Skip to content Skip to main navigation


The voice of business in Canberra

Journalistic code

By Jazz - 21 August 2007 20

What is ethical in reporting? When does a source become a story? Should what happen on tour really stay on tour? Well the Sydney Morning Herald has this interesting piece on the recent spate of journalists tattling about private incidents with notable figures; firstly with the Treasurer Peter Costello here in Canberra at the Waters Edge restaurant and then with Mr Rudd in New York. Some of the interesting points in the article are in relation to how journalists suddenly close up when it is they that become the story.

What’s Your opinion?

Please login to post your comments, or connect with
20 Responses to
Journalistic code
Showing only Website comments
Newest to Oldest
Oldest to Newst
VicePope 11:53 am 23 Aug 07

Sepi – I agree. Journos work for their papers, TV stations, whatever. Only a dope would think otherwise. The trouble is some dopes apparently do, and some journos contribute to that misleading impression. We’re not all sophisticated and critical consumers of media.

Taking advantage of stupidity or naivete is a Bad Thing when it’s done by priests, used car salesmen, politicians, financial advisors etc. And it’s equally bad when it’s done by journos.

There should be a constant tension between the journalists who acquire information and the media on one hand and those who hold the information in the first place on the other. (Someone should write a book on the war stories it generates). Regulating this borderline would be close to impossible, so it is hardly surprising that “no comment and get off my property” is a perfectly acceptable response for those approached by journos. So is engaging a PR flack or lawyer to filter the message the journo gets. The media itself, by becoming an uncritical lackey of various commercial and political interests, has destroyed any claim it may have had to representing some kind of public interest. I assume it is almost all disguised advertising of one kind or another, and spend my time just trying to work out out who put it into play.

sepi 7:58 am 23 Aug 07

I’ve been thinking more about this. There seems to be a fundamental misunderstanding of a journalist’s position.

If you put out a press release, or ask a journalist to come and interview you, you are basically pointing out a subject topic to them, inviteing them to write about it, putting your point forward, and Hoping they see your point and include it in the article.

The journalist’s job is to write up something about that subject, make it interesting, a good read, and easy to understand for the mass market.

Just because you spoke to them, or sent out your press release, does not guarantee that they will write exactly what you wish. To get exactly what you want you need to buy advertising space.

A lot of this bile about journalists seems to have come from a misunderstanding of the journalist’s role. At the end of the day the journalist works for the newspaper, not for the person they are interviewing.

sepi 5:14 pm 22 Aug 07

Since when did people suddenly expect to confide in journalists and not have the info printed.

Writing stuff up for publication is a journalist’s job. If you want to be anonymous then send a letter or something.

fhakk 3:08 pm 22 Aug 07

Good call, VicePope. No doubt there are dodgy reporters out there. Remember though, there have been many drunken nights in brothels, many jilted mistresses which have yielded more power and revealed more information than a reporter ever could.

VicePope 1:14 pm 22 Aug 07

I would never say that all journos commit all the “sins” I mentioned but, as you would agree, some do. I would say that the incidents of professionalism to which you refer would apply equally to practically any employed person. Anyone from a garbo up is expected to do his or her job competently, be there on time and avoid illegality.

Not every dog bites, but it is often prudent to take a cautious attitude in case one rattles a particular dog’s cage in some way. So it is with journos. One of the bitten (and bitter) colleagues, many years ago now, opined that, if one had a burning urge to share a secret and could not find a colleague, life partner, clergyman or friend, it would be better to engage a harlot in Fyshwick than to speak with a journalist. The harlot, he opined, would be unlikely to be interested in what one said, unlikely to remember it, probably less likely to gossip than a journo and probably be more hygienic.

apehammer 1:13 pm 22 Aug 07

Yo Fhakk-Dogg, you’re spot on. Whether or not it’s a “profession” is semantics. Journalists work hard for generally crap wages and, in most cases, do a good job. Sure, there’s the odd bad apple, but a world without media would be a frightening one ideed.

fhakk 12:48 pm 22 Aug 07

expert service – it’s a difficult, demanding and high-stress job, and involves getting to work at 4am.
High level of discipline – we have to spell/pronounce words correctly, make sure facts/figures are correct otherwise readers/listeners kick up a stink.
Severe consequences – the law. We can go to jail if we make a mistake. We get sued/fired/arrested just like any other professional in a position of power.
If people hate us so much, why does everyone continue to read the newspapers, listen to the radio, go online? I’m not a reporter any more for personal reasons, but I can tell you its lazy just ostracizing journalists without knowing what crap they have to go through every day. The majority of journalists are sensible and hard working, and have to deal with the courts/police/egotistic politicians/PR hacks/loonies on a daily basis.
Making sweeping generalisations doesn’t help, either.

VicePope 11:56 am 22 Aug 07

ps – I have never been burned personally, but I have seen it happen to colleagues in the past and would not wish ever again to see someone’s career and life destroyed in the same way for so little. The price of my attitude has been to be yelled at and abused a few times – no big. I’ve been ranted at by idiots before.

I should have added point nine:
The journalist’s interest in you or your predicament ends when the story is published. He or she is not your friend and will not argue your case or protect or defend you. If the journo gets a better offer from the other side of your case (eg continued privileged access to briefings as opposed to being cut off the drip), assume that he or she will happily and uncritically run that side.

apehammer 11:39 am 22 Aug 07

No no, Sepi, you’ve got me all wrong. I’m saying that journalism is not a profession in the sense that medicine or law is a profession. There are no required qualifications and no governing body. You couldn’t be a lawyer with a journalism degree, but you could be a journalist with a law degree.

