Fortunately, journalism evolved. During the 1900s newspapers and other media outlets took on a public trust responsibility, a responsibility that mandated that they report the information objectively, warts and all, without political slant. As part of that new era of objective, reporters were prohibited from immersing themselves in politics so as to not have their objectivity questioned. While media outlets retained their editorial commentary, that commentary was always clearly separated from the reporting function of the media. Media outlets, particularly newspapers, would make political endorsements, but that was the extent of political involvement and it was clearly identified as editorial content. Media organizations certainly refrained from throwing the weight of their organization behind political issues as it would affect people's perceptions of the objectivity of the reporting.
In this new age of objective journalism, the Society of Professional Journalists adopted ethical rules to guide journalists in the exercise of their craft:
— Distinguish between advocacy and news reporting. Analysis and commentary should be labeled and not misrepresent fact or context.While the SPJ Code of Ethics is voluntary and just applies to journalists, media outlets have generally followed the provisions so as to no jeopardize the works of the reporters they employ. However, with the expansion of the TV dial, media mergers, and the new media, the once lauded objectivity of the Fourth Estate has broken down. More and more you're seeing what was once objective reporting turn into opportunities to promote particular political viewpoints through the guise of reporting.
— Avoid conflicts of interest, real or perceived.
— Remain free of associations and activities that may compromise integrity or damage credibility.
— Refuse gifts, favors, fees, free travel and special treatment, and shun secondary employment, political involvement, public office and service in community organizations if they compromise journalistic integrity.
When hired by Gannett to manage the Indianapolis Star, Publisher Karen Crotchfelt said that the newspaper's mission is to be a "partner" with local political leaders, an approach one would believe conflicts with holding those leaders accountable. Indeed, that's exactly what happened. The Star's never writes critical stories of local officials and any editorials with such criticism are tepid at best. Instead the Star has focused its investigation on state officials. Apparently the "partnership" the Star has with local government officials does not extend tot he other side of Market Street.
In February of this year, I wrote how another blogger Eugene Fisk had written that Crotchfelt's involvement with the political group, Central Indiana Corporate Partnership (which promotes mass transit among other policies) violated Gannett's ethical rules, particularly:
Gannett Ethics Policy, Part II, Paragraph C:There have been zero critical articles of the Indy Connect mass transit plan in the Indianapolis Star, while Star columnist Erika Smith, has written some 25 columns promoting the plan and mass transit in general. It's not a hard leap to conclude that Crotchfelt's association with CICF influences the Star's coverage of the mass transit issue.
Influence: An impartial, arms’ length relationship will be maintained with anyone seeking to influence the news.
This week comes news that the media conglomerate Emmis Communications, is "partnering" with Freedom Indiana to fight the same sex marriage ban constitutional amendment. Although this is being celebrated by same sex marriage advocates, the larger view is missing. When media outlets engage in political advocacy, it undermines the credibility of the work journalists do on a day-to-day basis. For those of us who believe in the objective journalism of the 1900s, this represents a step back in time, a return to the days of the 1800s when media outlets simply became arms to promote political views.
For those of us who believe in objective, ethical journalism, Emmis Communications' endorsement of the political work of the Freedom Indiana is certainly not something to celebrate.