As tempting as it is, articles based on sensationalized hearsay can halt your career as a journalist. What you gain in readership, you lose in reputation.
BY MEGAN REES
Every day millions of people scan Facebook for gripping news stories and up-to-the-minute information. They don’t have time to wade through dull newspaper articles. Social media is convenient, and the stories are riveting.
Globally there is a trend of readers feeding off sensationalist news items. In a survey conducted in 2020, Statista researchers found a median of 57% of respondents worldwide used social media as their primary news source, although they didn’t fully trust the platforms. As an aspiring writer, it would seem that this is an easy audience to write for: quick, interesting articles that need no research.
Should you fabricate and embellish parts of an article to entice readers? What harm can it have on your career?
Trust and a writer’s reputation
Although tempting for the fledgeling journalist to create elaborate news stories, this is not recommended.
Accountability and facts are so important in gaining the trust of an editor willing to publish your article. If a journalist is exposed for reporting incorrect information, readers will lose respect for both the writer and the publication. A clear example of this is when former editor of the New York Times (1999 – 2003) Jayson Blair used plagiarism and fabrication throughout his work, which resulted in a massive scandal and destroyed his journalism career.
As a writer, you have an ethical responsibility towards the subjects in your article – and the audience. There’s a specific code of journalistic ethics and standards that is standard practice across the globe. The International Federation of Journalists outlines the importance of the profession to communicate factual public information. In its Global Charter of Ethics, they state, “Respect for the facts and for the right of the public to truth is the first duty of the journalist.”
Impact and influence of journalism
The impact of journalism is far-reaching and influences opinions, actions, mental health, and livelihoods. No matter what platform they use, any writer needs to understand that their words, once public, can cause lasting repercussions. Recently the medical community has contended with a flurry of misinformation being spread about Covid-19 whilst trying to manage the virus. These falsehoods have jeopardised efforts to control the pandemic and caused unnecessary deaths.
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Consequences of false reporting
It’s not only social media-based writers that succumb to the temptation of fuelling the gossipy public. Tabloid newspapers are notorious for getting caught up in libel cases. For instance, in 2013, the English media vilified Christopher Jefferies, who was wrongly accused of murder. Six UK tabloids published 40 false articles and were subsequently charged for libel damages. These fictitious news pieces were not only devastating to Jefferies but cost the newspapers vast amounts of money and discredited their brands.
So, you can gain the attention of people with embellished stories, but the costs far outweigh the benefits. The magnetism of writing a quick scandalous article may, in fact get you fired, sued, or cause irreparable harm. As famous writer Mark Twain said, “When in doubt, tell the truth.”
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Megan Rees lives in New Zealand with her partner and two children. She is passionate about travel, community, and family. Her events and marketing career has mainly been based in the Not for Profit sector, spanning health, community, arts, music, and fashion.