Blog Essay Week 4

Elements of Journalism: Chapter 2

The second chapter of Elements of Journalism focuses on the Prime Directive of journalism: to tell the truth. It seems like such a straightforward principle if you don’t give it much thought, and it makes you feel all warm and fuzzy inside to think that, as a journalist, you’re main obligation is to the noble cause of Truth. Of course, this chapter tears through the façade of simplicity, discussing how truth doesn’t mean the same thing to everyone and in every situation.

The chapter starts with a summary of the Pentagon Papers imbroglio, which involved issues very similar to what we looked at in last weeks case studies: namely, that accurately reporting what is said may not necessarily be the same as, or may even be directly contrary to, reporting the truth.

On the subject of the truth behind the stated ‘facts’, here’s a thought: when Pew published the survey of journalists in which 100 percent of respondents said “getting the facts right” is a paramount value, how many of those responded truthfully? Sure, you would think most would respond that way, but all of them? How many Stephen Glasses or Jayson Blairs are behind that statistic? The truth may lie well below 100 percent, but until we figure out mind reading, it would be impossible to know for sure.

The idea of such seemingly opposing groups as oppressive dictators and postmodernists come to similar conclusions on literal definitions of truthfulness is actually somewhat disturbing to me. Postmodernism always seemed like a liberating worldview to me, but with that in mind, it seems like you could use it to justify oppression without much intellectual stretching.

I think Richard Harwood’s football analogy is an extremely effective way to show the different levels of truth. As the venerable philosopher Shawn Carter once said, “Numbers don’t lie, check the scoreboard.” It’s the story behind those numbers that is up for debate.

The chapter continually touching on the conflicts between truth and other values, like fairness, balance and simple accuracy, before making a more or less definitive statement: truth should always win out. With all the paradigm-challenging and gray areas in this class, I think that, at least, is something I can stand by. Truth may be a difficult goal to define, but it should still be something to strive towards. Just as the chapter describes the process of reporting a topic as a process of getting closer to the truth of the matter, the experience of reporting gets us as journalists closer to understanding truth itself.

Media Ethics: Chapter 3 (pp. 61-62)

This section of the third chapter of “Media Ethics” focuses on the conflicts and commonalities between journalism and public relations. The basic idea is that the professions have complementary goals, but differ in their definitions of news. The reading states that, while PR flacks see no news (or rather, things going as planned) as good news, journalist’s focus on when things go wrong. While this is a fairly accurate way to look at the dynamic between the two, it is no rule by any means. With the “no such thing as bad publicity” ethos, a PIO could turn poor sales into an underdog story. Conversely, Apple making huge quarterly gains makes headlines as much as when the company posts bad sales for releasing a new smartphone that made no real improvements on the previous one.

I feel like this section is making the implicit argument that public relations people, by the nature of the job, make more ethical concessions than journalists by trying to be persuasive under the guise of being informative, and by preventing potentially harmful information from leaking. That may be true, but the authors don’t seem to give PR a fair shake. They raise all these questions, followed by asking “Doesn’t persuasion need the contrast of news to succeed?”, and then promptly switch subjects. I get that the book is geared toward journalists, but it seems disingenuous for an ethics text to describe a conflict with multiple angles and takes one side without really giving too much thought to the other.

I hate synergy. They made me read “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People” in high school, and it was bogus. This may color my view on the issue, but I think media synergy is a huge issue when you have a conglomerate like Disney that owns a media company like ABC. What happens when Disney Channel is promoting it’s latest teen idol and ABC News runs a story on her latest rehab stint? I’d love to be at that company picnic.

Rashomon:

This is definitely an appropriate film for a week dealing with the tricky nature of truth. In the film, four witnesses to a crime give conflicting accounts of a rape and murder. Each person’s version of events reflects his or her own interests, tying into the idea that each person constructs a separate version of reality in his or her mind. While no single story can be said to be the true account, some semblance of the truth emerges from the commonalities among the stories. This ties into the idea of the synoptic, but it also seems to bear resemblance to the marketplace of ideas philosophy: that the truth can arise from several competing ideas.

