Reflection On Our Journalism Standards and Ways to Improve, Letter from the Editor

Image by Ono Kosuki

By | Rachel Brooks

Letter from the Editor at Republic Underground

June 14, 2021 

“Yellow journalism exists because it pays and it pays because it exists,” wrote Horace White in his critic of Mr. Pulitzer’s School of Journalism, which appeared in The North American Review in 1904. 

In the century to transpire since, White’s sense of conviction regarding journalism, regarding journalism for profit, for magazines, to sell papers, and not to speak social truths, has come full-circle. We are left with the scraps of mushrooming yellow journalism. There is journalism as an industry, as other, as media. Then, there is the decentralized effort of entrepreneurs to democratize the news, but this lacks focus. 

Republic Underground emerged from this democratizing effort in a time when participatory journalism has tested the limits of news objectivity. The objectivity sought a departure from the short-sightedness the forefathers of journalism as a craft saw in 19th-and-20th century journals. In 2021, journalism is a conflict tactic. It is information security as much as it is meant to be an act of public informing goodwill. The stakes are high and hardlines are being drawn around a diction of journalistic mortality. 

Some are seen as Judas to the craft itself, and these are ambiguous defined by their ranking in a merit system of narrative points and not for true betrayals of the Code of Ethics the practice of journalism has adopted. This Code of Ethics has been weaponized and sabotaged thereby. See the full Code of Ethics as defined by the Society of Professional Journalists for reference. 

Republic Underground would be remiss not to address when we have erred, as all outlets sometimes do, in our endeavors for ethics and clarity. There are subtle ways in which we have failed, opportunities missed to engage a greater perspective, social cues we failed to address as we provided an outlet of free speech. Likewise, we have learned lessons of our failed objectivity through conflicts, and how we as an outlet need to grow in our standards, for the sake of all the people who have come to our outlet as an alternative to the tabloids and social buzz they seek to escape. 

In this learning experience of a fledgling journalistic effort, the editorial strives to keep the door open to contributors, open to voices of many different backgrounds, but we have become entangled in the politics of the thing. 

While there is no such thing as perfect objectivity, we have erred in the nuanced balance of maintaining social media and editorial. Our objectivity is not absolute, and our delivery has not been without biases. Yet, we have striven for excellence, and in this moment of accountability, of clarity, of patience with the process of learning, we seek to define what the future of this editorial is and of your role as readership is in it. 

Journalism as a social conversation 

We return to the moral compass of Horace White, for from it we learn older standards that can direct the new age of our craft. We observe how in his critique in The North American Review he highlighted that epidemic of “yellow journalism” of the abuse of the craft for tabloid inventions, of celebrity gossip, smut, scandals, and other sensationalism that we can do without. White stated that the “yellow journalist” is guilty of blaming public tastes when his pieces are harshly judged by the public eye. From this critique, we observe a golden standard of journalistic practice. It is to be a public servant and to engage in a dialogue with the public itself that we exist. To benefit discourse, to question the agendas of remiss publication, journalism must be open to self-reflection and to benefit from public criticism. 

We want your criticism 

If you have comments for us, write to our editor at rbrooks@republic-underground.com and give us some insights on stories we should be covering or ways in which we can do better. 

Moving forward we seek to define our standards as follows: 

  • We will seek to be nonpartisan. Republic Underground does not profess a political affiliation of either the left or the right. The majority of our readership, however, is center-right in their political leanings. For this, we move to the second standard we seek to maintain. 
  • We will be proactive in labeling opinions. Republic Underground is a contributor-driven, participatory platform. For this reason, we have many posts that fall under commentary and op-ed. In the past, we have not labeled these as proactively as we should have done, but in our new efforts to maintain a greater standard, we will enhance our labeling of opinion and commentary. 
  • We will maintain a strict code of ethics on social media. Republic Underground seeks to be present in all spaces where our audience is. For this reason, we will develop a social media etiquette so that all of our current audience, and onboarding audience feel that they are welcome on our discussion platforms. We intend to plainly publish this code of ethics and maintain a conduct based on the code of conduct we draft. 
  • We will not change our language standards for partisan speech. We will not adopt any terms that would alter our nonpartisan objective. For this reason, we maintain the right under the First Amendment of the United States Constitution to the use of Standard American English in English-language journalism as well as the Associated Press stylebook. We will not adopt terms for political issues that are partisan jargon even under criticism of using “hate speech” or of appearing “woke.” We will review the Standard American English correctness of terms in our practice and apply these to our editorial guidelines. In the event of hyperpartisan standardization, we will revert to an older standard approved by journalistic standards of the past that maintains our goals of objectivity.

Thank you to all who believe in the cause of Republic Underground as redefining the purpose of our journalism and improving the standards of our challenging craft. 

With sincere intent to better this platform, 

Rachel Brooks

Editor, Republic Underground