Danville Express

Perspective - July 27, 2007

Evolving news climate calls for clear code of ethics

Newsflash! We are living in an ever-changing, evolving media climate. How we get our news, when we get our news and who provides our news has morphed into something completely different from what we knew five years ago.

"News consumers," which used to be called readers, and "news gatherers," which used to be called staffers, are finding this new information era somewhat confusing, sometimes frustrating and always challenging. These challenges, coupled with a few local and national issues raised recently, led to the creation of this column; its purpose is to answer questions residents in our coverage area have about their newspaper and how it operates.

Have you ever wondered why the editors choose to cover one event but not another? Or why you never saw a report on the incident down the street, the one with all the police cars and people in handcuffs?

Professional journalists use established standards of practice to determine what should be covered and how it should be handled. Objectivity, a detachment of personal bias and influence, is a necessity and, to this end, most news organizations have a code of ethics by which journalists must live. This extends to their personal lives and includes affiliations with political activities and ìoff-dutyî activities which might reflect poorly on the news organization.

While spending the past few weeks in Illinois I was able to get a first-hand look at what started as a local news story and ended up a national story. Not only did this situation cost a once-respected journalist her job, but will serve as a lesson in objectivity and ethics for journalists and news consumers. Amy Jacobson, a reporter on Chicagoís NBC affiliate television station, was filmed at the home of Craig Stebic, whose estranged wife Lisa went missing in April. Craig Stebic has been named a ìperson of interestî in the case, which Jacobson had been covering since April.

Jacobson claims she was summoned to Stebicís home by Craig Stebicís sister to discuss new developments in the case. She said she was on her way to the beach with her two small children in tow when she received the call and she rushed right over to the house. Ironically, a cameraman from a competing news station happened to be next door and was able to film Jacobson in her bathing suit, a bag of chips in hand, going in the patio door from the backyard pool area. Other footage showed Jacobson looking out of the patio door while talking on a cell phone.

Many Chicagoans, including those I was visiting, didnít understand why this was a problem and why I was so appalled. Television shows, books and movies show smarmy reporters going to any lengths to get the story and ìscoopî the competition; unfortunately too many people think this is the norm. That is exactly why In this case the television station had to preserve its integrity by firing Jacobson.

I am not at all saying that journalists canít have opinions and voice those opinions on the editorial papers and viewpoints segments. But those opinions should be based on objective facts from balanced, untainted sources and should appear on the editorial pages, not in news stories.

As journalists, we are committed to seeking the truth and reporting it as fully and fairly as possible. I welcome your comments and questions about the Danville Weekly, its Web site, the coverage and how the newspaper operates, and will tackle these and other issues weekly.

Gina Channell-Allen, a 20-year journalism veteran, is the president of the East Bay division of Embarcadero Publishing Co. and publisher of the Danville Weekly. Send questions to gallen@danvilleweekly.com.


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