Ethical Issue of the Week

The web was full of complaints this week that U.S. news sources were over-reporting a certain young male pop sensation’s legal issues to the detriment of stories on issues with decidedly more impact—namely, the Ukrainian protests. Then you have this video (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GH68bSJXGE8) in which MSNBC host Andrea Mitchell interrupts a live discussion with a Congresswoman on the NSA to break news about, you guessed it, Justin Bieber. This obviously ties into the aforementioned issue, which is more of a question of good reporting standards. But the ethical issue here is that this Congresswoman is taking time out of her day to discuss an issue that could affect millions of people, and MSNBC interrupts her mid-sentence to cut to celebrity fluff.  It does a disservice to both the guest and the viewers, and it hurts MSNBC’s credibility as a news source.

DQ

Should PR professionals be held to the same ethical standards when it comes to the truth?

Vocabulary

Bread and circuses: the concept of giving up one’s personal sovereignty in exchange for pleasure self-indulgence. For a media example, see the above “Ethical Issue of the Week.”

Edward Bernays: One of the earliest pioneers of public relations, Bernays used psychology to develop propaganda and PR, such as the “Torches of Freedom” campaign depicting smoking as symbols of women’s liberation.

Truth: The primary obligation of journalism, truth cannot be defined in a single sentence. The approximations of “reality” and “fact” do not do it justice. See above for my musings on truth.

Objectivity: In journalism, the principle of maintaining a neutral stance and not letting personal opinions or ideology affect the reporting of news.

“The world outside and the pictures in our heads”: The dichotomy between objective reality and the how each person’s perceives it. Journalist Walter Lippmann argued people know the world indirectly through these pictures, and that the media largely obscures the pictures.

Construction of Reality: The idea that each person interprets and responds to reality in a different way, creating a different version of reality in each person’s mind.

Synoptic: something providing a general view or synopsis.

Synoptic Gospels: the first three Gospels of the Bible, so called because they include similar stories and are written in a similar way, in contrast to the fourth Gospel, John.

Rashomon Effect:  interpretations of an event by different witnesses that contradict each other. The term comes from the Japanese move Rashomon, in which four witnesses have each have different account of a crime.

Blog Essay Week 3

Elements of Journalism: Chapter 1

First off, I think the anecdote about the Polish people rejecting their government’s version of truth ties in nicely with this weeks Media Ethics chapter on different views on truth—namely, the concept of a “marketplace of ideas” with competing versions of the truth. I’m not sure I agree with the writers plainly stating “the primary purpose of journalism is to provide citizens with the information they need to be free and self-governing.” Though I do largely agree with the sentiment, I think it’s a bit presumptuous to assume that the press can know what the citizens “need.” For all the talk about citizen journalism in the book’s introduction, this chapter still seemed to largely ignore it while discussing the challenges modern journalism faces in a landscape of conglomerate ownership and globalization.

Media Ethics: Chapter 2

In much the same way Chapter 1 outlined the historical development of ethics in a concise and easily digestible way, this chapter did the same with changing ideas of truth. It is a bit refreshing to see journalistic objectivity discussed in realistic terms, rather than put on some unreachable pedestal as some texts do. At the same time, the writers don’t take the cynic’s approach of completely writing off objectivity as unattainable.

In the section on the ethics of lying, the survey of journalists’ views on lying fell mostly in line with my expectations, though it was disheartening to hear that journalists in competitive markets were more accepting of deception, as these are often the places where news reaches the most people. Of the ethical news values listed at the chapter’s end, I feel I struggle most with diversity. Looking back on my stories, I find that I too often speak with sources with similar backgrounds to my own. I do this largely subconsciously and out of convenience, but I want to become more representative when looking for sources in the community.

Case Studies:

2-A

Micro issues:

  1. Journalists should give in to a politician on quote checking and the like only if there is no other way to accurately obtain his or her views.
  2. Information obtained after quote alteration by sources is about as reliable as information from an e-mail interview: that is to say, sources are much more likely to self-censor and even completely what they said what they say when given this opportunity.
  3. The practice would probably be more acceptable in science journalism because it deals less with views, which can be controversial, and more with fact. As such, a source would likely only wish to make changes for clarification or factual correction.

