Posts tagged with ‘journalism ethics’

Those revelations sparked fresh fury in media circles, where retracting a story is viewed as a serious blow to one’s journalistic credibility—and to do so without notifying readers is a cardinal sin. Retracting four thousand posts without telling anyone is simply unheard of. To many in the industry, it smacks of a disregard for journalism’s basic tenets of accountability. That apparent disregard is especially galling when it comes from an upstart that is raking in VC rounds and gobbling up top journalists from established outlets that are struggling to survive.

That’s Will Oremus, Slate’s Senior Tech Writer, on the discovery that over 4,000 BuzzFeed posts mysteriously disappeared this year.

Founder/CEO Jonah Peretti confirmed that this was true, as BuzzFeed embarked on a project to take down sub-par posts earlier this year. His caveat, however, was that this was no breach of journalistic integrity as BuzzFeed began as a tech company, not a media company.

Point is, they employ journalists, produce an increasing amount of original reporting and long-form journalism, and they’re not the only media company to have tech roots or projects. And when that’s the case, it’s not a good idea to delete content from one part of your site without comprising the integrity of the other, unless you find a way to be very transparent about it.

Related: BuzzFeed’s Jonah Peretti Goes Long (on Medium with Felix Salmon).

Why was ‘Dasani’ shut out of the Pulitzers? →

Remember this beautiful long-form piece from the NY Times that came out last fall? It was met with a wide array of reactions, some very appreciative, some very unhappy. Over the last few months, Columbia J-School’s Bill Grueskin set out to gather perspectives on why:

I don’t know why Dasani was shut out of not just a Pulitzer, but a nomination from jurors. It did, after all, win a coveted Polk award earlier this year. And though I work just down the hall from the office of Pulitzer Administrator Sig Gissler, I know less about the internal machinations of jurors and board members now than I did when I was a city editor at the Miami Herald in the 1990s. But I do know that many readers found the Dasani story, for all its soaring prose and worthy ambitions, a difficult piece of work.

To understand more about why the piece elicited such strong reactions on both sides, I reached out to about 50 people shortly after the series ended last December. I blind copied them on an email in which I invited them to take part in a private, online discussion about the series. They emailed their thoughts, and I compiled and shared them. We abided by “Chatham House Rules,” which allow quotes to be used—but not the names or affiliations of the people who said them.

The group included journalists, scientists, lawyers, faculty members and a few former and current Columbia students. It also included alumni of the Times, but not current staff, nor any Pulitzer board members.

Why did I pick this story to examine? In part because the Times thought it to be so significant. Its public editor, Margaret Sullivan, called the series “the largest investigation The Times has published all at once in its history.” Moreover, it was stirring up a tremendous reaction, not just among journalists but all around New York City. Indeed, two of Michael Bloomberg’s deputy mayors took to the edit page of the Wall Street Journal to defend their boss’ record on homelessness.

FJP: He compiles the reactions here, a predominant one being that it shouldn’t have been produced as a single story. They are worth looking through because they touch on some ethical and a lot of design issues that are relevant across the industry. These considerations shouldn’t be the absolute measure on what makes a story prize-worthy  because Dasani certainly is a compelling and generally well-executed narrative. But they are still worth thinking about. —Jihii

But King didn’t give readers an accurate picture—he gave them a partial and exaggerated one. He has the thickest Rolodex in the business, but he talked to only four people, and his colleagues talked to eight. In a league as large and diverse as the NFL, 12 is not a definitive sample. The SI stories offered no counterbalancing opinion or analysis, so the message was clear: This is the NFL party line. No one will talk on the record. And if anyone does, don’t trust him.

Stephen Fatsis, How Sports Illustrated Botched the Michael Sam Story, Slate.

Background: Sports Illustrated published a piece by Pete Thamel and Thayer Evans on how the news that NFL prospect Michael Sam is gay will affect his draft stock. The “eight NFL executives and coaches” they spoke with predicted Sam’s fall to bigotry in the league. None of these sources were identified. Slate breaks it down.

