Easy to Report, Easy to Forget

By Schotz, Andy | The Quill, September 2007 | Go to article overview

Easy to Report, Easy to Forget


Schotz, Andy, The Quill


Journalists have an ethical responsibility to dig for the stories that truly matter to their audience.

On a summer trip to Maine, I took in the standard (lobster, shopping at an outlet store) and the unusual (a Federal Communications Commission hearing), which shows you how warped my sense of vacation is.

The FCC public hearing on "localism" was a coincidence: I noticed a public service announcement in the Portland Press Herald two days before the hearing.

"Reporting on local and state government, our industries, community affairs or emergencies," the newspaper wrote in an unusual PSA/editorial, "should share a common thread - it must reflect a local perspective.

"Media consolidation, including the concept of localism, isn't a partisan issue. It's an issue of importance to people from across the full spectrum of political ideologies...

"The media should provide in-depth coverage of local politics and community affairs. News generated solely from other places or national news that lacks a local perspective doesn't serve our needs."

As I drove through Portland looking for the hearing, one of several the FCC has conducted across the country, I thought about the ethical aspects of covering a community well.

We strive to be accurate and fair, of course. We try to be sensitive in telling stories of grief. We don't take sides in news stories.

But are those basics enough?

Don't we have a duty to find stories that matter to our readers, not just stories that fall into our e-mail in-baskets?

Mustn't we try to understand the intricacies of our local cities, towns and neighborhoods and report news that affects them the most?

Under the heading of "Seek Truth and Report It," the SPJ Code of Ethics urges journalists to:

* Tell the story of the diversity and magnitude of the human experience boldly, even when it is unpopular to do so.

* Give voice to the voiceless; officiai and unofficial sources of information can be equally valid.

The newspaper notice said the hearing would run from 4 to 11 p.m., but I expected Portland High School to be locked and dark when I got there at 9 p.m.

Instead, most of the auditorium was full. I had missed hours of panel discussions, but the public comment portion was just starting to roll. …

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