In a Changing Landscape, Journalism Must Remain True to Its Values

It seems that people are engrossed by scandal. Whether in politics, sports or the entertainment industry, readers are simply hooked by the word. However, while scandals that involve corruption are important to the public, sex scandals are ones that do not pass the threshold of important journalistic works.

One such example is the Bill Clinton sex scandal in 1999 that was unveiled by DrudgeReport, which revealed that Clinton had an illegitimate son. At the time, the scandal became widely and wildly popular, despite having no real or legitimate implications on his position as president.

This, however, is not the type of work that should pass as journalism.

While it is a hallmark of journalism to serve as a watchdog for the public, journalists and reporters need to be more critical in what is considered a “scandal,” and moreover, what constitutes a worthy news story. Simply digging into the details of an individual’s personal life, even if said individual is a politician, is highly unnecessary, unless a case can be made that shows this scandal has implications for the person’s specific duties. Journalists must be wary of publishing stories that serve no greater purpose other than nailing a public figure to the wall for the sake of ratings or news clicks.

But it is not just sex scandals that must be left behind by news outlets, it is also flashy, click-bait articles that constitute no true or substantial journalistic purpose. Sites like The Odyssey Online and even Buzzfeed are notorious for including stories and videos whose only purpose is to garner clicks and viewers.

In the New York Times article, “For News Outlets Squeezed From the Middle, It’s Bend or Bust,” Jim Rutenberg discusses the ways in which journalism is changing with the movement to online platforms. With the growth of the Internet, the introduction of analytics into the newsroom allows media outlets to see how many readers they engage, giving journalists a firsthand look at how best to serve their audience and the greatest number of viewers to their site. The article analyzes the comparison between Buzzfeed-type clickbait articles and the hard news pieces of mainstream journalism outlets, and muses over how traditional journalism outlets can adapt themselves to the changing landscape.

The article includes the following quote Jim VandeHei, a co-founder of Politico, who said, “I’m not saying you let the audience dictate everything, but a smart, aggressive, forward-leaning media company is going to write what it thinks is important and its audience thinks is important.”

Not only must journalism outlets find the middle ground between its own interests and its audience’s, but it should also take care to stay true to journalism’s core values. Despite competition with rising sites such as Buzzfeed and Mashable, whose coverage ranges from news stories to fluffy features, news outlets should be wary of stooping to click-bait levels for the sake of garnering more website traffic.  As such, scandal stories about a president’s supposed “love child” do not belong under this scope. Stories such as these serve no interest to the public other than giving salacious information about a public figure.

While the New York Times article shows that readers mostly gravitate toward “short items of interests,” the analytics also reflect an interest in longer, investigative features.

These are numbers that newsrooms can capitalize on moving forward. Instead of gravitating toward flashy scandal stories and tabloid features, news organizations must maintain its focus on providing a service to the public by acting as its eyes and ears. And while the landscape continues to change, journalism must remain grounded in its core values if it is to remain successful.

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