Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Facts in Journalism or Truth in Journalism

Journalism’s First Obligation Is To the Truth

Is there a difference between truth and fact?

To apply the trade of journalism words and how they are used is of utmost importance. A colleague of mine once stated that in journalism “facts are sacred.” While I would agree with the surface of that lofty statement I would also challenge its implied veracity. Facts are indeed sacred but in journalism there is yet a higher calling than just accumulating and revealing facts. The art of good journalism is not only making known the facts of the subject so much as encountering its essence or what I would term the revelation of the truth to be found therein.

Therefore, the higher calling of a journalist is not the uncovering of facts, though it is a prerequisite that some journalists excel in better than others. However, the higher state involves the subtlety of exposing the truth. Make no mistake there is an almost invisible difference between the two.

Facts, like numbers on a graph, can be manipulated, laid out, put in place in such an order or particular position for the purpose of misleading or influencing the reader. That has become all-too apparent in so many of the news stories in newspapers or those delivered by television talking heads in our modern virtual world. Journalism is rife with fact laid upon facts. Read this paper and learn the facts from this slant, turn on the television set and watch the factual news from that point of view. Don’t like what you are hearing or seeing, then turn the channel and get your facts delivered from an angle that is more pleasing to you.

The problem with calling facts sacred is that they are no longer sacred at all. They have become information that can be influenced and sadly, even become distorted information. They are indeed facts, they are the “reality” however, they are what all reality in journalism has become -- perceived reality -- not necessarily what is actual.

The goal of every journalist must be the truth. Truth doesn't ignore the facts. However, it doesn’t place them on some idolized pedestal either. Truth embraces the facts. Truth verifies facts and raises them above the level of simple platitudes. Truth should be the foundational principle of every journalist whether they are reporting on really important news concerning legality, politics, life and death or even those lesser topics like entertainment and sports.

Truth and facts never bump heads but may not always agree with one another depending on how the facts are being presented. A journalist can have all the facts and still be in error. Facts require an interpretation whereas truth is a principle of actuality and truism of existence and character. Facts can be misused and delivered in such a way as to be false or misleading. Truth can never be wrongly guided.

When all is said and done every journalist should desire to be of a truthful character, present the facts of their story in such a light as to reveal the truth, and nothing but the truth, and then even if someone may wish to argue the facts of their position the truth behind its revelation will stand.

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