When judging or measuring journalism ethics, one can't paint all newspapers under the same broad brush.

We certainly can't be included under the large tent of those British tabloid newspapers currently involved in an unfolding scandal. The London-based newspapers of media mogul Rupert Murdoch are accused of trying to obtain personal information and legal files in any way possible. Former Prime Minister Gordon Brown's latest charge is that they used known criminals to dig up confidential information on his family.

In today's thirst for instant news, tons of unattributed and unresearched information are being peddled off as news, especially on the unregulated Internet. One example of this occurred the morning of July 4th when a group identifying themselves as Scriptkiddies hacked into the Fox News' twitter account and announced in a series of tweets with "breaking news" that President Barrack Obama had been assassinated, and Vice-President Joe Biden was set to take his place immediately.

The hackers may have thought it was a big joke but the Secret Service didn't and quickly launched an investigation to look into the source of the attacks. Since there are no truth filters, the social media websites aren't exactly the places readers want to go to check references or facts for a story.

There is hope for the industry on the hometown front, however, according to a new study released by the Bill Lane Center at Stanford University. There, a team of journalists, working with students from the history and computer science programs, tracked the growth of the print industry from 1690 to today.

The results showed that community newspapers are much healthier than large city newspapers because they haven't been invaded by Internet competition. According to All Cross, a journalism analyst from the University of Kentucky, rural papers "own the franchise locally of the most credible information," especially since, in many cases, they are the only source for local news.

So, while the Internet has signaled a decline for many large newspapers, the rural or community print editions are fairing much better, thanks to a mission that has remained constant through the test of time for three centuries in America. The unchanging truth is that reporters still need to do their homework by digging out and deciphering the facts before delivering an accurate story to their readers.

By Jim Zbick

jzbick@tnonline.com