Issue 1: Not a reasonable reflection of reality.

…the issue here isn’t the ungrounded and outdated opinions of a few off-the-record soothsayers. It’s about whether they deserved a platform in the first place, and whether the conclusions drawn from their words were a reasonable reflection of a broader reality.

Then Peter King posted a column in which he too gave his sources cover on the assumption that they wouldn’t talk otherwise.

Issue 2: Not okay to grant anonymity based on assumption.

King assumed they wouldn’t comment on the record so he granted anonymity up front? Maybe my journalistic principles are stuck in the ’50s, but that’s a newsroom no-no. You grant anonymity to get information or to understand background and context. You don’t let a source trash someone anonymously. King wrote that anonymity “would give the best information possible.” But he didn’t give information, only blind, unchallenged opinion. If his sources had spoken on the record and said something mealy-mouthed or had outright lied, King would have performed a journalistic service far greater than letting them shiv Michael Sam in his pursuit of “the truth.”

FJP: The ethics of using anonymous sources is pretty clear. Once you agree to providing anonymity, you stick to it or you’ll find yourself in a lawsuit. But the wisdom of knowing when to grant a source anonymity is far more difficult to come by. Here’s an interesting take on it from the Times, whose readers’ number 1 complaint is anonymous sources.

Related: Texas sports anchor Dale Hansen telling it like it is.

The story, even if it is a good story, is not the most important thing.

Maria Headley in Sinatra’s Cold is Contagious.

Headley writes in reaction to Caleb Hannan’s Grantland story, Dr. V’s Magical Putter, which has become something of a case study in journalism ethics since it was published on January 15. 

On the Media recaps here:

Last week, ESPN’s  Grantland ran a remarkable story titled “Dr. V’s Magical Putter,” a journalistic odyssey that began with curiosity about a supposedly revolutionary golf club, and ended by focusing on the chaotic life of its inventor, a woman named Essay Anne Vanderbilt. The reporter, Caleb Hannan, discovered that Vanderbilt was transgender, and he revealed his knowledge of this fact to Vanderbilt. Shortly after, Vanderbilt committed suicide.

The piece subsequently made its rounds on the web, sparking outrage and raising a discussion on transgender rights in media, and the ethics of outing.

Vice takes us through Hannan’s reporting process and what he ultimately decided to publish:

He tells us “everything he knows,” which is definitely not the same thing as “everything that’s relevant.” He refers to Dr V as “he” and publishes her old name. He discusses her life before she transitioned to female. He tells us she was married. And that she’d tried to kill herself once before, a few years previously. Never mind that she was clearly vulnerable, it was all just another fantastic twist in the plot for Caleb. “What began as a story about a brilliant woman with a new invention had turned into the tale of a troubled man who had invented a new life for himself.” And never mind that faking her scientific credentials had nothing to do with being transgender. Caleb, who has been found guilty of sloppy journalism before, was simply recycling a media narrative that casts trans people as liars and fakes. 

Grantland’s Editor-in-Chief Bill Simmons has since publicly apologized for the story, taking the blame for his writer’s mistakes and lamenting that he failed Hannan as an editor. Simmons admitted that the Grantland staff was not sensitive enough with the story and uninformed on transgender people’s rights, high suicide rates among trans* people, and even correct pronoun usage. 

FJP: As Headley points out, there are a few things that should come before the all-important story for a journalist. Right after “Seek the truth and report it” on SPJ’s Code of Ethics comes “Minimize harm — Ethical journalists treat sources, subjects and colleagues as human beings deserving of respect.” 

A Cautionary Tale on the Use of a Photo →

Seattle Times:

Last week, The Seattle Times published a story headlined, “Women-only swim times spark emotional debate,” about a controversy over women-only hours at a pool in Tukwila. The women had requested the female-only swim times for both body-image and religious reasons.