VicePope 11:32 am 22 Aug 07

What would stop me, an idler and dilettante, from describing myself as a journalist? Nothing. What stops a considerable number of sports people who have columns written for them? Nothing.

Contrast any real profession, that requires the provision of an expert service subject to a high level of discipline performed by a person with a specified qualification and with severe consequences attached to wrongfully holding oneself out to be a member of the profession. It’s not the same.

A professional ultimately has personal responsibility for his or her professional conduct. A journo hides behind whoever publishes his or her stuff. They’re employees.

As to the possession of a degree in journalism, that would not make a person a journalist or a professional any more than acquiring a law degree makes a person a lawyer. As I understand it, there are vastly more people doing journalism degrees than are ever likely to be employed as journalists or in any related field. Owning the piece of paper maketh not the professional.

sepi 11:04 am 22 Aug 07

Cadetships are pretty non-existent these days.

I’d say almost every journalist under 30 has a degree.

It is a profession. Just because you may not like journalists doesn’t mean they don’t have a profession.

fhakk 10:57 am 22 Aug 07

It all depends on how much trouble journalists get into if they talk about off-the-record conversations. If all reporters published every secret which people tell them, they wouldn’t be doing a good job because everyone would stop talking to them. Sometimes it’s the case of weighing up how much trouble they’d get into by revealing information, by how important the information is. Plus we actually make friends with these people.
BTW, I’m a former reporter with a degree – only the old-school hacks get away with limited qualifications.

Mr Evil 10:09 am 22 Aug 07

Having an off the record conversation with a journalist is a silly as thinking that you can have an off the record conversation with a police officer when you’ve been arrested.

apehammer 9:54 am 22 Aug 07

Please replace above “their” with “there” and consider my arse kicked.

apehammer 9:48 am 22 Aug 07

Fhakk, journalists are not professionals. I’m not having a go at them, it’s just that in the strictest sense of the word journalism is not a “profession”. Most journalists don’t have degrees in journalism. Of course many do these days, but the majority either got their through cadetships or hold degrees in other areas.

sepi 9:08 am 22 Aug 07

I’ve been burned twice in the course of my professional life too.

I’ve also worked as a journalist though, so I have some understanding of how it all works. I mean you would have to be silly to tell a working journalist interesting and relevant stuff, that you didn’t want published. It would be like saying to the plumber ‘well I have a budget of thousands for this job, but I’d like you to do it for 50.00’, and then expecting them not to take your comment into account.

When I was a journalist I had people tell me incredibly personal things and tell me not to publish them. And I didn’t – I”m not the ruthless type.

But – like in any profession, some journalists are shonkier or more ruthless than others.

– one ABC tv journalist once told me she was sending someone (recently bereaved, sensitive subject for my organisation) along to our building for a photo, and she wouldn’t be there, no need for my organisation to do anything. Sure enough she turned up trying to get an interview angle.

Another commercial tv journo from Sydney rang my organisation claiming it was a very quiet night on the National news, and could they just come along and get a feel good interview with the head of our organisation, in order to provide some filler for the news that night. We declined, and she later came back with some hard questions about election pork barrelling. She is now Washington correspondent for the news, so she has done well.

fhakk 11:35 pm 21 Aug 07

Vicepope – you’ve been burnt pretty badly by a reporter, haven’t you. Either that, or you’re really bloody paranoid. If journalists aren’t professionals, why do they need degrees to get a job in the industry nowadays? The one’s I know are big gossipers but methinks not many people here understand what their job is all about.

apehammer 1:34 pm 21 Aug 07

“Any chimp wandering the zoo can call himself/herself a journalist.”
A talking chimp would be wasting his time working for the average journalist’s wage.

asp 1:26 pm 21 Aug 07

I though it was Wateredge restaurant.
I only ask beause if there a new restaurant thats good enough for the pollies, I wouldn’t mind trying it. I just couldn’t find any called watermark.

VicePope 12:35 pm 21 Aug 07

Some rules. Never trust a journo. Ever. Not even if it’s off the record, background or said to be unattributable. They will ignore it if it suits them.

Second. Never assume a journo has any lofty ideals or the public interest at heart. He/she is working for a very wealthy person with lots of commercial and political interests which will usually press powerfully on the journo.

Third. The journo code of ethics is a joke, full of holes and ignored by many (though some are prepared to go to the wall for a few bits of it). Journo 1 won’t publish, but he’ll make sure journo 2 can. The ANU debacle of a few years back where a journo published something that was discussed in a closed academic session says it all really.

Fourth, related to the third. A journo is not a professional. A doctor or a lawyer or a priest or an accountant is – they have extensive training and are subject to substantial discipline. Any chimp wandering the zoo can call himself/herself a journalist.

Fifth. Never assume a journo understands anything. The whole business is about dumbing complex information down and that can involve reducing really subtle and expert debate to generic pap, misstating arguments and looking only at isolated points if they seem more interesting. Think about the last story you read or saw about something you know about.

Sixth. Always control what the journo gets. A written media release is better than a press conference and either is better than anything you might mistake for a friendly chat.

Seventh. Any discussion or interaction with a journo is an opportunity for the journo. The bloke next to you at the football, the other tuckshop parent, the bloke behind you on the bus. They will earwig and they will mislead, possibly even taking you to a strip club so they can say years later that you were there.

Optional eight. There is no obligation whatsoever to tell anything, much less the truth, to a journo. “No comment” has always seemed best to me, but some may have fewer qualms about lying. It’s their problem if they put out an unbalanced story because they can’t get your side of it.

Related Articles

CBR Tweets

Sign up to our newsletter

Copyright © 2018 Riot ACT Holdings Pty Ltd. All rights reserved. | |

Search across the site