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The power of choosing the right words – and images

Posted by on Sep 21, 2010 in Blog, Law and Ethics, News, Scholastic Journalism, Teaching | 0 comments


Whether it’s news about a tornado that hit New York City recently, the use of mosque in stories about the World trade Center or just how scholastic journalists refer to those they report, choosing the right words, and knowing their various meanings, is just another example of ethical decision making.

Consider these articles as classroom guideposts on content and ethical issues:

• In Six Lessons for Journalists and Consumers in Statue of Liberty Tornado Photo, a Making Sense blog at Poynter, Steve Myers urged journalists to be skeptical when presented with being “scooped.” Points he makes include “Check your source” and “apply a critical eye” because if we don’t “our readers will.”

“It’s hard to pick up on subtext in e-mails,” he writes. “It’s even harder to do so on Twitter, where earnest, nutjob and ironic tweets all look the same — especially to strangers.”

• Poynter’s Roy Peter Clark, in one of his Writing Tools pieces, talks about the language use, in particular the difference between denotation and connotation. Word associations, he quotes himself from The Glamor of Grammar, “The fair choice of words is one of the most important and common challenges in American speech, writing and politics.” Clark stresses that word choices can be loaded even when the reporter does not intend to create an editorial view.

• To tie it all together, teach from this 2005 post by Clark, Red Light, Green Light: A Plea For Balance in Media Ethics.

“Language, we know, reflects reality, but also helps define it,” Clark wrote then. “The words we choose will determine how journalists and the public see the world ethically.”

His words apply today, if not even more so.

The power of words is immense. Let’s learn to empower to our sense of freedom by using words to enlighten and illuminate accurately, not to trivialize or sensationalize.

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