Journalists must take into consideration a vast amount of factors including ethics, responsibilities and the law when quickly and constantly delivering short hard news pieces to the community. Meg, Anastasia and Al completed three hard news stories, each relating to one tier of the Government; federal, state and local, respectively. Although the pieces were only 200 words each, they were written to be newsworthy to the people of Coburg and reflect the ethics of a journalist.
Roles and Responsibilities
Journalists must uphold their roles and responsibilities as members of the ‘Fourth Estate.’ According to Stephen Lamble in News as it Happens, one of their chief roles is to place bodies and figures of power under the “harsh light of public scrutiny.” Al attended a council meeting as he believed it was an efficient way to find out about the current issues surrounding the local government, bringing news to the members of the community about the decisions made by those in power. Another responsibility of journalists is to speak publicly for the vulnerable. Anastasia’s news story gave a voice to Indigenous Australians; allowing the public to become aware of the lack of representation of the indigenous community within Moreland. Meg’s news story spoke on behalf of both the elderly, as well as refugees; alerting the community to a developing solution for the issue of incarceration of refugees.
Law and Ethics
The job of a true journalist begins with the intrinsic ethics and law involved when writing news stories. Though journalism’s ethical considerations are not stipulated as a strict set of rules such as a legal issue would be, there is common agreement on the ways in which journalists should approach their work. The MEAA (Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance) provides journalists with a written code on such practice. Full disclosure and transparency are important ethical considerations that were respected in all three hard news stories. Directly after the council meeting Al attended, he had the advantage of speaking to councillors. He introduced himself and why he attended. In the case of his news story, councillors told him why they were firmly against the inclusion of another bike lane on Sydney Rd. Meg, when contacting ministers, interviewing grandmothers and the FROGS group, ensured she introduced herself and made her intentions for the quotes she received clear. When telephoning and emailing misters and the chair of the Ballerrt Mooroop group, Anastasia also introduced himself and her objectives. When she was unable to receive quotes she stipulated where she found the ones used in her hard news story, such as from the Moreland Leader, for example.
Journalists must present news stories that are fair, balanced and accurate. As Councillor Janette Chantry of the Moonee Valley City Council said to RMIT students in a lecture, journalists can “take quotes out of context”. She has been “disappointed” by what has been printed about her, so all three members of the group made sure that all quotes fairly and accurately represented what was said. The debate between councillors provided Al with different positions on any particular issue of his choice, which gave balance to his news story. Meg received quotes from grandmothers, figures central to her issue, and did attempt to gain quotes from a minister. Anastasia aimed to interview the chair of the Ballerrt Mooroop group, to represent those directly impacted by the issue, and quotes from the ministers involved in indigenous affairs. Maintaining a balanced story supported the views of the Englightenent theory, the roots of journalism that proposed all opinions, including wrong opinion, deserve a space on the public sphere.
Though journalism is legally exempt from the Privacy Act (1988), privacy can be an ethical issue. Research for the three hard news stories involved finding out private details, such as the addresses of ministers and councillors. As journalists, this information is of public interest and therefore this research is justified for the benefit of the community.
Finding sources proved a difficult task for each group member. Although Al tried diligently to contact particular councillors after the council meeting he attended through e-mail and contact number, he was continually knocked back but he still had quotes to use from the day of the council meeting. For Meg, contacting the Minister for immigration was difficult; emails and calls were not answered. The head of the Grandmothers and FROGS (Friends of Grandmothers) answered emails quickly and was happily interviewed at a vigil in Coburg. Anastasia encountered difficulty interviewing Ballerrt Mooroop group chair Dorothy Bamblett, and was unable to interview Pascoe Vale State Labor MP Lizzie Blandthorn nor Minister for Multiultural Affairs Robin Scott despite many emails and telephone calls.
All three members agreed the quality of newsworthiness was immensely important. Al’s story is newsworthy as decisions made in council meetings directly impact the community. Also, a large portion of Coburg’s population are bike riders, therefore, Al’s story would be of interest to them. Anastasia’s news story would be interesting to readers in Moreland as over 700 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders live in the area (according to Moreland City Council). Meg’s story would be of interest to the Moreland community as the protesting Grandmothers are citizens of Moreland and their protests are held on the corner of Bell street and Sydney road; two of the main streets in Coburg.
All three news stories highlighted the importance of political reportage in a suburban municipality. Journalism conducted ethically under the role of the Fourth Estate maintains freedom of speech and representation on the public sphere. More widely, journalism ensures democracy is regulated through the scrutiny of bodies of powers; political figures in the case of the three news stories.