The story was accompanied by a portrait I took of sisters Faisa Farole and Jamila Farole, who were trying to preserve female-only swim times.

This week, I learned that the Fox News network aired a story about a Minnesota swimming pool that was setting aside hours for Muslim women to swim. Fox suggested this was an example of the growing influence of Sharia law in the U.S., and included The Seattle Times photo from the Tukwila pool.

The Fox video clip, which has been shared on blogs across the country and even ran on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, began this way: “The minority becoming the majority at one community pool. Sharia Law is now changing everything…”

The Seattle Times did not authorize use of this photograph on Fox News. We are not sure how Fox News acquired this image, though it could be through a labeling mistake by The Associated Press. The Seattle Times often distributes images through the AP but with language that prevents use by television networks.

Using my photo to illustrate a story on a swimming program in Minnesota, under the title “Sharia Law: Swim Class for Somali Muslim Girls,” is unfair to the young women in the photo and misleads viewers.

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.

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.

Journalism ethics is nothing more than a measure of the scurrilousness your brand will bear. That’s it. Ethics has nothing to do with the truth of things, only with the proper etiquette for obtaining it, so as to piss off the fewest number of people possible.
How to Cover Rape Responsibly
In light of the recent coverage of rapes in India, Helen Benedict, a professor at Columbia J-School, recently wrote a blog post for Women Under Siege on covering rape responsibly. Start with some background from Poynter on why journalists are covering rape differently in the US and India.
Professor Benedict sheds fascinating light on the issue:


In short, when we cover rape in the Sudan, Rwanda, the Balkans, in the Democratic Republic of Congo, and now in India, we look at why the men do it. We write about the beliefs of child soldiers that raping a virgin will protect them from AIDS, or about the way men are trained to see women as booty in war. We discuss rape as a tool of ethnic cleansing and genocide. And lately, concerning India, we’ve been running stories about the traditionally subservient role of women, how the economy is liberating them, and the subsequent violent reaction of men.  
But as soon as we look at rape among our own, whether civilian or military, this perspective is entirely neglected. Instead, we ask questions about the victim: what she was doing, her past, how she was behaving, her relationship to the assailant, whether she’d been drinking, etc., etc. And we cover rape as a psychological aberration, never asking how and where men learn to rape, never seeing it as symptomatic of something in our culture. Thus we entirely neglect to look at why this crime continues to rise as other crimes drop, why one in six women is raped in her lifetime, why one in three women is sexually assaulted in the military, and why no woman in America walks free of the fear of sexual predation and violence.



Keep reading for the hopeful part, and the questions she would like to see answered instead.
Image: via Women Under Siege, word cloud generated from headlines calling what happened in the Air Force; Steubenville, Ohio; and at the Horace Mann School and Penn State University “sex scandals.”

How to Cover Rape Responsibly

In light of the recent coverage of rapes in India, Helen Benedict, a professor at Columbia J-School, recently wrote a blog post for Women Under Siege on covering rape responsibly. Start with some background from Poynter on why journalists are covering rape differently in the US and India.

Professor Benedict sheds fascinating light on the issue:

In short, when we cover rape in the SudanRwandathe Balkans, in the Democratic Republic of Congo, and now in India, we look at why the men do it. We write about the beliefs of child soldiers that raping a virgin will protect them from AIDS, or about the way men are trained to see women as booty in war. We discuss rape as a tool of ethnic cleansing and genocide. And lately, concerning India, we’ve been running stories about the traditionally subservient role of women, how the economy is liberating them, and the subsequent violent reaction of men.  

But as soon as we look at rape among our own, whether civilian or military, this perspective is entirely neglected. Instead, we ask questions about the victim: what she was doing, her past, how she was behaving, her relationship to the assailant, whether she’d been drinking, etc., etc. And we cover rape as a psychological aberration, never asking how and where men learn to rape, never seeing it as symptomatic of something in our culture. Thus we entirely neglect to look at why this crime continues to rise as other crimes drop, why one in six women is raped in her lifetime, why one in three women is sexually assaulted in the military, and why no woman in America walks free of the fear of sexual predation and violence.

