Posts tagged with ‘ethics’

‘Robot’ to write 1 billion stories in 2014 but will you know it when you see it? | Poynter. →

If you’re a human reporter quaking in your boots this week over news of a Los Angeles Times algorithm that wrote the newspaper’s initial story about an earthquake, you might want to cover your ears for this fact:

Software from Automated Insights will generate about 1 billion stories this year — up from 350 million last year, CEO and founder Robbie Allen told Poynter via phone.

FJP: Here’s a ponderable for you.

A few weeks ago, the New York Post reported that Quinton Ross died. Ross, a former Brooklyn Nets basketball player, didn’t know he was dead and soon let people know he was just fine.

"A couple (relatives) already heard it," Ross told the Associated Press. “They were crying. I mean, it was a tough day, man, mostly for my family and friends… My phone was going crazy. I checked Facebook. Finally, I went on the Internet, and they were saying I was dead. I just couldn’t believe it.”

The original reporter on the story? A robot. Specifically, Wikipedia Live Monitor, created by Google engineer Thomas Steiner.

Slate explains how it happened:

Wikipedia Live Monitor is a news bot designed to detect breaking news events. It does this by listening to the velocity and concurrent edits across 287 language versions of Wikipedia. The theory is that if lots of people are editing Wikipedia pages in different languages about the same event and at the same time, then chances are something big and breaking is going on.

At 3:09 p.m. the bot recognized the apparent death of Quinton Ross (the basketball player) as a breaking news event—there had been eight edits by five editors in three languages. The bot sent a tweet. Twelve minutes later, the page’s information was corrected. But the bot remained silent. No correction. It had shared what it thought was breaking news, and that was that. Like any journalist, these bots can make mistakes.

Quick takeaway: Robots, like the humans that program them, are fallible.

Slower, existential takeaway: “How can we instill journalistic ethics in robot reporters?

As Nicholas Diakopoulos explains in Slate, code transparency is an inadequate part of the answer. More important  is understanding what he calls the “tuning criteria,” or the inherent biases, that are used to make editorial decisions when algorithms direct the news.

Read through for his excellent take.

(Source: futurescope, via emergentfutures)

The pro‐life perspective is that if you show a woman that she has an 11‐week‐old fetus and she sees the movement, and that convinces her to keep the fetus, then isn’t that a good thing? Whereas a pro‐choice person would say she didn’t come in and know she was going to get a sonogram; there is no medical reason for it. So why are you offering a sonogram except to convince a woman not to have an abortion, which is what she really wanted to do?

Documentary filmmaker Raney Aronson as quoted in a fascinating case study in journalism ethics (by the Knight Case Studies Initiative at Columbia) called Frontline’s “The Last Abortion Clinic”: What’s Fair in a Video World?

Abstract:

This case takes students behind the scenes into the making of a news documentary for Frontline, produced at the PBS affiliate in Boston (WGBH). The case tells the story of the making of “The Last Abortion Clinic,” a 2005 documentary by producer Raney Aronson and her team. The documentary combined a legal story (developments in the abortion debate since Roe v. Wade) with personal stories—interviews with women in clinics who had confronted the abortion question in their own lives. It focused on the state of Mississippi, which had only one abortion clinic remaining. The case chronicles the evolution of a documentary from idea to finished form. Along the way, it highlights numerous editorial, logistical and ethical decisions Aronson faced in her quest to tell fairly a complex and value-laden story.

Read the PDF here.

We must choose completeness over succinctness when tweeting breaking news, especially if it’s complex breaking news that’s easily misunderstood.

Sam Kirkland, New Orgs Could Have Done a Better Job Tweeting Shutdown NewsPoynter.

Yes, yes and yes. Kirkland points to tweets from large media organizations (USA Today, The AP  and The Wall Street Journal) on September 27, which state that the Senate “passed” a bill to avert the government shutdown. He writes: 

Every editor should know how a bill becomes a law — but no editor should assume every reader does. That’s why some of the breaking news tweets before and during the government shutdown were incomplete and potentially misleading.

