Journalism and Ethics Today: Lecture, Scenarios, Film
Journalist Code • The central purpose of journalism is to provide citizens with accurate and reliable information they need to function in a free society.
Principles • Journalism’s first obligation is to the truth. • First loyalty is to citizens • Its essence is a discipline of verification • Its practitioners must maintain an independence from those they cover. • It must serve as an independent monitor of power. • It must provide a forum for public criticism and compromise. • It must strive to make the significant interesting and relevant. • It must keep the news comprehensive and proportional. • Its practitioners must be allowed to exercise their personal conscience.
THE PUBLIC PERCEPTION OF JOURNALISM ETHICS Public’s perception is negative, but journalism practice has never been more ethical. A. Journalism versus entertainment—public tends to lump them all together. B. Bloggers as watchdogs—bloggers, others calling attention to journalistic irregularities. C. A journalism code of ethics?—no mandatory and enforced code because of fears of infringement on freedom of the press; many news organizations have ethical codes that are enforced; journalists must set limits on their own conduct, or government eventually, inevitably will do so for them. D. The problem with licensing journalists—difficult to determine who is a journalist without licensing, but also difficult for government to control who is a journalist and what journalists do; yet, still some protection for journalists (shield laws).
Ethical Philosphy • Deontological ethics: They believe that you have a duty to do what is right. They do not believe the ends justify the means. They believe that some actions are always right and some are always wrong and there are a fixed group of laws that should never be deviated from. The absolutist journalist is concerned only with whether something is newsworthy. If it is, then it should be reported regardless of consequences. The duty of the journalist is to report the news and not worry about the consequences. They say- we don’t make events happen, we just report them. B. Teleological ethics: The ethics of final ends. These people believe that the end can and often does justify the means. An important consideration is the intention of the person. Stealing food to feed starving kids is okay for example. These journalists will do whatever is necessary— lie, steal, etc.—if the goal is protecting the common good, being a government watchdog, keeping public fully informed. C. Situation ethics: This is the ethics of specific acts—somewhere between relative and absolute; “it all depends.”
Situation Ethics Philosophies 1. Antinomianism—says that every situation is unique and you can’t use principles to solve problems. Every situation must be solved independently. 2. Love of Neighbor—Joseph Fletcher’s philosophy of “love your neighbor” and “the Golden Rule,” people always come first; sometimes the choice is between love for one person and love for a larger community. 3. Utilitarianism—bringing the most happiness to the greatest number of people (John Stuart Mill); greatest good to the greatest number, and some add “over a long period of time” so not just a present-time analysis; most journalists are probably utilitarians. 4. Aristotle’s golden mean—a moderate position that seeks to avoid the two extremes. 5. Ayn Rand’s rational self-interest—Ethical egoists always look out for their own self-interest first; these journalists will do whatever gets them good stories. They believe if everyone acted in their own self interest, everyone would be better off.
Ethical Problems Ethics deals with what is good and bad and with moral duty and obligation. A conflict of interest is a conflict between the private interests and the official responsibilities of a person in a position of trust. An ombudsman is someone that investigates reported complaints, reports findings and helps achieve settlements. Most journalistic organizations have one. Check this out: http://topics.nytimes.com/top/opinion/thepubliceditor/index.html
1. Deceit—SHOULD YOU USE DECEIT TO GET A STORY? (This means lying, secret recordings, laying a trap, stealing documents). Absolutists say never; others say it’s justified if certain conditions are met. You see this in consumer reporting, undercover cameras.
2. Conflicts of Interest Foundation of all credibility. Reporters can’t want anything out of the story. Operate from a neutral point of view. 1. Friendship—perhaps greatest obstacle to flow of information; stories about acquaintances should be assigned to someone else. 2. Payola—no payment (other than from the employer) for stories; avoid doing promotional work for people they cover. 3. Freebies—gifts always come with a price; freebies should be disclosed; most news organizations have rules against accepting freebies; PR professionals should do nothing to tempt news professional to violate their ethical codes. 4. Checkbook journalism—legitimate news professionals can be cut off from sources who expect to be paid; good journalism demands that you pay only when there are no other means to get a story and you can get corroboration. 5. Participation in the news—will uninvolved journalists be uninformed journalists? should journalists provide full disclosure of investments/memberships, and public knowledge of their personal tastes, preferences, lifestyle?
Advertising pressure—separation of “church and state” (editorial and advertising). 1. The influence of advertisers—ads are going on front pages. 2. Conflicts and policies in print media—appropriateness of “salonstyle” events. 3. Conflicts and policies in other media—overlap of advertising in radio, television, online.
Invasion of Privacy Invasion of privacy—a right to know? • Crime victims and suspects—name crime survivors? some efforts are ongoing to close official records on rape and punish police, hospitals, court clerks, others for releasing survivors’ names. • Juvenile offenders—publish their names? courts have upheld the right to do so. 3. Public figures—what about their children? private e-mail is offlimits, but what about corporate intranets?
E. Withholding information—cutting deals to withhold information is dangerous.
F. Incorrect and incomplete information—correction vs. updating; online • linking to source data. • VI. PLAGIARISM—problem is the definition; don’t steal the work of others; • don’t reuse your own work without informing readers; don’t make it up; • theWeb makes it easier to find and steal others’ work but also makes it easier • to get caught.
Invasion of privacy—a right to know? • Crime victims and suspects—name crime survivors? some efforts are ongoing to close official records on rape and punish police, hospitals, court clerks, others for releasing survivors’ names. • 2. Juvenile offenders—publish their names? courts have upheld the right to do so. 3. Public figures—what about their children? private e-mail is offlimits, but what about corporate intranets? 4. Photos and video—sensitive images; photo manipulation.
