American Journalism

Standards for the American Free Press

Adapted from professional standards once considered sacrosanct by American journalists and from the textbook, “The Elements of Journalism” by Bill Kovach and Tom Rosenstiel.

  1. The purpose of journalism is to provide people with the information they need to be free, self-governing and “sovereign.”
  2. The uniqueness of the America’s Free Press in service to each citizen’s need to be “sovereign” derives from the Founding Fathers’ use of printing presses to rally support for the new nation’s break from the King of England as validated by the introduction to the Declaration of Independence*
  3. As the source of American freedoms referenced in the Declaration of Independence,* the “Creator” is integral to and should not be excluded from public discourse and media as in socialist, communist or other atheistic nation states.
  4. Journalism’s first obligation is to the disinterested pursuit of truth.
  5. Journalism’s essence is the discipline of verification.
  6. Journalists must maintain independence from those they cover.
  7. Journalists serve as monitors of power.
  8. Journalists strive to make the significant interesting and relevant.
  9. Each journalist has an obligation to follow his or her personal conscience.
  10. Increasingly, citizens are journalists themselves and should in the public interest strive to comply with these standards.

Tenets of American Journalism
  • Scripps Company Newspapers: “Give light and the people will find their own way.”
  • Pope John Paul II (June 2000): “With its vast and direct influence on public opinion, journalism … [must] be felt as a mission in a certain sense sacred, carried out in the knowledge that the powerful means of communication have been entrusted to you for the good of all.”
  • Alexander Hamilton (to the jury in the trial of John Peter Zenger, charged in 1735 with libeling Royal Governor of New York William Cosby): “Are we to believe that truth is a greater sin than falsehood?”
  • The John Peter Zenger precedent was formative not only for libel law in the United States but for the First Amendment. As a result, “Americans consider it a basic right to be able to criticize government officials without fear of punishment.” [Constitutional Rights Foundation].
  • The U.S. Supreme Court in 1971: “In the First Amendment, the Founding Fathers gave the free press the protection it must have to fulfill its essential role in our democracy. The press was to serve the governed, not the governors.”
  • First Amendment scholar Lee Bollinger on U.S. courts’ affirmation of a free and competitive press: Out of a diversity of voices the people are more likely to know the truth and thus be able to self-govern.

* We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. …

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