Category Archives: School Articles

Trust In Me: An Analysis of Journalistic Integrity

By Sydney Jones

When asked about the difference between a journalist and a fiction writer, my 9-year-old sister replied, “Nothing, they both lie to people for a living.”

Sorry, I wasn’t telling the whole truth. I never asked my sister that. Yet I’m fairly sure she would say something similar if asked, so I’m just going to include it anyway.

Journalists today are facing a major public trust crisis so severe that it threatens our livelihood, careers and reputations. Yet we created this crisis.

There is a disconnect between the way journalists’ view ourselves and reality.  In the study Verification as a Strategic Ritual, researchers found that many journalists hold themselves to an extremely high personal standard.

“The single most frequently and clearly stated value expressed in journalists’ self-identification is a drive for accuracy,” the study stated.

Since the beginning of news-dissemination, it has been a journalist’s duty to provide concise and truthful facts to the public. The Society of Professional Journalists Code of Ethics has an entire section dedicated to truthful reporting.

“Journalists should take responsibility for the accuracy of their work,” states the Code of Ethics.

The Problem

I would argue that many journalists, myself included, have dismissed the direct correlation between accuracy and public trust. A reader must be convinced that the journalist can be trusted, but in recent years the media’s truthful reputation has been ruined by lazy reporting and a willingness to twist the truth in order to persuade audiences.

There are far too many examples, but one that stood out to me when it was presented in my community journalism class is Stephen Glass, a former reporter for The New Republic. Glass was found by Forbes journalist Adam Penenberg to have fabricated sources, quotes and people for multiple stories over the course of three years.

“The truth is, bad journalism can be found anywhere,” said Penenburg. “It is not the medium; it is the writer.”

In this specific case, one journalist held another accountable. However, this presents a unique problem, due to the fact that readers are increasingly distrusting of all media, regardless of whether or not it has been proven distrustful.

The statistics are grim, with a 2016 Gallup research poll finding that members of the public who believe that news organizations report consistently accurate news fell to 32 percent.

In the case of Stephen Glass, he not only destroyed his reputation, but also the magazine’s. And he deceived hundreds of readers in the process.

“Think of your reader as a good neighbor or a best friend, someone you would never knowingly deceive,” said Jock Lauterer in his book on community journalism.

I believe this deception is ultimately brought on by three things:

  • Laziness, the vehicle through which dishonest or untrustworthy media is produced
  • Arrogance, which prevents the journalist from admitting and taking  responsibility for their mistakes
  • Lack of Appreciation for Audience, whom a journalist’s entire career is fixated on serving.

Once a journalist allows these three things to permeate their work, it is only a matter of time before irreversible mistakes are made.

“Journalism is just the art of capturing behavior,” claims Glass’s character in “Shattered Glass”, a movie about his exposure. “You have to know who you’re writing for. And you have to know what you’re good at.”

I believe that is a dangerous misrepresentation of what truly makes journalism unique. It is not solely an art form or mode of communication. Genuinely great reporting separates itself from the mediocre by informing, motivating and inspiring people to take action in their community.

Anyone can sit at a computer and write well for a specific audience. Yet it takes real talent, real integrity, to tell the stories that people may not want to read.

“There’s going to come a time when you have the story—and your town won’t want you to publish it,” said McClure. “They’ll say it would be bad for business. And your publisher might not want you to write it. He might even threaten to fire you. But you know you’ve got to write it. Besides, you’re no good in community journalism unless you’ve been fired for taking an unpopular stand at least once.

These are the stories that preserve our free speech and democracies, yet these are the stories journalists are unable to tell because of our untrustworthy reputation.

The Solution

So here’s where we stand: journalists still view themselves as possessing high integrity, yet statistics, multiple scandals and public opinion says otherwise.

And the solution, as I see it, starts just as the problem did, with each of us in the journalism community.

