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Lessons in transparency, by George

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sprclogoby Stan Zoller, MJE

Unlike sports, journalism has no season.

While a football season may go three months, a journalism season goes nine. And then some.

So even as advisers get ready to distribute yearbooks or put out that last edition of the paper, their work, and that of their student journalists, is not over.

While they may not be producing anything for their media, the issues and trends in journalism continue to whirl about them.

While there are a litany of workshops for advisers to learn how to advise media and teach journalism, the never-ending sagas about the world of journalism provides timely and “real life” case studies for discussions about ethics in your journalism classroom.

Some of the more notable cases included Jayson Blair, Janet Cooke, Stephen Glass and of course Brian Williams. Their reputations for fabrications in their reporting are virtually legendary. But they are not the only ones.

While fabrications captivate media observers, journalism educators included, they are but one stain of disdain on the fabric of reputable journalism.

In addition to the expectations that journalists, whether student or professional, present accurate and honest reports, there is the expectation journalists are transparent in their reporting.

And why not? Reporters expect their sources, especially those in public positions such as city councils and school boards, to be transparent.

That’s not always the case.

Hello, George Stephanopoulos.

Stephanopoulos, who flew into the limelight during various stints with former President Bill Clinton, including press director of Clinton’s 1992 Campaign and White House Communications Director, is now chief political reporter at ABC News where he has appeared on Good Morning America and hosts the network’s Sunday show This Week.

Considering that background, you would expect Stephanopoulos to be transparent and accurate.

The keyword is expect.

But that has not been the case recently. Stephanopoulos came under fire for not, according to CNN, reporting he had made a $75,000 contribution to the Clinton Foundation. No big deal?

It is when you are covering Hilary Clinton’s campaign and were scheduled to moderate presidential debates in 2016.

What makes Stephanopoulos’ faux pau annoying is not that he did it, but the American news consumer continues to be put on edge by journalists, some of whom elevate to god-like status, in their reporting.

Trust in journalism begins not at the keyboard, but in the newsroom before an interview is conducted.

Student journalists need to not only understand, but practice transparency. It’s not unusual for student journalists to want to take an ‘easy way out’ on a story and maybe use sources or materials that give them path of least resistance. Interviewing friends or colleagues in a club, sport or organization are not unheard of. Policy and procedure manuals should include a statement regarding transparency and any conflict of interest.

Conversely, student journalists need to check and recheck their sources’ background so they know exactly where the source “is coming from.”

Taking an easy way out may seem like a great way to meet a deadline.

It’s not a good idea when it comes to developing and presenting trust in reporting.

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