
Seek truth and report it.
The light of truth must be found even when it leads to self-injury. Sun staffers take great pains in order to ensure the accuracy of their work. All interviews are recorded for accuracy and although they rarely withhold the right to not publish the names of sources for their protection, this is only done in an extreme case. Any mistakes made by the Sun are fixed as soon as possible in the form of published corrections.
Those who wield the First Amendment are given great power and, as they say, with great power comes great responsibility. All journalists feel the temptation at one time or another to abuse their powers. Some for just a split second, but the temptation is there. Sometimes stories that could be sensational are turned away because it could cause non-repairable harm to an individual or the community without benefit.
Over the history of the paper, The Sun has never been compromised. Yes, mistakes have happened, but were corrected at the first opportunity. A few years ago Sun staff members were aggressively asked to drop their inquiry into potential wrongdoing by administration. Funding was cut, staff was threatened with arrest by campus police and on one occasion the advisor was threatened at gunpoint.
But The Sun did not fold. The resulting stories resulted in the dismantling of a corrupt administration and fallout of those events can be felt even today.
Be accountable and transparent.
It is a responsibility of journalists to expose unethical conduct in journalism, including within their organizations.
My real name is printed at the top of this text is not a nom de plum. Anonymity is not a protection afforded to journalists. All stories and pictures in The Sun are credited with one exception. The unsigned editorial is the consensus opinion of the Editorial Board and so all members must partake in ownership of it. (And by the way, Dean McClellan, we come up with our own ideas and do our own work.)
This sets The Sun apart from the Jag Wire. While staff respects the fundamental right of the Jag Wire to exist, we are by no means supportive. Journalists look after their own, but no one is quicker to become judge, jury and executioner than their fellows. Good journalists expect and appreciate this. Keeps them on their toes.
According to the preamble of its Code of Ethics, “Members of the SPJ believe that public enlightenment is the forerunner of justice and the foundation of democracy.”
“(The SPJ Code of Ethics) is not a set of rules. It is supposed to act as a guide encouraging those who engage in journalism to take responsibility for the information they provide,” it reads.
Even the most prominent members of the journalism community can fall prey to unethical behavior. Flores is just one example. Unfortunately, he will not be the last.
In 1981, Janet Cooke of the Washington Post won a Pulitzer Prize for feature writing for her profile about an eight-year-old heroin addict. It was a brilliant piece of writing. Public outcry followed its release and an aggressive investigation was launched. Two days later the publisher of the Post held a press conference during which he said the story was a lie. Cooke had never met the young addict and there was no verifiable proof of his existence. She resigned from the Post that day, the award committee withdrew her Pulitzer and she never worked in the industry again.
Brian Williams, former anchor and managing editor of the NBC Nightly News, is serving a six-month suspension for “misrepresenting events which occurred while he was covering the Iraq War in 2003.” NBC’s official statement continues, “It then became clear that on other occasions Brian had done the same while telling that story in other venues. This was wrong and completely inappropriate for someone in Brian’s position.”
“Our job is only to hold up the mirror – to tell and show the public what has happened,” said Walter Cronkite, legendary journalist and formerly the most trusted man in America.
The current most trusted newscaster in America is not even a journalist, but a self-proclaimed fool. Political satirist Jon Stewart is, according to one Times poll taken shortly after the death of Cronkite, America’s new most trusted man. Stewart’s announcement of his impending departure from of The Daily Show was big news. Although journalists do not see him as one of their own they appreciate the role he plays.
SPJ’s Code of Ethics is a valiant attempt by the industry to police itself, but as arduously ethical journalists attempt to police the industry, it is never enough. Fox News, the Jag Wire and other self-serving organizations like them continue to exist. Cable news networks fill their 24-hour news cycle with never-ending streams of pundits. Fox proclaims itself to be “fair and balanced” and went so far as to trademark the phrase. PunditFact, a project of the Tampa Bay Times and the Poynter Institute which is dedicated to checking the accuracy of claims made by the media, concluded that more than half of the statements made on air by Fox, Fox News and Fox Business personalities and their pundit guests are false. For professional journalists, one falsehood can leave lasting scars on your reputation, but for half of what comes out of your mouth to be anything but fact is unthinkable.
The attempt may appear to be in vain, but they continue to try. Student journalists at Southwestern College are doing their best to uphold the standards of professional journalists.
And that’s the way it is.