Everyone has a smartphone. They’re affordable, (sometimes) easy to use, and, most of all, smart.

In theory, owning a smartphone means you can become a journalist, right? After all, you can shoot, write, and edit your own news story, post to the internet and social media, and call yourself a reporter.

Sounds like a great idea. It’s America. You can do what you want.

Last week, I had the opportunity to sit on a panel at my alma mater, the University of South Alabama. For Communication Day, I was asked, as I have been for the past few years, to return and give my take on the industry as I know it, post-graduation.

A question was raised: “Why are most journalists not credible anymore?”

Easy.

The answer: Many times, objective reporting, opinion, and lack of journalistic integrity and ethics get mixed together.

Let’s break it down.

Objective reporting

Journalistically speaking, objective reporting should be simple. It’s not rocket science. You hear about the story, investigate and research, acquire facts, vet the facts, and report what you know. This means there should never be an influence of what the story is about, with whom you spoke, how you feel, or who/what it will affect.

All you’re doing as a journalist is being a funnel of information for the public. You’ve done the research and are now reporting the facts.

That’s what it means to be objective.

Opinion

Unless you are the news, or a commentator, remove yourself from the story. There is a major difference between commentary/opinion and objectively reporting.

Many times, viewers of television news will sit at home in their recliner and watch primetime news anchors give their opinions about the day’s news stories. NEWSFLASH: that’s exactly what they are: opinions. Many people will consider that “news.” While they might be setting up the story with factual information, opinion is inserted. It’s expected.

Factual news reporting does not have any slant. It’s reporting the facts and telling the story.

Journalistic integrity

Remember the whole smartphone spill above? Let’s circle back to that.

Can you be a citizen journalist? Sure. Of course. More power to you. When I am frantically searching for first-hand accounts of what happened during a breaking news situation, as a journalist, I’m turning to you. Most times, you were on the ground before any of the other news agencies were.

Are you a witness of the news? Yep. You got it. I will be turning to you for a that first-hand account.

But do you understand and know about libel, copyright, defamation, and media law? What about how to phrase “more than” or “over”? Were you aware to write out the number one but not the number 100? It’s Ala. not AL. And it’s not November; it’s Nov. It’s knowing when to use – and … during a sentence. It’s about understanding FOIA, reporter’s privilege, an embargo, invasion of privacy, plagiarism, social media guidelines, misappropriation, and attribution, and the First Amendment. Did you go to school and dedicate time and energy into learning about these things? What about interviewing a parent whose child was just shot, someone who lost their home in a fire, or confront a felon?

The list goes well beyond this, folks. It’s just the very tip of the iceberg.

My goal, as managing editor and as a journalist, is to do all of the above, separately. I will report objectively. I will have an opinion. And I will always have, and uphold, journalistic integrity. There is a time and a place for all three. I plan on making a difference in the way news is reported and the way stories are told.

It’s okay if you don’t believe me. Just watch, read, and listen. The results will speak for themselves.

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Michael Brannon for SylacaugaNews.com | © 2016, SylacaugaNews.com/Marble City Media LLC. All Rights Reserved.

Michael Brannon is a former news and sports anchor from Mobile, Ala. and serves as Director of Business Development, Manager of Digital Projects and Strategy, and Managing Editor of SylacaugaNews.com.