He points to large media organizations because the reach of their tweets is enormous.

The real story that day — and every day since, until Wednesday — was what House Republicans would agree to. Democrats in the Senate passing a budget bill meant little if it was dead on arrival in the GOP-led House, as the New York Times’ fantastic ongoing back-and-forth graphic showed throughout the shutdown.

So, the all-caps #BREAKING treatment perhaps made the Senate’s move seem more consequential than it really was, especially with wording that could be misconstrued as indicating the Senate’s vote actually meant the shutdown threat was over. Those three tweets weren’t factually wrong, but responses to them indicated at least some confusion from readers.

FJP: It’s an important point. Read the whole article here. Also, related is a piece we wrote a few months ago on how to following breaking news, particularly on Twitter.

Who am I to Disbelieve Them?
Via Glenn Greenwald, The Guardian.

In other words, if the government tells me I shouldn’t publish something, who am I as a journalist to disobey? Put that on the tombstone of western establishment journalism. It perfectly encapsulates the death spiral of large journalistic outlets…
…The NSA reporting enabled by Snowden’s whistleblowing has triggered a worldwide debate over internet freedom and privacy, reform movements in numerous national legislatures, multiple whistleblowing prizes for Snowden, and the first-ever recognition of just how pervasive and invasive is the system of suspicionless surveillance being built by the US and the UK. It does not surprise me that authoritarian factions, including (especially) establishment journalists, prefer that none of this reporting and debate happened and that we all instead remained blissfully ignorant about it. But it does still surprise me when people calling themselves “journalists” openly admit to thinking this way. But when they do so, they do us a service, as it lays so vividly bare just how wide the gap is between the claimed function of establishment journalists and the actual role they fulfill.

FJP: We’re interested, of course, in what Greenwald’s about to create in his new  $250m backed venture from eBay founder Pierre Omidyar.
Via The Guardian:

Omidyar said he hopes the project will promote “independent journalists with expertise, and a voice and a following” while using Silicon Valley knowhow to build an audience. “Companies in Silicon Valley invest a lot in understanding their users and what drives user engagement,” Omidyar said. The company will be online only and all proceeds will be reinvested in journalism.

Omidyar writes about his investment here.

Who am I to Disbelieve Them?

Via Glenn Greenwald, The Guardian.

In other words, if the government tells me I shouldn’t publish something, who am I as a journalist to disobey? Put that on the tombstone of western establishment journalism. It perfectly encapsulates the death spiral of large journalistic outlets…

…The NSA reporting enabled by Snowden’s whistleblowing has triggered a worldwide debate over internet freedom and privacy, reform movements in numerous national legislatures, multiple whistleblowing prizes for Snowden, and the first-ever recognition of just how pervasive and invasive is the system of suspicionless surveillance being built by the US and the UK. It does not surprise me that authoritarian factions, including (especially) establishment journalists, prefer that none of this reporting and debate happened and that we all instead remained blissfully ignorant about it. But it does still surprise me when people calling themselves “journalists” openly admit to thinking this way. But when they do so, they do us a service, as it lays so vividly bare just how wide the gap is between the claimed function of establishment journalists and the actual role they fulfill.

FJP: We’re interested, of course, in what Greenwald’s about to create in his new $250m backed venture from eBay founder Pierre Omidyar.

Via The Guardian:

Omidyar said he hopes the project will promote “independent journalists with expertise, and a voice and a following” while using Silicon Valley knowhow to build an audience. “Companies in Silicon Valley invest a lot in understanding their users and what drives user engagement,” Omidyar said. The company will be online only and all proceeds will be reinvested in journalism.

Omidyar writes about his investment here.