Keep reading for the hopeful part, and the questions she would like to see answered instead.

Image: via Women Under Siege, word cloud generated from headlines calling what happened in the Air Force; Steubenville, Ohio; and at the Horace Mann School and Penn State University “sex scandals.”

We in the newsroom should have no illusions. Our entire purpose is to fill the “news hole,” which is the space left over after the advertisements have been placed on the page.

Theodore Daws in The Fall of Journalism, American Thinker.

Dawes, a long-time journalist, criticizes idealism and naivete in young journalists (in other words: those who think the industry is something other than a business that needs to make money), as well as j-school and false understandings of journalism ethics:

Of course, everyone overvalues the academic training they’ve received.  It makes the debt, hassle, and spent time seem worthwhile, or at least less futile.

And imagine the thrill of using “lede,” which is the new spelling of lead, as in the opening sentence of a story.  Its use provides the pleasing sensation of possessing specialized knowledge, knowledge well beyond the ken of the average Joe.

That is particularly pleasant to those who know so very little about everything else.

For example, I always ask job candidates a second question: “What is the difference between regulation and legislation?

Only one j-school graduate has ever known the answer.  That was because, he sheepishly provided, he had worked as a legislative assistant the summer prior.

Tell me, please.  How do you prepare a student for a career as a “government watchdog” and fail to provide the most fundamental instruction in how government works?

As befits their lofty status and lofty purpose, journalists work under a lofty ethical construct.  Unfortunately, it is as flawed and juvenile as their journalistic purpose.

On occasion the ethical imperatives are simply incompatible, for example: 1) saving the world and 2) journalistic objectivity. 

This illustrates perfectly an important fact: journalistic ethics weren’t arrived at philosophically or accidentally.

As is the case with many codes of ethics, the ethics of those in the journalism industry have as one of their primary purposes the maintenance of the status quo, particularly the economic status quo.

Read on.

FJP: Would love to see a rebuttal to this.

Researching Journalism, Ethics and Technology

We received a question some time ago from theinsightfulmouse which went like this:

I am planning an undergraduate thesis on the effects of technology on journalism ethics and looking to narrow my topic. Do you all have any ideas or suggestions of interesting, complex issues to research relating to journalism, ethics and technology?

Well, insightful mouse, there is a universe of interesting questions in the realm of journalism ethics, especially regarding online journalism. We’ll offer you some starting points for research rather than fleshed out ideas, because those will very much depend on your personal interests and investments.

You might like to search our Tumblr archive for ethics posts. We’ve written, for example, about the ethics of  news vs. reviews, privacy on social media, linkingcuration, and Instagram, all of which are debates that have since developed and could use more digging. Also see our transparency tag, which is something that you can deep dive into for a number of questions. Other great places to explore for ideas are the Public Editor’s Journal over at the NY Times, and Poynter’s Everyday Ethics.

Very useful (and fun, if you geek out over this stuff like me) is reading the ethics guidelines of various news organizations (here is a great list), many of which address online journalism. NPR has a great ethics handbook in which the visual journalism section deals with issues of digital attribution and manipulation (not necessarily the most compelling research topic, but useful to bookmark if you’re a journalist). Finally, and arguably the mecca of these questions, can be found in this discussion that Poynter hosted on journalism ethics in the digital age, on which a book is also in the works—I wrote a reaction here. The people involved are also key people you might want to reach out to help focus your ideas.

You did ask this question some time ago, so if you’ve already narrowed down a topic, do share it with us! —Jihii

Have a question for us? Ask.

How to Decide What is Public/Private on Twitter & Facebook. →

Another internet ethics question. What’s acceptable to publish when sourcing information from social media networks that wasn’t originally intended for publication? 

via Poynter:

Most journalists agree that Twitter is inherently public, and anything said on Twitter is generally fair game to be reported upon. This is evident with the rise in popularity of tools like Storify, which allows reporters to aggregate public tweets around a breaking news event or other story.

