of Concerned Journalists
What to Expect from the Press
What do we as citizens have a right to expect from journalists? Based
on five years of research--what we believe is the most comprehensive
and systematic effort ever by journalists to define the common
principles of the profession--the following constitute a consensus
about what journalists must offer and what citizens should expect.
Citizens Bill of
We should expect, above all, truthfulness:
The integrity of the reporting should be obvious. The process of
verification-how news people made their decisions and why-should be
transparent in the work so we can judge the value and fairness of the
information for ourselves. What elements would such a piece of
- Stories should make clear the sources
of information, the basis of their knowledge, and why the information
is believable and relevant. With anonymous sources, as much identifying
information as possible should be given so readers can judge the
source's reliability and potential biases.
- The story's relevance should be
- Important unanswered questions should
- If the story raises a point of
controversy we should expect follow up.
Citizens, in turn, have an obligation to approach the news with an open
mind and not just a desire that the news reinforce existing opinion.
We should expect proof that the journalists' first loyalty is to
- This means stories should answer our
needs as citizens, not just the interests of insiders, or the political
or economic system.
- There should be a demonstrated effort
to understand and reflect the whole community.
- We should see clear cases in which
the news company will put its own financial interests at risk by
providing information--through news, reviews, retail and consumer
coverage-that could do it harm.
- We should expect news companies to
disclose any synergy, connecting partnerships or conflicts of interest
as they relate to a particular story. This includes reporting on a news
organization's own lobbying efforts.
We should expect journalists to maintain independence from those they
It should be clear that commentators, columnists and journalists of
opinion are serving the citizen debate rather than the narrow interests
of a faction or a particular outcome.
- While journalists need not be
neutral, we should expect they will not have divided loyalties. If
journalists get too close to those they cover it only makes it more
difficult for them to understand or convey all sides. Secretly
counseling or writing speeches for sources is an example.
- Journalists' work should display
evidence of independent thinking-- not always criticism of one side and
praise of the other.
- We should see ample proof that these
commentators have really examined the ideas of both those they agree
and disagree with.
We have the right to expect that journalists will monitor power and
give voice to the voiceless:
- The press should use its watchdog
power to uncover things that are important and new and that change
community thinking. The news media should not squander this
constitutional freedom on sideshow or pseudo scandals that research
shows may build an audience.
- The press should monitor all the key
centers of power in the community-including but not limited to
- We should see clear evidence that
journalists have not simply become a tool of investigative agencies.
We have a right to a forum for public criticism and problem solving:
- News providers should offer several
channels for public interaction--be it letters, e-mail, phone contacts,
or public forums--including mechanisms for readers and viewers to make
story suggestions or raise criticisms.
- News organizations also should give
us access to a portion of their space or airtime so that we can
converse in our own words with our fellow citizens.
- Over time, we should expect to see a
broad representation of views and values reflected in the news
coverage--and not just those of the extreme positions that leave no
room for compromise or problem solving.
We have a right to expect news that is proportional and relevant:
- Journalists should be aware of our
basic dilemma as citizens: that we have a need for timely and deep
knowledge of important issues and trends--but we lack the time and
means to access most of this crucial information.
- Thus journalists should use their
special access to put the material they gather in a context that will
engage our attention and also allow us to see trends and events in
proportion to their true significance in our lives.
- News reports should not overstate the
true nature of threats to our community such as crime and unusual
- To provide a complete picture, we
also should expect journalists to cover those aspects of community life
that are functioning well. Our successes should be as apparent as our
- Journalists should balance the public
right to know with the personal right to privacy.
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