PT 83 LSAT Writing: Journalist

The Prompt

Kate Li is an independent journalist who publishes stories on a small, ad-supported Internet news website that she owns and manages. She has received an anonymous tip that a prominent political campaign has been covertly violating campaign finance laws. Li must decide whether to publish the story on her website or pass the tip on to a larger news organization. Using the facts below, write an essay in which you argue for one option over the other based on the following two criteria:

  • Li wants to further her career as a journalist.
  • Li wants to promote the business interests of her news website.

If Li publishes the story on her website she will receive sole journalistic credit for the story. Li lacks the resources to thoroughly vet the anonymous tip herself before publishing the story. An unvetted story must be acknowledged as unverified if it is published. Publishing unverified stories is considered unprofessional for journalists unless the public would otherwise fail to get valuable information. News stories about political corruption are widely shared on Internet sites and social media. Publishing stories that are widely shared greatly increases the number of people visiting a news website. Journalists with a reputation for publishing unverified stories receive significantly more anonymous tips than journalists who do not have such a reputation.

Political stories published by large news organizations achieve high visibility in a variety of media. These organizations occasionally share journalistic credit with independent journalists who pass along tips for stories. Stories about political corruption sometimes result in lawsuits against publications and journalists. Large news organizations retain legal staff to support their stories and sources. Many large news organizations maintain reciprocal relationships with smaller news outlets, trading smaller scale stories in exchange for tips on stories with a larger scope.

My Essay

The tip Li has received about a potential violation of campaign finance laws represents a unique opportunity. If Li wants to improve both her journalistic bona fides and her websites's financials, she should publish the story herself.

Publishing the story herself is more likely to bolster Li's career as a journalist. In the economy of breaking news, tips about political corruption are a scarce commodity, and if Li were to pass her tip on to a larger news organization, she would effectively be throwing herself on the organization's mercy. What guarantees does she have that her colleagues at a larger organization would share credit with her? None at all. Indeed, we know that larger news organizations share credit with independent journalists only "occasionally." If Li wants to earn a reputation as a journalist—one who brings hidden facts to the attention of the public—she should not pass up a major opportunity to unearth a scandal. Not only will she ensure that she gets credit for the story, but she'll also garner a reputation for taking risks with unverified information in the name of the public good. Journalists with such a reputation tend to get more tips, and more tips would make Li's website more viable in the long run.

Publishing the story herself is also the best way for Li to further the business interests of her independent publication. Stories about political corruption are widely shared, and widespread sharing would increase Li's stature as an independent journalist, not to mention her viewership. Li's business model depends on such viewership. If the story were to go viral, Li would continue to benefit, for larger news organizations would publish their own versions of the story, likely citing Li. In effect, Li would benefit from organic syndication.

Publishing the story is not without its downsides for Li. She doesn't have the resources to verify the tip, and the publication of unverified information exposes her to censure from her colleagues as well as potential legal ramifications. Indeed, stories about corruption can result in lawsuits; Li would be unprotected. A lawsuit, however, could potentially work in Li's favor, adding as it would to her notoriety and casting her, in the public imagination, as a journalistic Robinhood. In any case, one can't be a self-sustaining independent journalist without assuming risk. Li's goal is not to minimize her risks but to maximize her potential rewards, and the risks of this particular endeavor have concomitant rewards. Li should seize the bull by the horns and publish a story that could help her make her mark on our society.

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