Public tweets seem to be fair game. That’s the point of Twitter, after all. Anything shared privately should require asking the person to go on record.

One professor, however, worries about the risk of bad journalism from pulling tweets out of context. Jacqui Banaszynski, a professor of journalism at the University of Missouri and editing fellow at Poynter, says:

If I’m going to quote someone, the smart journalistic thing to do is to be in touch with that person beyond what you pulled off that site. Journalists should let people know when they’re performing journalism. I also think that pulling something off a site without contacting [a] person further doesn’t allow the journalist to do deeper reporting or put the comment in context. It’s very easy to take just 140 characters out of context – and that’s bad journalism.

Facebook is a bit more tricky. Because its privacy options are so complicated, users don’t always realize their profile or comments are public. Banaszynski thinks:

If it’s a public fan page, I have no problem looking at that and pulling from that. But if it’s a post between friends, I would hope a good journalist would contact the person, verify their identity and let them know they are using that info.

Until standards are set across the industry, Poynter suggests considering the following questions when deciding what’s fair game to publish:

  • What was the author’s intent? If shared in a closed group or personal profile, was it intended to be kept private?
  • How did the source respond when you asked about including the information in a story?
  • Is the author a public figure? How public? There is a difference between a school principal and a professional athlete.
  • What harm could come to the individual if the information is made public? Is that harm justified by the public benefit of the information?
  • What alternatives do you have for getting similar information? 

FJP: Good Questions. 

It’s a really hard time for newspapers of all kinds. This is the Voice‘s business model and I hate to undermine it. But for anybody who loves journalism: How can you fund that journalism with sex trafficking?

Nicholas Kristof, NY Times op-ed columnist.

Kristof recently published two columns (January 25 and March 17) criticizing online classifieds, especially Backpage.com, for their adult services section as a vehicle for pimps trying to sell girls. Backpage.com is owned by Village Voice Media, and in line with past criticism against sex ads on Backpage.com, Village Voice responded with criticism of Kristof’s fact-checking. In reality, can they afford to eliminate these Backpage.com ads?

Backpage.com rakes in $22 M. annually from prostitution advertising, according to media analysts at AIM. Backpage.com reportedly accounts for one-seventh of VVM’s revenue overall.

(full story via The New York Observer)

The paradox in this story is what Village Voice actually stands for. Kristof writes:

Village Voice began as an alternative newspaper to speak truth to power. It publishes some superb journalism. So it’s sad to see it accept business from pimps in the greediest and most depraved kind of exploitation.

His columns are a call to action:

True, many prostitution ads on Backpage are placed by adult women acting on their own without coercion; they’re not my concern. Other ads are placed by pimps: the Brooklyn district attorney’s office says that the great majority of the sex trafficking cases it prosecutes involve girls marketed on Backpage.

There are no simple solutions to end sex trafficking, but it would help to have public pressure on Village Voice Media to stop carrying prostitution advertising. The Film Forum has already announced that it will stop buying ads in The Village Voice. About 100 advertisers have dropped Rush Limbaugh’s radio show because of his demeaning remarks about women. Isn’t it infinitely more insulting to provide a forum for the sale of women and girls?

rommy:

Debate Over Fabienne Cherisma Photos Rekindled After Award Given (via PetaPixel)
“This behind-the-scenes look depicting photojournalists crowded around the scene of a tragic incident (continuing even after the family arrived and were grieving) shows what commonly needs to take place for the powerful images you see on the front page of newspapers and magazines.”

rommy:

Debate Over Fabienne Cherisma Photos Rekindled After Award Given (via PetaPixel)

This behind-the-scenes look depicting photojournalists crowded around the scene of a tragic incident (continuing even after the family arrived and were grieving) shows what commonly needs to take place for the powerful images you see on the front page of newspapers and magazines.”