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Opinion: Local newspapers still show ethics in journalism
09292017 THE TIMES

Bias in the press isn't new. From the founding of this country until about WWII, the press was openly biased. Newspapers identified, right on their banner, with the political party they supported.  Before they merged in 2001, Atlanta had the "Atlanta Constitution" and the "Atlanta Journal," a morning and evening paper, one conservative, one liberal. My dad always subscribed to and read both. One of his favorite sayings was "never believe everything you read!" Dad would have loved the Internet.

If you read newspapers from the 1700s and 1800s you will be amazed at the bias and vitriol. It makes talk radio look tame.  

But sometime around WWII, the press found ethics. They reported facts while honoring cooperation with governments and supporting principles like "loose lips sink ships." University journalism schools taught ethics and instilled pride in the role an independent press played in a free society. 

Respected journalists of the age included Edward R. Murrow and Ernie Pyle.

This form of journalism continued through the cold war and into the 1960s and ’70s with respected journalists such as Chet Huntley and David Brinkley, Walter Cronkite, Bob Woodward, Carl Bernstein and others. Major papers like the Washington Post and New York Times gained reputations for excellence. 

A highpoint for journalism came during Watergate, but that's also when it started to unravel. The respect between government and press went to hell thanks to Nixon. Press conferences went from respectful Q-and-A to shouting matches. Respect for authority went from quietly ignoring Franklin Roosevelt’s affair with his secretary or John Kennedy's multiple affairs because they were "personal business" to the handling of Clinton and Lewinsky with tabloid journalism.

Then cable news happened.  Cable news quickly discovered it could not spend 24 hours repeating the day’s news.  It had to develop “other” content and went to talk radio for a model. I doubt most personalities on cable news have a journalism degree. They are hired for their personality and appearance. The entire focus is on ratings. They will tell you whatever they believe will attract and hold the largest audience.  Cost is also an issue; real investigative journalism takes time, staff and is expensive. A talking head spouting his or her opinion of "facts" read off the internet is a cheap and quick way to fill airtime.

I believe the last bastion of journalistic ethics are in the newspaper business. The editors and reporters at The Times of Gainesville, my hometown paper, have journalism degrees (some from UGA). They do a weekly podcast called “Inside the Times” where they talk about the newspaper business and their reporting. From that podcast I know they agonize over how to keep reporting fair and unbiased. When they print editorials, they are limited to the Opinion page and they try hard to print an editorial from both sides of an issue.

But the newspaper business is dying a slow death.

I despair over what will be left if it dies.

Keep subscribing to your local paper.

Clifton Ray


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