Bollywood’s Female Journalists

In a recent article in India Today, Vinayak Chakravorty argues that a new trend in Bollywood is the featuring of female actresses as journalists—a departure from the old days, when the typical journalist-on-screen set-up was a dramatic, male-dominated hero-vs-villain tale. Today, he points out through a series of examples, the on-screen journalist is most often a woman. Directors interviewed for the piece argue that it’s because the movies are inspired by the real women on journalistic frontlines. They reflect reality. What goes unsaid, however, is that until now, most of these portrayals of women have been fairly fluffy. Chakravorty writes:

What goes unsaid is the idea adds to the glam quotient. While the hero is busy saving the world, he needs an emotional prop. Plus, an account of drama seen through the female eye can be more analytical.

If the war correspondent in Madras Cafe managed to be in sync with the brutal reality the film exposed, she was still playing second fiddle to the hero, as is the case with most such depictions.

The article does point out that this stereotype is slowly beginning to change, or at least, directors are willing to be cognizant of it, and be careful to craft intelligent portrayals of the female journalist, attempting to give them strong roles above and beyond the typical female love interest for an on-screen hero.

In a post on Brown Girl, the South Asian American magazine for young women, Antara Mason appreciates this transformation:

This more realistic view of girls in the workforce is fantastic. In a post-Delhi Rape Case India, this change could not come sooner. We need to see more strong women on screen, not to mention more respect for journalism on screen. Apart from that, the more women are seen being taken professionally and seriously on screen, the more respect they will earn in the real world because of the effect media has on society.

FJP: Here’s a thought. I haven’t seen enough Bollywood journalista films to know how this evolving portrayal of women journalists actually plays out, but simply presenting women in strong and independent leading roles seems like a solution that is driven by the same impulse that created the glam-doll phenomenon in the first place. In my mind, female-journalist-as-heroine is in danger of being just as one-dimensional as female-journalist-as-love-interest, especially if the parameters of heroism are of typical Bollywood-style: dramatic, and based on a very simple definition of power: victory. 

If, however, the strength of female journalists is portrayed in a nuanced manner, one that takes into account the realities of being a female journalist in India’s rapidly evolving professional universe, movies can have an incredibly powerful impact. Here’s an example: some weeks ago, the Times published this piece on the evolution of journalism in India and the precarious situations women journalists find themselves in on account of being women in male-centric society. It’s a fear of harassment that is valid, that media organizations need to acknowledge, and women ought to speak about without shame, argues, Ashima Narain, photo editor of National Geographic Traveler. It sounds like Bollywood has a chance to cast light on such realities: the fear, and the courage to speak about it and overcome it, which in turn could re-cast heroism as something more powerful and more nuanced than good-guy (or girl) beating bad-guy.—Jihii

I try not to downplay the fact that in science we use animal models and a lot of times they are killed. As scientists, we do this all the time, but it happens behind closed doors.

Greg Gage, co-founder of an educational company called Backyard Brains, to Wired, about RoboRoach #12, a kit the company is shipping that attaches microelectronics to cockroaches that controls their physical behavior. Wired, Cyborg Cockroach Company Sparks Ethics Debate.

Via Wired:

RoboRoach #12 and its brethren are billed as a do-it-yourself neuroscience experiment that allows students to create their own “cyborg” insects. The roach was the main feature of the TEDx talk by Greg Gage and Tim Marzullo, co-founders of an educational company called Backyard Brains. After a summer Kickstarter campaign raised enough money to let them hone their insect creation, the pair used the Detroit presentation to show it off and announce that starting in November, the company will, for $99, begin shipping live cockroaches across the nation, accompanied by a microelectronic hardware and surgical kits geared toward students as young as 10 years old…

…Gage and Marzullo, both trained as neuroscientists and engineers, say that the purpose of the project is to spur a “neuro-revolution” by inspiring more kids to join the fields when they grow up, but some critics say the project is sending the wrong message. “They encourage amateurs to operate invasively on living organisms” and “encourage thinking of complex living organisms as mere machines or tools,” says Michael Allen Fox, a professor of philosophy at Queen’s University in Kingston, Canada.

Earlier this week Krissy posted about these Bluetooth-Controlled Cyborg Cockroaches. Reading through the reblogs I noticed a lot of comments such as this, “As a scientist, I find this fascinating and clever. As a mere human who reads too many books, I find it terrifying at the same time.”

