Which Bay Area News
Media Are the Most Ethical?
How could you possibly decide whether Channel 2 is better than Channel 4, or 5 or 7? Or compare these stations to the two biggest newspapers, the San Francisco Chronicle and the San Jose Mercury News?
Wouldn’t it be subjective? A matter of taste?
There is a more objective way.
You may know that the ethics of journalism demand that if news executives do nothing else with their time or space, they should empower democracy—help people make decisions on election day. It’s an ethical litmus test.
Return with us to the two weeks just before California’s first open primary election, in June of 1998. Scores of confusing ballot issues face voters. A gaggle of politicians and special interests are filling the airwaves with barrages of charges and counter-charges.
One more thing: TV newsrooms are being showered with money. Scores of millions of dollars state-wide are being pumped into local stations as political interests buy ad time. Newspapers only get a small piece of the action.
Constructing an ethical litmus test
Volume of coverage, does not equal quality, however. To measure quality, we counted the number of sources per campaign story. Also, the percentage of stories in which the reporter quoted an independent expert source to help citizens sort through the blizzard of claims and charges. Here Channel 7 flunked. The Chronicle fell back into the pack, and the Mercury News took a commanding lead.
of Political Stories
with at least one Independent Expert Quoted
The last thing we measured was fairness—were at least two sides given an opportunity to speak. This was a bright spot! Not only did every one pass, but the Mercury, and Channels 2 and 4 were judged excellent.