The most famous seven words in American journalism are “All the news that’s fit to print”, says Joseph Campbell, a professor at the School of Communication at American University in Washington, DC, who blogs about journalism history.
The 121-year-old motto, which appears on the upper left corner of the New York Times masthead, is in fact a world journalism standard.
The motto has made the Times arguably the most authoritative and admired newspaper in the world.
It is not always clear, however, exactly what the phrase “that’s fit print” means, nor whether the New York Times always practises what it preaches.
What is clear is that it is taken more seriously than other American newspaper.
Even in Kenya a story about our country is taken more seriously if it is published in the New York Times than if it is published in the London Times.
The New York Times first used the slogan “All the news that’s fit to print” on August 18, 1896, to differentiate the newspaper from its more sensational competitors.
It was a declaration that it had set the bar very high for accurate, impartial and responsible reporting.
It was a call for honest journalism that has endured the test of time. It is a standard that is admired and emulated by papers that seek to be credible and authoritative, though opinions differ on what news is and what is not fit to print.
Nation Media Group readers may not be familiar with the New York Times slogan but many are clearly concerned about what is not “fit to print”.
Take Baru Wang’ombe, who last Friday wrote to voice his concern about the “extreme spin, contradictory stories and allegations, plain lies, and fake news on social media that is going around”.
FLOW OF INFORMATION
He said it was imperative that the mainstream media provide a semblance of order in the flow of information and opinions, and “give the public a fighting chance to try and figure out what is going on”.
He warned against the use of unnamed sources by the NMG, citing a story, “Nasa gives in to pressure over election petition case” (August 18).
“Granted, the Nation was reporting what a source told your reporter, and there is nothing wrong with that. However, this was clearly a partisan source, and the source must have been part of an opinion management effort. You can’t ignore the story given by the source, but surely you can provide context and include alternative views,” he said.
He argued that unnamed sources can say anything they wish but the reader should not be left to assume that is “the only perspective available” or what the source says exists exits.
“When you report what a named person has said… we can all evaluate these statements based on where they stand in current events.
An unnamed ‘source’ is, however, cloaked behind anonymity, and this leaves the casual reader without a default assessment of the credibility to attach to the statements,” he said.
“Regrettably, it seems to me that the Nation was used as a simple mouthpiece, articulating the pronouncements of a highly interested party, verbatim, as if it were objective and verified news.
That can’t help your readers or the Kenyan nation at this time. Please assist us to retain confidence in the impartiality and professionalism of the Daily Nation.”
PURSUIT OF TRUTH
The NMG editorial policy requires that unnamed sources should not be used unless the pursuit of truth will best be served by not naming the source or if the source requests anonymity.
If a source is not named, the story should give the reason why the source requested not want to be named.
The policy also requires that news, views or comments relating to ethnic disputes should be published “after proper verification of facts and presented with due caution, balance and restraint in a manner which is conducive to the creation of an atmosphere congenial to national harmony, reconciliation, amity and peace.”
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