Evidently, Protoculture Phantasm isn’t alone in their sentiments — Michael.

Behind the Scenes of the Dzhokhar Tsarnaev Arrest
A Massachusetts police photographer upset with the glamorization of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev on the cover of the current edition of Rolling Stone released behind the scenes images of the Boston Marathon bombing investigation and arrest of the suspect.
In a statement to Boston Magazine, Sgt. Sean Murphy, a tactical photographer with the Massachusetts State Police, wrote:

Photography is very simple, it’s very basic. It brings us back to the cave. An image like this on the cover of Rolling Stone, we see it instantly as being wrong. What Rolling Stone did was wrong. This guy is evil. This is the real Boston bomber. Not someone fluffed and buffed for the cover of Rolling Stone magazine.

According to the BBC, the photo release was unauthorized and Murphy is currently under investigation. John Wolfson, the author of the Boston Magazine article that displays the photos, tweeted that Murphy has been “relieved of duty.”
Image: A sniper trains his gun on Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. One of a series of photographs released by Sean Murphy to Boston Magazine. Select to embiggen.

Behind the Scenes of the Dzhokhar Tsarnaev Arrest

A Massachusetts police photographer upset with the glamorization of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev on the cover of the current edition of Rolling Stone released behind the scenes images of the Boston Marathon bombing investigation and arrest of the suspect.

In a statement to Boston Magazine, Sgt. Sean Murphy, a tactical photographer with the Massachusetts State Police, wrote:

Photography is very simple, it’s very basic. It brings us back to the cave. An image like this on the cover of Rolling Stone, we see it instantly as being wrong. What Rolling Stone did was wrong. This guy is evil. This is the real Boston bomber. Not someone fluffed and buffed for the cover of Rolling Stone magazine.

According to the BBC, the photo release was unauthorized and Murphy is currently under investigation. John Wolfson, the author of the Boston Magazine article that displays the photos, tweeted that Murphy has been “relieved of duty.”

Image: A sniper trains his gun on Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. One of a series of photographs released by Sean Murphy to Boston Magazine. Select to embiggen.

All journalism is advocacy journalism. No matter how it’s presented, every report by every reporter advances someone’s point of view. The advocacy can be hidden, as it is in the monotone narration of a news anchor for a big network like CBS or NBC (where the biases of advertisers and corporate backers like GE are disguised in a thousand subtle ways), or it can be out in the open, as it proudly is with Greenwald, or graspingly with Sorkin, or institutionally with a company like Fox.

But to pretend there’s such a thing as journalism without advocacy is just silly; nobody in this business really takes that concept seriously. “Objectivity” is a fairy tale invented purely for the consumption of the credulous public, sort of like the Santa Claus myth. Obviously, journalists can strive to be balanced and objective, but that’s all it is, striving.

— Matt Taibbi, Hey MSM, All Journalism is Advocacy Journalism, Rolling Stone.

Spongebob Learns a Lesson in Journalism Ethics
Well this might be the best episode of Spongebob Squarepants ever. You can watch the whole thing here.
If you don’t, here’s the spoiler version:
Mr. Krabs starts his own newspaper, The Krabby Kronicle, and makes Spongebob a reporter. But Mr. Krabs wants some embellishment in the stories. He says:

SpongeBob, what’s the meaning of this? ‘LOCAL RESIDENT WATCHES POLE’? No one’s going to pay to read this malarky. When you write these stories, you’ve got to use a little imagination, boy. Maybe instead of “Man Watches Pole,” you could say something like, “Man Marries Pole.” Then you could alter the photo a little to fit the headline…

After which Spongebob’s readers get angry at his yellow journalism and he ends up teaching his publisher a lesson.
Image: Screenshot from the episode.
H/T: Romenesko for the find.

Spongebob Learns a Lesson in Journalism Ethics

Well this might be the best episode of Spongebob Squarepants ever. You can watch the whole thing here.

