Bleeding the Black Ink

A balancing act of a business

Newspapers are unique animals in that while they are businesses and must meet all the demands that other businesses must meet, they also are beholden to a particular group if it they want to maintain their credibility.

According to the Committee of Concerned Journalists, the first loyalty of a newspaper is to citizens.

"While news organizations answer to many constituencies, including advertisers and shareholders, the journalists in those organizations must maintain allegiance to citizens and the larger public interest above

any other if they are to provide the news without fear or favor," according to the committee. "This commitment to citizens first is the basis of a news organization's credibility, the implied covenant that tells the audience the coverage is not slanted for friends or advertisers."

Unfortunately, many readers do not believe that most newspapers live up to that principle, according to recent studies.

A 1998 survey of 3,000 Americans by the American Society of Newspaper Editors Foundation found:

  • 78 percent agree there is bias in the news media
  • 78 percent believe powerful people can get stories into the paper -- or keep them out.
  • 78 percent say its pretty easy to spot when the personal biases or preconceived notions of a reporter show up in a news story.
  • 77 percent say newspapers pay much

more attention to their own agenda or point of view.

  • 50 percent of Americans surveyed believed the press was "out of touch with mainstream Americans."

These numbers seem to bear out that newspapers are not fulfilling one of their main principles, which is that all important loyalty.

This loyalty means that a newspaper must reflect the community in which it serves or suffer the consequences of a lack of credibility.

This means representing as many segments of the community as possible so that no segment feels disenfranchised by the publication.

According to the committee, the theory underlying the modern news industry has been the belief that credibility builds a broad and loyal audience, and that economic success follows in turn.

"In that regard, the business people in a news organization also must nurture -- not exploit -- their allegiance to the audience ahead of other considerations," the committee points out.

Proper, balanced and fair reporting isn't the only challenge newspapers face. Accuracy and verification is another principle that readers are finding fault with newspapers.

That same 1998 survey by the ASNEF revealed:

  • 73 percent of the public has become more skeptical about the accuracy of the news.
  • 68 percent think newspapers run a lot of stories without checking them just because other papers have published them, not because they know they're true.
  • 35 percent see spelling or grammar mistakes in the newspaper more than once a week; 21 percent see them almost daily.
  • 25 percent see factual errors a few times a month; another 23 percent see them more than once a week.
  • 63 percent feel better about the quality of news coverage when they see corrections in the newspaper; only 8 percent feel worse.

The balancing act comes in when there is a conflict between what citizens want to see from their newspaper and what an advertiser or a community leader might want to see in the newspaper.

The committee would argue that the publication must maintain its dedication to its citizens and the community the newspaper serves.

"Bleeding the Black Ink" is a weekly column that aims at getting readers better acquainted with the Craig Daily Press, the First Amendment and the newspaper industry. Do you have a question or an issue for an upcoming column? Call Terrance Vestal at 824-7031 or email him at tvestal@craigdailypress.com.

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