Midrange issues:

  1. If quote approval must exist, then video-focused journalists should have an equivalent practice at their disposal. However, quotes within video cannot be ethically edited to change the meaning. If a source wanted something changed, either whole quotes would have to be removed, or interviews would have to be reshot.
  2. I believe reporters should disclose quote approval to readers, but I also think that this might cause problems with sources, making them less likely to speak with you. In that case, it may be an issue of not disclosing the information versus not having any information to disclose in the first place.
  3. When quotes are subject to approval, they can either become a more accurate version of the truth, allowing a source to clarify what was ambiguous, or a warped version of the truth, allowing sources to censor a view that they hold but do not wish to make known.

Macro issues:

  1. Quote approval does open a debate as to whether reporters are serving the public or politicians. I would say that, while it can be a breach of public trust, it is usually more of a “necessary evil” when reporting on the views of politicians, in that one may not be able to get these views otherwise.
  2. When a candidate speaks “off the cuff” with a citizen, and that citizen quotes and publishes the candidate, it can break down the usual politician-journalist barrier. However, since citizen journalists are often not held to the same standards as “professional” journalists, they may be more likely breach ethics by misrepresenting themselves to politicians.

2-D

Micro issues:

  1. Laurens could have, and arguably should have, researched the factuality of the mayor’s accusations. However, submitting the story as is was not necessarily the wrong choice, but merely not the best choice.
  2. The mayor is correct in that the reporting was balanced, but giving additional information would not necessarily be judgmental of any side. If his comments were inaccurate, and Laurens placed the factual information after the mayor’s statements in the story, it would be up to the reader to judge him.
  3. The councilman is justified in his complaints about Laurens’ story, but calling her irresponsible is an overstep. Though she didn’t provide the contrary information, she reported the facts of the exchange accurately.

Midrange issues:

  1. A journalist should fact-check statements from both sides of a public controversy, rather than simply reporting what is said. A story can still be fair and accurate, and can even be made more so, if facts are provided that directly contradict what someone in the story said.
  2. Objective reporting in the sense of reporting what is said without any additions can make a story more of a transcription of events than actual journalism, which runs contrary to standards and can give the sense of credibility to statements that are provably false.
  3. If reporters are as the readers’ eyes and ears, background research is a part of what a reporter hears and sees in regards to what they are covering.

Macro issues:

  1. In the context of this issue, fact would be what both parties said, while truth would be that plus any relevant facts that might support or contradict what is said. In that sense, truth is the sum of all relevant facts, and what journalists should strive for in a story.
  2. A journalist should let readers know if a fact in a story is untrue. Reporting should only be objective in that the writer should not inject his or her views into the story or apply fact-checking unequally to different sides of an argument. Therefore, a reporter can be objective even when providing facts that disprove one side of an argument.
  3. In an era of media outlet surplus, many outlets have an ideological slant. Ethical journalists have a responsibility to combat this by reporting the truth in spite of ideological leanings.

2-F

Micro issues:

  1. Phone hacking is unethical because it involves obtaining private quotes and information from a person without their consent, which is dishonest.
  2. Davies may have been pursuing the story out of self-interest or to help his own publication, but it is more likely that he was attempting to uncover a scandal in the way a reporter would with any other organization. The fact that his publication competed with the organization he was investigating is irrelevant.
  3.  The way of journalist collects information is a component of a story’s truthfulness because dishonestly obtaining information still breaches ethics and truthfulness, even if the information is factually correct.
  4. Phone hacking is similar to undercover reporting in that it involves the use of dishonesty to get information, even if it is for a perceived greater good. The difference lies in that, while undercover reporting involves directly lying to sources, phone hacking involves not making a source aware of your presence as a listener.

Midrange issues:

  1. Competition can create ethical issues in media organizations playing “watchdog” to each other in that an organization might look try to find more “dirt” on a competitor than other organizations. This can also apply to other institutions that do not compete with the media organization, but affect its existence in some way.
  2. The 24/7 news cycle and wild nature of the Internet do encourage working at the edge of acceptability. Ethical media companies and professional organizations should attempt to mitigate this by creating rules against acquiring information dishonestly except in extreme situations.
  3. This case shows an organization that fosters a culture of getting stories at all cost, and is not indicative of journalism as a whole.

Macro issues:

  1. Democratic governments should not police ethical behavior of corporate media owners when that policing oversteps the boundaries of law. It is not the government’s job to regulate media ethics.
  2. The ethical difference lies in the fact that News of the World is profit-driven and it’s newsroom culture is focused on getting the story at all cost, while the Guardian is essentially not-for-profit and promotes an ethical culture with annual audits.
  3. Ethically speaking, mass media should stay as divorced as possible from political and economic institutions so as to report on them objectively when the need arises.

