Move Over, Newsman: Media Ethicist Says We're All Journalists Today

Feb 28, 2014

Kelly McBride says that we are all journalists in the 21st century.
Credit Manin the Moon, flickr

Do you think of yourself as a journalist? One media ethicist says you should - and you should follow the rules that go along with the title.

One of the nationa's leading voices on media ethics, Kelly McBride argues it's time for all of us to start thinking of media ethics, whether we're hosting a radio show or posting a video to YouTube.

McBride is a Senior Faculty Member in Ethics, Reporting and Writing at the Poynter Institute, a training and education center for journalists in Florida. She recently co-edited a book, The New Ethics of Journalism: Principles for the 21st Century, which focuses on how the role of journalism has changed within our society. 

In the 19th and 20th centuries, newspapers set the news agenda, deciding which stories would be reported. Television and radio soon came into the picture, complementing the news agenda.

But today McBride says there's a small number of people who create original news content and more creating opinion pieces. And increasingly, the average person is becoming a content creator.

“It is hard to define who is a journalist because sometimes we create content that acts as journalism,” she says.

By sharing information we find or create, we are spreading news that will then generate opinions. What must also happen, McBride argues, is that we treat the information we find like journalists. We should look for truth, consider whether sources are reliable, and maintain a certain set of ethics when we share those Facebook posts, Tweets and Instagram pictures.

"So that means the crazy stuff you pass along on your Facebook page, or the crazy emails that you send along - you have the same obligation that the professional journalist has to be responsible with that information," she says.

Clearly, that doesn't always happen. But McBride argues that the multitude of voices protected by our First Amendment rights are part of the democratic process, and ultimately, that outweighs the negatives of increasingly diffuse news media.

McBride was in Milwaukee to give the Burleigh Media Ethics Lecture at Marquette University.