If you don’t, here’s the spoiler version:

Mr. Krabs starts his own newspaper, The Krabby Kronicle, and makes Spongebob a reporter. But Mr. Krabs wants some embellishment in the stories. He says:

SpongeBob, what’s the meaning of this? ‘LOCAL RESIDENT WATCHES POLE’? No one’s going to pay to read this malarky. When you write these stories, you’ve got to use a little imagination, boy. Maybe instead of “Man Watches Pole,” you could say something like, “Man Marries Pole.” Then you could alter the photo a little to fit the headline…

After which Spongebob’s readers get angry at his yellow journalism and he ends up teaching his publisher a lesson.

Image: Screenshot from the episode.

H/T: Romenesko for the find.

Do not use illegal as a noun, and avoid the sinister-sounding alien.

A new entry in The New York Times’ stylebook on “illegal immigrant”.

Background:

On Tuesday afternoon, a group of advocates against the use of the term “illegal immigrant” gathered outside The New York Times building in Times Square to deliver a petition of protest. Organizers said the petition, which asked the paper to stop using the phrase contained more than 70,000 signatures collected online.

And here is the new entry, (by way of Poynter, if you’re looking for context):

illegal immigrant may be used to describe someone who enters, lives in or works in the United States without proper legal authorization. But be aware that in the debate over immigration, some people view it as loaded or offensive. Without taking sides or resorting to euphemism, consider alternatives when appropriate to explain the specific circumstances of the person in question, or to focus on actions: who crossed the border illegallywho overstayed a visawho is not authorized to work in this country.

Unauthorized is also an acceptable description, though it has a bureaucratic tone. Undocumented is the term preferred by many immigrants and their advocates, but it has a flavor of euphemism and should be used with caution outside quotations. Illegal immigration, because it describes the issue rather than an individual, is less likely thanillegal immigrant to be seen as troubling.

Take particular care in describing people whose immigration status is complex or subject to change – for example, young people brought to this country as children, many of whom are eligible for temporary reprieves from deportation under federal policies adopted in 2012.

Do not use illegal as a noun, and avoid the sinister-sounding alien.

When the Government Comes Knocking, Who Has Your Back?

Hat tip to Josh Stearns for making us aware of this 2012 report.

Via the Electronic Frontier Foundation:

When you use the Internet, you entrust your online conversations, thoughts, experiences, locations, photos, and more to companies like Google, AT&T and Facebook. But what happens when the government demands that these companies to hand over your private information? Will the company stand with you? Will it tell you that the government is looking for your data so that you can take steps to protect yourself?

The Electronic Frontier Foundation examined the policies of 18 major Internet companies — including email providers, ISPs, cloud storage providers, and social networking sites — to assess whether they publicly commit to standing with users when the government seeks access to user data. We looked at their terms of service, privacy policies, and published law enforcement guides, if any. We also examined their track record of fighting for user privacy in the courts and whether they’re members of the Digital Due Process coalition, which works to improve outdated communications law. Finally, we contacted each of the companies with our conclusions and gave them an opportunity to respond and provide us evidence of improved policies and practices. These categories are not the only ways that a company can stand up for users, of course, but they are important and publicly verifiable.

While some Internet companies have stepped up for users in particular situations, it’s time for all companies that hold private user data to make public commitments to defend their users against government overreach. The purpose of this report is to incentivize companies to be transparent about what data flows to the government and encourage them to take a stand for user privacy when it is possible to do so.

Read through for the report’s findings.

photojojo:

Still unsure of “phoneography” having a place in the professional sphere? On March 31, 2013, The New York Times used an Instagram shot for the front page cover story.

Granted, it was a professional photographer who took the photo, but it’s quite a statement nonetheless. Perhaps you really should sign up for those Photojojo University Phoneography 101 classes…

New York Times Uses Instagram Photo for Cover Story

Related: From the FJP archives, Photojournalism vs. Instagram.

UPDATE: Another interesting aspect about the New York Times’ use of this photo is that it isn’t from a recent shoot. Instead, it’s from last year. Nick Laham, the photographer, is based in Brooklyn. His personal site is here.

