While compiling my contact book for Assignment One of Understanding Journalism, I realised the importance of the Journalism Code of Ethics and how the protection of sources is imperative to a journalist’s reputation.
Upon reading the contact book requirements, I immediately thought it would require a hefty amount of emails and phone calls, however I soon found that most information was readily available online. Of the copious amount of emails I sent, only few replied and weren’t as generous or as specific with phone numbers as I had hoped. While it would have been ideal to have received some personal phone numbers, some institutions and local councils simply sent me a direct link to their website, which I had already browsed for information beforehand. I was also given landline numbers, rather than a direct line of a secretary or a person in charge. I wondered if they weren’t disclosing this information because of the stigma related to journalists – as Stephen Lamble states (News As It Happens, 2e, 2nd Edition, Oxford University Press Australia, 2012/13) journalists have the ability to ‘make or break personal and professional images, and influence the outcomes of decisions which have major financial and political implications.’
My contact book is based around the suburb of Elsternwick, which is 9km south-east of Melbourne’s Central Business District. Its local government is the City of Glen Eira and at the 2011 Census, had a population of 9,774. I have also based my contact book around the areas close to Elsternwick, such as Brighton, where I live, as both are part of the City of Glen Eira and are close in proximity. In my contact book, I have attempted to comprise as many sources as I could who represent various different opinions. I have included details of Federal Members as I felt this would be useful should I ever need to write a political piece. I was also in touch with the Senior Constables at Caulfield Police Station, Melbourne Fire Brigade and the Royal Life Saving Club who I felt would be particularly knowledgeable and reliable sources if need be. I also included Brighton Art Society, local veterinary and medical clinics and local newspapers, as well as the Bayside City Council and Glen Eira City Council. I felt all of the organisations and councils listed above would prove beneficial should I ever need to follow up on a news story in the local area in the future.
At first, I emailed the Federal Members personally, knowing that their secretaries or Personal Assistants would most likely be reading it. At this point, I realised the importance of the ‘little’ people in these organisations; those who work closely with those in charge, and in many cases, often know more information than those in a higher position. In A New Introduction to Journalism, Graham Greer, published 1999, reprinted 2008 edition) Greer advocates these “little people” who “have access to people and usually know what is happening in their organisation.” Prior to commencing this assignment, I naively believed that it was, in fact, the people in higher places with authority who would be credible and useful sources and that if you didn’t have a direct line of communication with these individuals, it would prove difficult to write a solid news story.
After extensive research online, I found that I could also use contacts I am already in touch with, such as the local Rabbi of Elsternwick Jewish Community and the Principal of my school where I graduated from in 2014. These people would be useful contacts as they represent the opinions of large cohorts.
Lamble, however, says ‘it is extremely unwise to allow yourself to become too close personally to a source, protected or otherwise.’ By allowing oneself to form a close, personal connection, the journalist can lose their sense of objectivity and this can potentially tarnish one’s reputation as reliable and trustworthy, as their judgment has been clouded.
Upon completing this assignment, I realised the importance of a reliable source. I wondered, what if I was fed false information by someone with ulterior motives? This led me to question the true meaning of a reliable source. In a style book for journalists, the ABC says:
‘Reliability may be assured by the person’s official position, or it may not. These are judgments for each journalist to make, in consultation with his or her editor.’
A good source must have integrity and a journalist must maintain a good rapport with their sources. In order to establish this good name for oneself and a steady rapport, Lamble states that “an honest journalist is one who presents all the facts as he or she understands them as fairly, accurately and objectively as possible.” This justifies the need for morality and fairness, as sources and the public need to be able to trust the person who is providing this information.
In News As It Happens, (page 158) Lamble elaborates on the serious ramifications should one agree to protect the identity of a source. Journalists could potentially face jail simply for refusing to reveal the identity of their source who they have sworn to protect. Journalists also have a major responsibility where they can find themselves in a position deciding whether or not to omit information, as they “hold a source’s life, job, health and welfare in their hands.”
The Journalism Code of Ethics actually demands that journalists must protect their sources. The International Federation of Journalists’ Principles on the Conduct of Journalists states: “The journalist shall observe professional secrecy regarding the source of information obtained in confidence.” Not only can journalists be jailed for not revealing their sources, other journalists would be unwilling to work with another journalist who failed to respect the confidentiality of a source. There are also practical reasons why journalists work within the MEAA Journalists’ Code of Ethics – one simply being that most employers expect their journalists to behave ethically, honestly and with integrity.
Lamble states that journalists’ two most significant assets are “their contact book and their good name.” If a journalist has a good reputation, their reliable sources in their contact book will be extensive and this is imperative for a solid news story.
In retrospect, I believe that the use of a properly constructed contact book is essential to a journalist. I now realise the amount of phone calls, emails, and time spent researching that goes into compiling an excellent contact book and I feel that it will be a useful tool for myself as a budding journalist. Additionally, I now have a deeper and a more holistic understanding of the MEAA Journalists’ Code of Ethics, which will prove extremely useful in the future.