We must be vigilant in order to ensure our stories are consistently factual. Gone are the days in which we rely on editors to follow behind and clean up our messes.

Because of the trend towards community journalism and self-publishing on blogs, we have become the sole fact-checkers of our work before the piece is published.

“If you care passionately about what you are doing, any inaccuracies, any mistakes, any mischaracterization of the degree of importance or significance of things, greatly undermines what you are trying to accomplish,” state researchers in the Verification as a Strategic Ritual study.

Actually holding ourselves to the standard that we claim to believe in is the only way to gain back public trust. While it may be a long and difficult road, I believe it is one that must be taken in order to protect our God-given rights and liberties; I think that my sister would agree with that as well.

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Why a Journalist’s Relationship With Their Community Matters

By Sydney Jones

A community is built up of many intricate parts that ultimately create a space in which people interact with each other. Yet this space would not be possible without the help of local journalists to form an important network that informs, connects and bonds members of a community.

People in communities everywhere are talking about things that interest or matter to them, and it is part of a journalist’s job to listen and spread the story to a larger audience.

If a journalist is proactive at seeking out these stories instead of waiting for sources to reach out, this shows a desire to not only report on a community, but to form a relationship with it. While being a member of the media does not currently have the best connotation attached to it, local journalists can change perspectives by forming a bond with the members of their community.

One way to do this is to be collaborative. Sourcing stories from local news groups and working towards the common goal of bringing the community closer together helps bridge the gap between traditional and non-traditional media. Combining these two together also fosters good relationships with the trendsetters and newsmakers of a specific community.

A journalist writes what the audience wants to consume, which means that they are constantly searching for interesting and engaging prompts. Yet it is very difficult to find these stories if the reporter does not have connections in their community that are willing to share stories with them.

Therefore, people in a community talk and share news-worthy stories, which then prompt journalists to listen and spread them, and then finally those who read the journalist’s work are prompted to share stories of their own. This is the cycle of community journalism today, and the constant conversation leads to endless possibilities for reporters!

Today’s fast-paced, social-media-driven world is the best time to be a journalist in the local sphere. Never before has it been so effortless to connect with your community and find fascinating stories while also engaging in important conversations with members of the community you never had access to before.

Ways journalists can get involved:

  1. Following niche blogs on various social media platforms and strive to get connected with various events that they host.
  2. Go to a local place where there is a saturation of culture and talk to local shop and restaurant owners.
  3. Build on your current network of sources and try to be relational instead of only focusing on your job. View sources as friends instead of a potential product.

By Sydney Jones

For the Purple Heart veterans of Lynchburg, their service never fully stops when they retire, but transitions into volunteer work serving their fellow veterans and community members.

“As a Vietnam veteran, we were treated terribly,” said Gary Witt, who is the Commander of the Lynchburg chapter of The Military Order of the Purple Heart. “We’re now trying to make ourselves recognized and be involved in our local community so that doesn’t happen again.”

There are many different outreach opportunities that the veterans are involved in, like benefit luncheons, fundraising and automobile donations to disabled or veterans in need. They are also partnering with the Desmond Doss Memorial Run in October to raise awareness for local veterans.

Since the city of Lynchburg joined the Purple Heart community in April 2016, the city’s leaders have been dedicated to raising awareness for veterans and Purple Heart recipients and have set up Purple Heart parking signs at locations all over the city.

“When Lynchburg became a purple heart city, they challenged all of the surrounding communities to become purple heart communities. This eventually turned into the purple heart trail,” said Witt.

According to the Purple Heart website, The Purple Heart Trail was created in 1992 and honors all the men and women who have received the Purple Heart medal and is marked by signs along various highways.

“Some of the things we’ve done to gain recognition has brought the Lynchburg community together; we want to make sure veterans and others who live in Lynchburg know we’re here if they need us,” Witt said.

They have also been increasing outreach to universities which led them to set up a booth at Get Downtown, an event the city of Lynchburg hosts in order to connect college students with local culture.

