A question of journalistic ethics

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A question of journalistic ethics
Anyone reading newspapers or magazines, watching TV, listening to news radio or checking the news sites on the Internet lately has probably seen or read something pointing to a poor outlook for our economy in the near future.

As I've seen more of this myself, and interesting ethical question comes to mind.

Our economy can safely be broken down to consumer confidence, at least in part. If people are confident, they buy more goods. They'll invest more. Banks will be more likely to give loans. The cash flow that is the lifeblood of economic growth will begin anew.

Obviously, reporting these grim economic outlooks reduces confidence. Why would I start a business if I keep reading that things are going to be getting worse? Why would a bank loan me the money to start that business?

Taking that into account, is it ethical to continue to write negative stories about the economic near-future? I'm not suggesting that news media lie to their readers/viewers/listeners, but should they bite their tongues for the betterment of society?

As a journalist, I've always believed in the people's right to information. Providing that information is the function of the press in a free, democratic country. I've always believed that there were no boundaries to what information should be provided, as long as it was true and wouldn't harm the innocent.

And that's where this question comes in -- does reporting on economic downtime hurt the innocent? Will the media's portrayal of gray skies ahead cause homelessness, ruin retirement savings or push us further down the line toward a depression?

I think it may. However, people do have a right to know what's going on with their economy. The banker who decides if he's going to make that loan deserves to have all the information he can to make a good judgement on whether or not that loan will be paid off. The entrepreneur opening a business deserves the information necessary to make a good judgement on whether or not his business will succeed.

So, maybe it should be reported, but not overblown. The problem with that is that these stories generate a lot of reads/ratings. So, if news company A runs two more stories that news company B, A will have better ratings. As a result, B will begin running more stories on the poor economy. And the cycle repeats until you have what you see on the news shows today, with every other story being about some kind of problem resulting from the economy.

But I have a solution.

Every cloud has a silver lining. Somewhere, there are stories of economic hope. Journalists need to find them. For every negative story, try to find a positive one to balance things out. This way, people can make up their own minds.

I know this is very pie-in-the-sky and naive, but maybe that's what journalism (and maybe the country) needs right now.

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