We’ve been talking about truth, accuracy and fairness a lot in my department lately. It’s one of the ethical standards that journalism holds, and so we need to be able to demonstrate that all of our students learn about it…even those going into advertising, public relations and entertainment media. At first glance, that seems like a pretty tall order. But it doesn’t have to be.
Consider what you are doing when you communicate: You are developing a relationship. And good relationships are built on trust. So if you are burnishing your corporate reputation, you do it with true things. If you are creating a character, that character is consistent in different circumstances. If you are talking about your product vs. your competitors, you describe your competitor accurately, and then describe why/how you are better.
We’re seeing this stretched a bit in the coverage of Ferguson.
For the journalists, it’s hard to cover a large, amorphous, breaking story. But they try, by getting information from the people on the street, from their own observations, and from the officials who are responding. I am not sure the officials are always playing fair. They are communicating as well, with a central message that the government is competent and that things will go back to normal. Media studies show us that these are typical administrative messages in a crisis, and a press conference is an efficient way to get this message to a large audience. But the setting seems loaded, to me.
When politicians get in trouble for extramarital affairs, their spouses stand dutifully by them at the press conference as a visual symbol that the spouse is getting past it, so the voter should as well. If you look at the background of the governor of Missouri’s press conferences, you see the same image, except the people in the background are a visual symbol that the black citizens of Missouri are past it, so the ones who are still protesting are deviant. Regardless of what the words are saying, the image is one of dutiful support. I don’t know who most of the people are, but I know that given the census figures on the black population in Missouri (just under 12 percent), the picture of the stage isn’t accurate and most likely isn’t fair or true either.