The Globe’s Point: Journalists must be precise

It is one of the crucial tenants of our profession, and sometimes one of the more difficult ones to uphold. In today’s world, anyone can report and express ideas through social media and a variety of online platforms, but to do that with the backing of a legitimate publication means that we are taking on an extra level of responsibility for what we write.

As student journalists, we are obviously learning as we go, but it can be disappointing to see when our colleagues so easily miss the mark.

We’re talking about Pitt News’ column, now taken down, entitled “America’s Race War Has Begun.”

To be brief, the opinion piece wrote that police brutality and institutional racism had ignited “an all-out war” in America and that Black Lives Matter “was no longer a movement.” There is obviously a lot to unpack there, but Pitt News readers raised objections to the terminology used and how Black Lives Matter was being represented in the publication, prompting the editors to take down the column and issue a formal apology on their website.

It brings up a very relevant, continual debate about content published by media outlets. Journalists have a duty to publish a variety of perspectives,and to not censor. However, journalists who are worth any stock also have a duty to abide by the Society of Professional Journalists’ Code of Ethics: seek truth and report it, minimize harm, act independently and be accountable and transparent.

We would argue that proposing there is a “race war” in a less than 500 word piece, with sparse research and flashy words meant to instigate visceral, emotional reactions, is not minimizing harm. It should go without saying publications should not be partisan and fairly present multiple opinions in their editorial sections, but those opinions must be well-articulated, thoroughly researched and seek to provide insight, not blind outrage. Publications provide an elevated platform to inform the public, and to allow that platform to be co-opted by bigotry is just plain irresponsible.

Regardless of where you stand on the issue of engaging ethically with audiences, writers should expect their work to be critiqued and potentially face backlash if it is inflammatory.

Freedom of speech does not mean freedom from any consequences that result from that speech.