“We are trying to reach the students coming here, it’s hard to get young people involved because they don’t realize the impact of the military.” said Witt about the importance of reaching out to a younger generation. “I remember when I came back, I wanted nothing to do with veterans. But spreading awareness with different events is important to create a relationship with young people.”

This summer Liberty University was the first college campus in the state of Virginia to become a Purple Heart campus. There is now a reserved parking spot for veterans at DeMoss hall and on November 11, Liberty will host the Lynchburg Veterans Parade.

Veterans are some of the most important members of a community, and it is extremely important for younger people to connect and serve with them in order to create a stronger bond between generations.

The Fear Of Not Speaking In Public

By Sydney Jones

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, 74 percent of Americans suffer from public speaking anxiety, and the only fear that is statistically greater is the fear of death.

However, college students who are on Liberty University’s forensics team willingly compete in public speaking events around the country on multiple weekends during the semester.

Denise Thomas, the head coach of the forensics team, enjoys watching the students on the team grow and become proficient speakers.

“Seeing the students grow and develop is my favorite part of being a coach,” Thomas said. “I love seeing a student who has just a seed of an idea, develop that idea and become more passionate and excited about the piece they are presenting.”

When students compete in forensics speech they are required to take a piece of literature or an issue and analyze it through dramatic interpretation and original speeches. Through preparing speeches, members of the team learn valuable lessons.

“Forensics forces you to be more self-aware,” said Lindsey Ball. “You can never go up in front of your judges with a passive attitude. You need support and confidence in what you believe. That is one thing that forensics has taught me.”

Ball is a sophomore at Liberty and has been competing in forensics for six years. She says that public speaking has helped her to become a more open-minded person, but it has also taught her how to defend her beliefs.

“Listening to other competitors and their views allows me to understand what I believe, be able to defend what I believe and realize what I don’t believe,” Ball said.

Forensics is a great extracurricular for any skill level, and can help break down the fear most people associate with public speaking.

“Students who lack confidence or skill through forensics can grow into a terrific speaker,” Thomas said.

Michael MacDowall, a sophomore at Liberty, is brand new to forensics. Although MacDowall has a background in debate and does not struggle with public speaking anxiety, he believes that forensics can help break the fear of public speaking.

“I think a lot of the fear of public speaking comes from a lack of doing, and people feel a lot of pressure when they’re speaking because they do not speak in front of people often. Frequency lessens that pressure,” MacDowall said.

Fear of public speaking is something that students on the forensics team actively fight against. Ball says before she started competing on the forensics team in high school, she had severe public speaking anxiety, but now enjoys competing.

“Conquering a fear is one of the most positive things you can do for yourself in order to grow your identity and character,” Ball said.

Because it is a team sport, forensics can foster strong bonds between students on the team and the coaches. The coaches are responsible for giving constructive criticism and helping the students become more well-rounded speakers.

“The coaches have created an environment that encourages everyone to keep getting better, and they foster growth within my own skill set,” MacDowall said.

Thomas also believes that as the forensics team coach, she is preparing the team for success in their professional careers.

“Employers are always looking for confident, competent speakers who can understand information and give a logical answer,” Thomas said. “Forensics allows you to do that and teaches you confidence in yourself and your opinions.”

Forensics is not just about public speaking. Ball believes the friendships that are formed between teammates and competitors from other teams are valuable in learning how to work together and communicate well in a group setting.

“My teammates are there to encourage me, build me up and critique me when I need it,” Ball said. “We are working together as this mechanical unit where everyone has different areas that we’re passionate about but we all work together as one.”

Public speaking is a legitimate fear that many people struggle with, but forensics allows students from all over the country to articulate ideas and learn skills that will carry over into their careers.

“Forensics is unique because you get to take a few moments of someone’s life and be able to touch them and influence them; once you focus on the message you want to tell other people, you won’t be as nervous,” Macdowell said.