Journalism and Right Speech

Journalism and Right Speech

July 25, 2012 5:34 pm 0 comments

Books like The Elements of Journalism by Bill Kovach and Tom Rosenstiel and The Information Diet by Clay Johnson examine the responsibilities of journalists and other information producers and what the public should expect, and demand, of its news and information outlets.

I just came across, via the Wikipedia entry on the Noble Eight Fold Path of Buddhism, a quote from The Abhaya Sutta on “Right Speech.” I think it has a lot to say about what we as journalists should write and what you as the public should demand:

In the case of words that the Tathagata knows to be unfactual, untrue, unbeneficial, unendearing and disagreeable to others, he does not say them.
In the case of words that the Tathagata knows to be factual, true, yet unbeneficial, unendearing and disagreeable to others, he does not say them.
In the case of words that the Tathagata knows to be factual, true, beneficial, yet unendearing and disagreeable to others, he has a sense of the proper time for saying them.
In the case of words that the Tathagata knows to be unfactual, untrue, unbeneficial, yet endearing and agreeable to others, he does not say them.
In the case of words that the Tathagata knows to be factual, true, but unbeneficial, yet endearing and agreeable to others, he does not say them.
In the case of words that the Tathagata knows to be factual, true, beneficial, and endearing and agreeable to others, he has a sense of the proper time for saying them. Why is that? Because the Tathagata has sympathy for living beings.

Wikipedia puts it: “In every case, if it is not true, beneficial nor timely, one is not to say it.”

Or, for modern times: Write, and/or read, things that are true, timely and informative. Don’t troll. Don’t spread rumors. Don’t read gossip. Don’t create or click on linkbait. Don’t read substanceless content just because it affirms what you already believe.

This fits nicely with “The Essence of Journalism is Verification” (from the Principles of Journalism) and Clay Johnson’s summary of his thinking: “Consume deliberately. Take in information over affirmation.”

See also: The “Elements of Journalism” issue of the Nieman Report.

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