There’s an old saying that there are two sides to every story.
As journalists, this is a balance we seek out to avoid biased reporting. Or at least we should be seeking it. Talking to people on both sides of an event or issue is critical in finding out the truth, which is often somewhere in the middle. It’s sad to see how many news outlets, big and small, have forgotten this.
AL.com recently came out with an article that looked into a series of cases in which people were arrested for unpaid debts and held for a long period of time without trial.
The article makes it seem like Marion County is running a debtor’s prison and an extortion racket. The problem is, that isn’t the full story.
Scott Johnson, our general manager, spoke with county officials to get their reaction to the story, and it became clear to me that the writer of the article didn’t want to tell the full story, or was never looking for it from the beginning.
A journalist’s job is not to tell people what to think, but to give them the facts to allow them to think for themselves.
The only agenda a newspaper or TV channel should have is seeking the truth. Every other goal of journalism is covered under this: exposing corruption, speaking out for those who can’t and just helping people stay informed about the world around them. We fail at that and betray our audience when we push any other agenda.
I encourage people to read the original article (which can be read online at bit.ly/failuretopay) and then read Scott’s article in this week’s edition and compare the two.
Taking both stories into account puts things in a better perspective. Yes, one man sat in jail for too long, but it wasn’t supposed to happen and the problem was addressed almost immediately after it was brought to light.
The AL.com article addressed a legitimate problem: people being arrested over unpaid debts. But it didn’t address the fact that these people had ample opportunity to work things out and pay the debts, some of which were supposed to be restitution paid to the victims in their cases.
Facts were ignored in favor of an agenda or sensationalism, and that is dangerous.
Finding the truth is, and always should be, the only agenda of any news publication or broadcast. Injustice and other wrongdoing should be called out, but those accused should have a chance to speak in their own defense. Otherwise, we are the ones condemning others without offering them due process.
When you talk to both sides and take everything into account, you often find the truth, or at least get closer to it.
And like the Lord says in John 8:32, “you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.”
See complete story in the Journal Record.