“Every shred of journalistic integrity I had left was about to go out the window.” (HUNT the TRUTH, episode 9).
At the risk of being cynical, one has to ask how much of a sacrifice was journalistic integrity for Benjamin Giraud? There were certainly other risks piled on, but it’d be a stretch to place this particular trait among the largest casualties. In HUNT the TRUTH, Ben displays an unnerving level of disregard for the information literacy standards of journalism.
Whether we are looking at the news today or the news set over five hundred years in the future, it is a journalist’s job to know what information is needed and how to communicate that information to others. It is a journalist’s job to be information literate.
Information literacy (IL) is defined by the American Library Association (ALA) as the ability to “recognize when information is needed and have the ability to locate, evaluate, and use effectively the needed information” [x]. The Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL) partnered with a number of universities, journalism schools, and a few professional journalists to adapt the ALA IL standards specifically to this field [x]. They are as follows:
“The student or professional…”
- Identifies needed resources, determines where to find resources, and estimates time and financial costs to access information.
- Begins research using search strategies that are effective and efficient.
- Appraises information gathered for accuracy, balance, and relevance.
- Writes the story by integrating information gathered.
- Applies professional standards throughout the research process.
Now these standards and the professional ethics and legality are taken from current programs and acts of the United States of America. There are likely plenty of parallels or violations that could be taken from other countries in the world today that won’t be addressed in this piece. ACRL also makes it clear that these standards may evolve over time as the profession changes and technology moves forward (ACRL, pp 3). As I am incapable of predicting state of these standards half a century into the future, I will be using solely our contemporary standards for comparison.
Each standard is broken up into further sets of performance indicators and outcomes, some of which Ben follows excellently and some of which need to be threatened into him by a fellow reporter with a revolver.
Escalation Issue 5
The first initiative that Ben takes in the research of Master Chief’s story aligns with portions of the first and second standards. In using his Outer Colony contacts to get in touch with Ellie Bloom and locate the government records, Ben displays a willingness to “initiate research” and “identify appropriate sources.” (ACRL pp 3). He also displays his ability to “retrieve information needed through collections, services, and individuals” and “identif[y] gaps in the information retrieved” (pp 6). This is a perfect example of IL journalism, stepping outside the pre-approved sources, conducting further investigations. Yet when confronted by inaccuracies between the two sets of resources, he writes off his own efforts as “getting cute with the research” (HUNT, ep 2).
The most egregious failure is Ben’s rejection of nearly the entirety of Standard 5. Out of the fifteen listed outcomes for the “appli[cation] of professional standards through out the research process,” there are three that are unverifiable from the information provided in HUNT the TRUTH. Out of the remaining twelve, he is very good at following three of them. However, the way he applies those standards leads to his violation of eight others.
Outcomes 2d, 2e, and 3c all focus on the recording and proper attributing of interviews and quotes (ACRL, pp 12-13). Ben does this flawlessly. Without it, we would have HUNT the TRUTH. However, as Petra Janecek aggressively reminds him, doing so without consent – Outcomes 1a, 1b, 1c, 1e, 2c, 2f, 2g and 3b – is a violation of privacy and a startling number of policies and ethic codes.
HUNT the TRUTH: Major Breakthrough
The First Amendment Handbook [x] has an entire chapter regarding “Surreptitious Recording” which is an incredibly nuanced topic in journalism, specifically regarding the legality of consent. Each state in the USA has its own policy on whether permission from the interviewed party is needed, and interviewing cross-state adds even more complexity (First Amendment, pp 19-21). Applying the same notion across a galaxy does nothing to simplify this issue.
We’ve seen in Contact Harvest that each colony has its own government set up that is not a mirrored copy of Earth or core UNSC planets (Contact, pp 165). It’s logical to then assume that the policies regarding surreptitious recording will also vary from colony to colony. However Ben records people from multiple colonies and shows only occasional deference to consent.
