By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

When the news comes from agenda-driven sources

Palestinian refugees in Syria wait for food assistance.

Palestinian refugees in Syria wait for food assistance.

Yesterday morning I was talking with my students about the importance of independence in journalistic ethics. Today The New York Times reports that a photo of Palestinian refugees in Syria has come under scrutiny, with some suspecting the picture is a digitally altered fake.

Perhaps questions would have been raised in any case, but it doesn’t help that the photo was distributed by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA). According to the Times, the photo appears to be genuine, and depicts the brutal reality of everyday life in Syria. But when the news comes from organizations with an agenda, it’s only natural that observers will ask questions.

The UNRWA photo is important and well worth calling to the world’s attention. But with more and more news coming from non-journalistic organizations, the value that journalism can bring is to scrutinize and determine what’s real and what isn’t.

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  1. Rich Kenney

    “Yesterday morning I was talking to my students about the importance of independence in jopurnalistic ethics…” Talk about a jaw dropping statement coming from you.

  2. What exactly is a non-journalism source?

    • Dan Kennedy

      @George: In this case, the UN. NGOs. Kaiser does great health-care coverage but obviously has a huge conflict of interest. Etc.

  3. Got it. One can argue (and surprise, surprise, I will) that even “journalism” sources have agendas. See, for example, FOX-News, MSNBC as well as online “journalism” like the Huffington Post. I don’t trust a lot of news generated by FOX. So there are a lot of agendas driving journalism sources. We live in a period where skepticism is a necessary skill.

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