In the fall of 2019, Journalism History conducted an undergraduate student essay contest. Students answered the question that our podcast hosts ask at the end of every episode: Why does journalism history matter?
Destiny Duprey, William Paterson University, submitted this month’s essay. Additional essays will be posted each month throughout 2020.
Ethics has played a key role in journalism since the beginning of mass distribution of news and media. Because of the First Amendment in the U.S. Constitution, the press is protected and does not face censorship by the government. Having the freedom and rights to publishing content informing the public of what is being done, lawful or not, makes ethics in journalism all the more important. However, there comes a greater responsibility when dealing with ethics that have dishonored the laws of journalism. News outlets must tread lightly and control their media, not only to continue receiving positive support from the public, but also because they may run into roadblocks with the government.
The biggest dilemma surrounding objectivity in journalism argues whether or not a report should be objective or truthful. The goal of journalists is to find the truth when researching a story. But when it comes to discussions like this, you must find quantifiable reasoning to distinguish the truth between the gray areas. Some stories are tied in with the argument of philosophical issues that has been debated for decades. In fact, the case of Matthew Lyon was and still is a prominent story in the world of journalism.
During the late 1700s, president John Adams signed the Alien and Sedition Acts into law. This meant the publication of any criticism towards the federal government would be considered unlawful. Matthew Lyon was the first person to be put on trial for violating the acts on charges criticizing Adams and disagreeing with Adams’s decision to go to war against France in an article he published on his newspaper. Lyon was sentenced to four months in prison and ordered to pay a $1,000 fine and court costs. This case has become notorious because of arguments towards the freedom of speech and press. Although the Alien and Sedition Acts were implemented before Lyon’s publication, the information provided was not bringing harm to Adams or his reputation; Lyon was simply giving his opinion on the president’s decision to go to war with France.
In today’s society, we now have laws protecting the press and our freedom of speech. Although there are few restrictions to what can and can’t be published, the right to put out news for our communities in an effort to inform, protect and unify one another must always be secure. Not only does the press inform us on what goes on in our country, but we are informed on the matters outside of our land to ensure we are not the only ones who are in crisis, which humbles the human in all of us.