The final outcome of Standard 5 brings Ben into a catch-22. Outcome 2b is reached when the professional “[a]pplies journalism’s professional code of conduct and complies with institutional policies on access to information resources” (ACRL, pp 12). The first ethical code of conduct listed by the Society of Professional Journalists is “Seek Truth and Report It” [x]. This ties in again with the initiative Ben took to find Ellie Bloom. He was embracing the professional code of his job, seeking voices that are seldom heard (SPJ). Yet at the same moment, he is likely overstepping the institutional policies set down by the Office of Naval Intelligence.
HUNT the TRUTH: The Assignment
ONI is a perfect foil for Ben in the misuse of IL standards. While Ben’s disregard is more absentmindedness and neglect, ONI deliberately subverts or abuses the standards to meet their own end.
With the Master Chief piece, ONI had developed a list of pre-approved sources, most of them concocted or altered to fit their agenda. In doing so and ensuring consistency within those sources, ONI discourages the entirety of Standard 2, wanting to keep the journalists from doing any form of digging into the story.
Abuse of the standards arise when Ben finds the records and accounts of John’s death. In light of this event, Michael “Sully” Sullivan becomes very insistent that Ben follows Standard 3.
DilDev’s photoshopping skills
The meme of “Glassed Planets Have Bad Records” is actually an evaluation of source accuracy. It’s recognizing the “cultural, physical, or other context within the information was created” and checking the reliability of those records (ACRL, pp 7-8). It’s Colonial Journalism 101, a fact that’s verified by multiple sources. However as the insistence on this particular evaluation continues when other evidence arrives to challenge it, basic journalism becomes Government Secrecy 101.
The other major player in the story, and the only one who is ONI’s equal, is FERO. We don’t get to see as much of FERO’s abilities in regards to information literacy, but there is one quality that is clear from her first appearance: she understands audience.
Audience is a factor that appears in three of the five standards. To be information literate involves understanding who the audience of the story is, communicating background information the audience needs to know, and utilizing language understood by the intended audience (ACRL, pp 3, 4, 7, 10). FERO realizes that she and Ben are working with two separate audiences: the general public and the United Earth Government officials. She knows which information is needed when and where to capture the right audience.
HUNT the TRUTH: Peace Talks
The end goal, the chosen audience, is the senators in the UEG. She knows that the story of the Spartan-II program will ignite action in the government, but in order to reach that audience, she has to first cut through the public. For the public, she needs a different story, something that will strike at a larger base, “a headline, imminent and exclusive” (HUNT, ep 7) like the peace talk massacre. This understanding is what enables FERO and Ben to strike at ONI in the middle of the Senate meeting.
Just as FERO understands audience, Ben understands story. He doesn’t completely lack IL skills, and the one standard that we see him capture in its entirety is Standard 4: “Writes the story by integrating information gathered.” Highlights of his efforts here include maintaining a log of his activities (2a), incorporation of different mediums into the story with both pictures and audio (1d, 3b), and integration of both new and prior information (1c).
The most fascinating of all these is his admission of bias, Outcome 1b. Throughout the entirety of HUNT the TRUTH, Ben displays self-awareness. He recognizes that his continual pushing of Thomas Wu was an act of desperation. He openly acknowledges that his pride was the ultimate reason he decided to pursue the truth. Even at the brink of the Senate meeting, this is on his mind: “I had a strongly biased opinion” (HUNT, ep 9). This awareness is also how Ben grows in information literacy skills over the course of the series.
Ben shows improvement in the outcomes and standards he has violated in the past. After a kick to his pride, he chooses to push forward with the real story, to actively “seek truth and report it” (SPJ). After a kick to his front door, he acquires permission to record Ray’s next find.
HUNT the TRUTH: Cancel/Confirm
Even after the big display that likely killed his career as a journalist, Ben’s standing as an information provider has not diminished. Both in-canon and in the real world, HUNT the TRUTH has countless followers, tuning in each week to have their questions answered and to have more raised. If anything, journalistic integrity and proper use of the information literacy standards has more weight for Ben now than ever before. In reality, it’s all he has left.