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Fiddling with ethics while journalism burns

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By Meaghan Downs

Vulnerability is the kryptonite of the journalist.
You’re not supposed to see us cry. Not even flinch.
Reporters are known to sweat blood and eat the still-quivering flesh of our slain enemies.
Phone hacking, however, is going too far. Even for a journalist.
While most people bemoaned the shattered glass debt ceiling of the US government, I’ve been mourning the death of a tabloid.
The News of the World, a British tabloid that fed celebrity fodder to more than 2 million Brits, shut down its presses earlier this summer by order of media baron Rupert Murdoch.
A few rogue reporters were accused of hacking the cell phones of 9/11 victims and their family members, as well as the cell phone of a murdered 13-year-old girl, much to national and international outrage, both from readers and the journalism community.
Now, it seems, the few have turned into many.
Apparently, senior staffers and reporters at News of the World had full knowledge of the hacking, and permitted it for years.
Unfortunately, I’m sure many of you are not surprised.
But I’m fearful that, just as the 168-year-old News of the World went up in smoke, other media publications and the idea of responsible journalism, like burning dominoes, will topple along with it.
Without an abiding sense of ethics, newspapers have nothing to stand on.
But without a free press, our society has nothing to stand on.
Hmm. It seems we have reached an impasse.
Maintaining ethical standards can be tricky business, and when it comes to this reporter, no story is written without keeping that responsibility in mind.
For those of you laughing at the thought of The Anderson News possessing a mote of ethics, hear me out.
True news reporting steers clear of a definition of wrong and right.  “Accuracy, clarity and objectivity” is supposed to be our mantra, not a footnote in the definition of what journalism is supposed to be.
Ethics fall by the wayside in the age of Wikipedia, when citizens feel entitled to edit news content that they themselves create, published with the authority of an ignorant, online forum.
If you don’t believe me, take a wallow through the enlightened opinions of YouTube video commentators.
Journalism, I fear, has become a tool for niche marketing that doesn’t serve the reader, or the public in the way that it was intended.
 Rather than informing our opinions, we now look to the media to agree with our assumptions.
And in the interest of making the bottom line while feeding reader interest, reporters forget why their publications should exist at all.
Novelist Mark Twain, who had a love-hate relationship with newspapers, once said that irreverance is the one pecularity of American newspapers, that “where they laugh one good king to death, they laugh a thousand cruel and infamous shams and superstitions into the grave, and the account is squared. Irreverence is the champion of liberty and its only sure defense.”
Irreverance is not sensationalism.
And it’s my job to know the difference.