Murdoch scandal reminds high school journalists to be responsible, ethical

5 Aug

About a week ago, I was listening to a lecture at a journalism workshop in Indiana. In the middle of the presentation, one of the presenters said something I found intriguing. He said, “Don’t always use the word ‘professional’ to describe high school journalists. High school journalists are more responsible than many ‘professional’ journalists.”

He may have overly-generalized the qualities of career journalists, but I could see where he was coming from. As I entered the journalism workshop in late July, Rupert Murdoch was in the midst of his trial at around the same time. Murdoch is the head (for now) of the $33 billion media corporation News Corp., which owns Fox News, The Wall Street Journal and The New York Post. He had allowed his widely-read tabloid in the U.K. called News of the World to hack phones and steal voicemails in pursuit of stories, incurring a hugely-publicized scandal that threatened his entire media empire.

For me, the irresponsibility of Murdoch and his British newspaper acted as a stern reminder to reevaluate my standards as a high school journalist. If a professional news organization couldn’t follow the rules, how could a mere high school student? There remain several reasons why high school students can be expected to and succeed in retaining high standards of journalism, even higher than those of career journalists, as suggested by the presenter at my workshop. Scholastic journalism is fickle in that our audience is so limited; any topic that could be seen as controversial must be tackled with the utmost sensitivity so as to hold a relationship of trust with administrators, parents and students, whereas international media outlets have in some cases disregarded the consequences of covering a piece of news irresponsibly. High school journalists have a genuine passion in their task. They could be doing any other activity at school, but they chose to become involved in journalism. They’re free from darker, “real-world” incentives like money, prestige, and power that toppled Rupert Murdoch and his empire. When high school journalists make mistakes, they will fess up, unlike subsidiaries of News Corp. that erected ridiculous defenses in support of Murdoch after the scandal. I can’t emphasize how important that is in retaining good relations with a high school administration. In the end, I have complete faith in the judgment and responsibility of scholastic journalists.

Still, the scandal serves as a reminder of the power media holds. It serves as a reminder of the significant responsibility a journalist, scholastic or not, must have and practice. Maybe it even serves as a reminder, God forbid, to stay professional.

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