I have a claim: If someone writes in a manner that suggests they are an authority it seems clear that they have a responsibility to investigate and understand their topic to a certain standard.

This claim appears to entail that the level of journalistic responsibility are decided by how the writer is perceived, not how they intend to be perceived. For example, I'm sure Gene Ray of TimeCube considers himself to be an authority on something (not sure what?) but journalistic standards are not required of him because: no sane person would consider him an authority. Similarly, someone who does not consider themselves to be an authority might be seen as such by others and have responsibility because of it.

I'm not sure I'm happy with this. So is there any problem with thinking about journalistic standards in this way? It allows journalistic standards to apply to people regardless of whether they are professional journalists, which might be considered a good thing. On the other hand, it seems to introduce the possibility of acting unethically without intending to: it could be considered unfair to expect these standards of someone who does not understand their responsibility.

  • It is a folly to thinks that journalists are an authority on anything nowadays.
    – Lukas
    Apr 11, 2014 at 9:28
  • Perhaps they should be considered an authority to the extent that they obey certain standards? (vaguely the converse of what I have said in my question)
    – Lucas
    Apr 11, 2014 at 10:52

2 Answers 2


Any person knowingly and purposely misleading others by lying or omitting important information to any effect of real consequence is a problem.

If a person:

  • Has influence over their audience
  • Has the potential to do 'real harm' to their audience
  • Knowingly decides to exercise their authority to deceive or harm their audience

then that is wrong by most moral standards and they will be held accountable on some level.

This applies not only to journalists but everyone.

Usually a person or organization gain influence over an audience through merit. Their influence is then self governing (Assuming of course people do not allow themselves to be influenced by sources without merit ;) ).

As an individual you are free to do and say whatever you want. Its your reputation and you will face the consequences of your actions.

As an organization, implementing standards allows you to maintain consistency and have control over the reputation of the organization as a whole. So standards within an organization are advisable.

  • Indeed. However, I think that the assumption that "people do not allow themselves to be influenced by sources without merit" is unfounded - it is because I do not wish to make this assumption that I have asked the question.
    – Lucas
    Apr 12, 2014 at 21:52
  • Yes. It is an unfortunate reality. Perhaps we could regulate the reader from forming an opinions without first conducting appropriate research (Playful Sarcasm).
    – Cynapse
    Apr 12, 2014 at 22:26
  • The whole point of journalism (in a wide and inclusive sense) is to do the research for others.
    – Lucas
    Apr 12, 2014 at 22:59

I think the biggest objection to thinking of journalistic standards in this way, is to understand the underlying reasoning for professional codes in the first place. Are they there for the sake of the profession, or for the sake of some sort of larger moral code? Assumedly, Doctors aren't the only ones who shouldn't harm... That seems like part of a larger moral code. But Journalists aren't supposed to reveal their sources, partly because it makes journalism as a profession possible. So is truth telling a basic moral obligation, or is it something that journalists need to do to have the profession survive?

I think that there are plenty of counter-examples that truth telling is a basic moral obligation, so I would argue that it is incorrect for you to apply the journalistic code to others who may or may not be journalists, even though they are doing journalist-like things.

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