Ethics must be remembered when reporting

Campus Times
September 27, 2002

by Melissa Lau
Managing Editor

"Melissa, mija, what do you want to be when you grow up?" At a whopping 20-years old, I still have no idea. The score: Majors, two; career leads, zero.

Some people encourage me to become the next Connie Chung or Laura Diaz or Barbara Walters; you get the picture.

Although the thought is quite enticing, and I do not know what profession I want to pursue, I do know one thing: it will not be with the news media.

So, why then, am I an editor for the Campus Times? Honestly, I love writing and I enjoy interacting with people. I want to be a voice for those who carry an important message. So, maybe the media is not for me.

Sure, there are some companies that do a clean, accurate job of reporting. The big shots, however, tend to go with the "Let's poke at some emotion, then take it all back" attitude.

I refuse to drown in a profession that chooses deadlines over accuracy . It does have its positive aspects, but, like any other profession, it has negative ones, too-ones that make me sick.

When journalists tell other journalists to act a certain way to build trust and credibility from their sources, that is bull. Try being genuine instead of fake; that is how you build credibility.

Sources are not stepping stones so that the reporters can tack their name onto a story about the life of someone else and take credit for it. They are not just sources, they are humans.

And what about the concept of reporting the facts?

It is hard to remain a neutral reporter. I, like everybody else, am human. People touch my life, have an impact on my life. To be human is to not be a neutral reporter, because they can not be biased. As a journalist, I can not show emotion in my words or my writing.

This is both good and bad. If America had more neutral reporters, then maybe America would view things in a broader perspective and see what is happening, not just in this country, but in the world.

Maybe Americans could start to understand and appreciate other nations and cultures, although not always agreeing with them. We could gain all of this through objectivity.

According to Michael and Edwin Emery, authors of "The Press and America," said that Benjamin Harris, a writer in colonial times, "got in trouble with the local authorities, not because he printed libels, but because he printed the truth as he saw it."

Exactly my point, "the truth as he saw it." Everyone has a different perspective. Therefore one writer, who has the ability to choose quotes, choose sources and choose words, will report matters using a different view than another reporter would.

Writing is subjective, because it reflects how the situation as it is experienced by the writer. So how does a writer conquer subjectivity?

For this to happen, a reporter must sacrifice any biases, any opinions, and any form of human emotion to become a completely neutral reporter. They must also treat sources like they are only that, because they can receive no emotional impact from the person.

Though sometimes done with dignity, it can also get out of hand. The result: a dehumanized media. It went from helping the public, to a matter of getting a story in. And for what? For a promotion? For money? For fame? Forget it.

Leaving me completely confused, I can not do much more than try my best to be an honest reporter, an unbiased one. But I can not guarantee that my being human will not get in the way.

So I guess, for me, it comes down to the choice to help expose America un-ethnocentric news or to treat humans with dignity and respect, like I believe they should be. The only thing I can do is try.

Melissa Lau, a junior journalism and environmental biology major, is managing editor of the Campus Times. She can be reached by e-mail at