GUEST COMMENT: News hounds face ethical questions daily

Hacking leaves readers wondering about journalists.

By Teresa Mallam

My brother Christopher, who works for CTV, was interviewed by a reporter about his knowledge of computer hacking and how people can protect their privacy.

He sent me the original video clip noting that most of the interview was left on the cutting room floor during editing. Alas. His moment of fame gone in a mere fleeting moment.

The “hacker” news story came on the heels of the Rupert Murdoch​ newspaper scandal, which is fast growing legs. More and more reporters (with private investigators) and editors are being dragged into the muck.

The quick decision to end the life of News of the World newspaper after 168 years on the newstands did little to quiet the masses. It only begged more questions.

Reports of phone hacking and other privacy invasion tactics to get a front-page breaking story left a bad taste in the mouths of readers worldwide. It also made people wonder about what goes on in newspaper offices.

In the old days we had to dig for the news. There were no search engines, Wikipedia or even Internet, so research was done in libraries or by making several calls to several experts. Investigative reporting took time. How we put out so many in-depth broadsheet (as opposed to tab-sized) stories by deadline still amazes me.

My concern is what we gained in time may be lost in trust.

Trust is such a big part of what we do as reporters and journalists.

One day I was having lunch with friends when I overheard a pathologist and a lawyer talking at the next table. Over the years, I’ve acquired the knack of listening and talking at the same time. Comes in handy at parties.

My antenna is always up. On this day, my ears perked up when I heard how the murder victim died in a news story we were covering.

When the police later refused to reveal the manner of death (the victim was shot execution-style in the head) I logged the information not in my hard drive, but in my brain.

Having no yellow streak, I did not report what I overheard at lunch but I was able to use it to get a better story.

Every day news hounds face ethical questions. Big and small. Do we correct bad grammar if it’s a quote? Do we run a story before checking (not just saying ‘could not be reached’ for comment) with the other side? Is there any such thing as ‘off the record’?

Like every other profession, how people conduct themselves in the newspaper world is more about personal choice and ethics than it is about their jobs.

Teresa Mallam writes for the Prince George Free Press, an affiliate newspaper of Black Press.