Incorrect and incomplete information—correction vs. updating; online • linking to source data. PLAGIARISM—problem is the definition; don’t steal the work of others; don’t reuse your own work without informing readers; don’t make it up; The Web makes it easier to find and steal others’ work but also makes it easier to get caught.
Journalism of the Future: Not obsolete, just more complex. • Virtually all of these functions have existed in the past. • But now, it is not enough for news operations to simply have a story each day on what they consider the most important subjects. • They need to understand what purpose each story serves for the audience, what service it provides or questions it answers. If it offers no service, it is a waste of resources and time to a more demanding proactive news consumer. • A story of limited or incremental value is a sign that the news operation is not offering much service. What kind of stories serve a purpose? What kind don’t?
News Aggregation • News aggregation is a term used to describe human or computer generated collection and republishing of online information. • In the digital world, news aggregation is not so different. It involves taking information from multiple sources and displaying it in a readable format in a single place. • Almost all online news sites practice some form of aggregation, by linking to material that appears elsewhere, or acknowledging stories that were first reported in other outlets. • Arianna Huffington often says that aggregation benefits original-content producers as much as it does the aggregators.
The NY Mag Story: “Going Rogue on Ailes Could Leave Palin on Thin Ice,” • A NY magazine story required at least three days of reporting and editing work. The facts had to be bulletproof. The post went live on nymag.com’s Daily Intel column at 7:57 p.m. on March 13. • The next morning, an editor for the Huffington Post spotted the item and wrote a rendition of it for that site, publishing at 8:27 a.m. Huffington Post played by the rules: It credited Sherman by name and gave nymag.com a link at both the beginning and the end of the item. • The power of aggregation soon became clear: The original Sherman post drew nearly 53,000 readers on nymag.com, and about 17,500 of them came directly from the links on Huffington Post.
The appeal of aggregation for Online Journalists • Its ability to give prominence to otherwise unheard voices • To bring together and serve engaged audiences • Minimal costs compared to what’s incurred in the traditionally laborious task of gathering original content.
Choose what to aggregate • Valuable aggregation does two things well: It discovers relevant news stories and highlights the most relevant parts of those stories. • The most valuable sources to aggregate are ones the audience may not otherwise read. Think of news sources that may be smaller or less widely read, or that cover a different topic or geography. • The best tools are to subscribe to RSS feeds for key sites and then cast a wider net by subscribing to Google News Alerts for important keywords.
Linking with a little summary • Aggregation that sends readers directly to the original piece is fairly uncontroversial. This is the style of Google News, Techmeme andBreakingNews.com. • More controversial is the style of The Huffington Post, which is oftencriticized for summarizing aggregated stories to the point where there’s little reason to read the original version. • If you take this approach, the business advantage is that more readers spend more time previewing, sharing and discussing the content on your site instead of the original site.
Summary Style Aggregation • The key is to link prominently to the original source and to add value, not just copy from the original. • Put the spotlight on the news that’s most relevant to your audience. Pull out the information that your audience will find most interesting, and state it directly. • Quote or summarize only what is necessary to describe the news. Leave details to the original story. This helps keep reporter within the bounds of fair use and gives readers a reason to visit the original post. • Reporter should use own knowledge to include more context or link to related stories.
Out of Print By Eric Aleterman What is the difference between news online and news in print? What should online news do differently?
“When a reader surfs the Web in search of political news he frequently ends up at a site that is merely aggregating journalistic work that originated in a newspaper, but that fact isnot likely to save any newspaper jobs or increase papers’ stock valuation.”
“Today’s consumers want news on demand, continuously updated. They want a point of view about not just what happened but why it happened….And finally, they want to be able to use the information in a larger community—to talk about, to debate, to question, and even to meet people who think about the world in similar or different ways.”
News aggregation takes advantage of the community. “Alive in a way that is impossible for paper and ink.” What does that mean? • News aggregation sites mainly feature stories that originate elsewhere. The editors link to whatever they believe to be the best story on a given topic. • Lerer says online news isn’t the enemy of traditional news. He says “it’s the thing that will save them.” Why do you think he says this?
Online news is not as concerned about the editorial process, vetting sources, checking accuracy. • Online news “leverages the strength of its readers to challenge the mainstream media narrative.
Huffington (and others) “shares the benefit of these investments [in reportial/editorial staff] but shoulders none of the costs.” This is sometimes called a parasitical relationship. • Keller says bloggers “recycle and chew” on the news while the Times emphasizes a “journalism of verification.”
So……what is gained, what is lost in this new model? Does the online model shed lightness or darkness? • Newspapers are scrambling to adapt, but how should they go about this adaptation? • Are we entering “a fractured, chaotic world of news, characterized by superior community conversation but a decidedly diminished level of first rate journalism?”
All the President’s Men • As we move from a conversation about old journalism values to role of journalists in the digital age, we will view this film on the investigative reporters who took down Nixon. • While watching, consider the ways journalism has changed and is changing. What kinds of things do we lose in the latest model? What kinds of things do we gain?
Woodward and Bernstein • Going out and doing investigative reporting • Having and making contacts • Persistent reporting over the course of a year • Are aggregation and analysis enough? • Reporters have resources of their organization to stand behind them. Do bloggers have this? What are the implications of this? • Spend a lot of time digging for info. Time is money. • Reporters make calls. Don’t just search online. Know not to step on sources speech.
On the other hand…. • Senior editors can make them stop reporting or hold publication. Bloggers make those calls themselves. Also, bloggers need to post constantly to stay relevant. • Editor has to fight for placement. Now there is unlimited space. Is this good or bad?
Anonymous Sources • Cam we have unsourced stories of this kind from bloggers? • Series of checks and balances at big news organizations enforces a discipline of verification and accuracy. Does online journalism do this? • Does the hierarchy at a big news organization help or hinder?