And Now a Few Notes on Plagiarism →

Over at Poynter, Roy Peter Clark argues that “serious acts of literary theft have been mixed up with trivial ones. Carelessness has been mislabeled as corruption. Clear norms of personal morality and professional ethics have been confused with standards and practices.”

He’s writing, in part, against the backdrop of what Craig Silverman calls journalism’s Summer of Sin, which, in 2012 saw the Wall Street Journal, NPR, the Boston Globe, Fareed Zakaria and Jonah Lehrer among many others getting caught for plagiarizing.

Clark though thinks we’re oftentimes too quick to throw the P-word around, and doing so in many instances is like “shooting a fly with a bazooka”:

Too scrupulous an ethic on plagiarism will lead, I fear, to witch hunts. Plagiarism — along with its cousin fabrication — should be policed. The punishments for wrongdoers should be harsh. But the word plagiarism should be confined to clear-cut cases of literary and journalistic fraud.

So here are ten practices Clark believes are not plagiarism. Be sure to read through for his explanations of each:

  1. The so-called act of “self-plagiarism” is not plagiarism.
  2. So called “patch writing” — as long as it credits sources — is not plagiarism.
  3. Inadequate paraphrasing of a credited source is not plagiarism.
  4. Use of a clever or apt phrase — up to the level of the sentence — is not plagiarism as long as you thought of it independently, even if you find that others have used it before.
  5. Literary allusions — even a mosaic of esoteric ones — are not plagiarism.
  6. Boilerplate descriptions of news, history, or background are not plagiarism.
  7. Ghost writing is not plagiarism.
  8. Writing for genres — such as the legal brief or the sermon — in which there is a long tradition of borrowing without attribution is not plagiarism.
  9. Copying from other writers in what are considered collaborative ventures –newsrooms, wire services, press releases, textbook authorship — is not plagiarism.
  10. Copying from or borrowing the general ideas and issues that are emerging as part of the zeitgeist is not plagiarism.

Yes, he says, there are ethical boundaries in the above, but they should be seen and treated as such, and not labelled with a Scarlet P.

Roy Peter Clark, Poynter. Why we should stop criminalizing practices that are confused with plagiarism.

And, yes, I structured this to push Clark’s point. — Michael

A World Without Leaks →

Via Margaret Sullivan, Public Editor, New York Times.

Imagine if American citizens never learned about the abuse of prisoners at Abu Ghraib. Imagine not knowing about the brutal treatment of terror suspects at United States government “black sites.” Or about the drone program that is expanding under President Obama, or the Bush administration’s warrantless wiretapping of Americans.

This is a world without leaks.

And a world without leaks — the secret government information slipped to the press — may be the direction we’re headed in. Since 9/11, leakers and whistle-blowers have become an increasingly endangered species. Some, like the former C.I.A. official John Kiriakou, have gone to jail. Another, Pfc. Bradley Manning, is charged with “aiding the enemy” for the masses of classified information he gave to Julian Assange’s WikiLeaks. He could face life in prison…

Declan Walsh, a reporter who wrote many WikiLeaks-based stories for The Guardian before coming to The Times, calls leaks “the unfiltered lifeblood of investigative journalism.” He wrote in an e-mail from his post in Pakistan: “They may come from difficult, even compromised sources, be ridden with impurities and require careful handling to produce an accurate story. None of that reduces their importance to journalism.”…

…Whatever one’s view, one fact is clear: Leakers are being prosecuted and punished like never before. Consider that the federal Espionage Act, passed in 1917, was used only three times in its first 92 years to prosecute government officials for press leaks. But the Obama administration, in the president’s first term alone, used it six times to go after leakers. Now some of them have gone to jail.

The crackdown sends a loud message. Scott Shane, who covers national security for The Times, says that message is being heard — and heeded.

There’s definitely a chilling effect,” he told me. “Government officials who might otherwise discuss sensitive topics will refer to these cases in rebuffing a request for background information.”

Margaret Sullivan, New York Times. The Danger of Suppressing Leaks