Ethical Issue of the Week:

On this week’s episode of  “When Trend Stories Attack,” we see a bunch of major medial outlets putting out stories on the meteoric rise of Hitler’s memoir, Mein Kampf, to digital bestseller status. Before you go trying to out that guy on the bus with the Kindle as a Nazi, you should know that the whole thing is almost completely false. As this blog points out (http://davidgaughran.wordpress.com/2014/01/16/fake-controversy-alert-hitlers-mein-kampf-was-not-a-digital-bestseller/), the book wasn’t selling all that well in digital format—that is, until the “trend” started making the rounds.  It’s a classic case of poor research, bandwagon-jumping and a media-made trend.

DQ: In “man on the street” reporting, should a reporter purposely search out diverse sources or use a random selection method? Which best represents the community?

Vocabulary

Plato’s Cave: Published in his Republic, Plato’s allegory of the cave is a metaphor for truth as a world of pure form to which humans have only indirect access. In the allegory, truth is likened to an object casting a shadow on the wall of a cave. While those looking at the shadows might think them to be truth, they are only indirect representations.

Pragmatism: The idea that knowledge and reality are not fixed, but rather the result of an evolving stream of consciousness and learning. It also defines reality as that which is probable, not something intrinsic or determined by only one observation method. It was born among such 20th century American intellectuals as John Dewey and Charles Sanders Pierce.

Marketplace of Ideas: The concept, proposed by Milton, that ultimate truth would emerge from a “marketplace” of competing and coexisting notions of the truth. This concept helped pave the way for Enlightenment philosophy.

Partisan Press: Press that does not attempt to be objective, instead reporting with an ideological slant. The Internet, including the advent of blogging, has made this type of press financially viable.

Early 20th Century Progressive Movement: The Progressive movement of reform and activism flourished in the United States during the early 20th century. A type of socially conscious journalism popularly known as muckraking was a large part of this movement.

Walter Lippmann: an early 20th century journalist who proposed that people make assumptions about things based on their cultural environment, and then apply those assumptions as stereotypes when actually seeing said thing.

Pseudo Event: an event that only exists for the sake of media coverage. In these events, news is essentially pre-packaged and released in a controlled manner, rather than arising organically. Examples can include press conferences and planned demonstrations.

Coherence Theory of Truth: Also known as the convergence theory of truth, this view states that truth is discovered by determining which facts form a coherent mental picture of events and ideas investigated through various methods, rather than through any single method.

Interlocking public: A theory stating that journalism reflects a subtle understanding of how citizens behave.

Jovahn Huertas, jhuertas@ufl.edu

Blog Essay Week 2

 Elements of Journalism: Preface & Introduction

I think the book’s preface adequately justifies the need for updates in the face of a changing journalistic landscape and ever-advancing technology. I am especially glad about the addition of the tenth principal, The Citizen’s Rights and Responsibilities. Whether we like it or not, citizen journalism is a real part of the industry that isn’t going away anytime soon, and it needs to be addressed. In any case, I’m happy to see a textbook that releases a new edition for good reason, rather than those that seem to change a few words here and there just to hamper the used book market. There’s an ethical issue for you. But I digress.

Media Ethics: Chapter 1

This chapter outlined five major ethical philosophies, roughly in order of their inception from Ancient Greece to the modern day. As I read through them, each seemed to be the “right” way of looking at things, only to be challenged by the next. Aristotle’s Golden Mean seems like a tidy way of looking at ethical dilemmas, until utilitarianism makes you realize that the former has little to say about consequences of actions. Likewise, utilitarianism seems too rigid, even cruel, when compared to the pragmatic and social justice-focused view of communitarianism. Obviously that’s the point of the chapter: these are all guidelines, and none of them are more correct than the others.

In the case of the United Way scenario, I would publish the information about the executive director’s actions. The alternative would be to publish an incomplete story, possibly allowing the individual to commit similar actions in the future. While it would definitely hurt the executive director’s reputation, and might tarnish the organization’s image, it would benefit the public by informing them of the wrongdoing.

Case Study 1-A 

In the 1976 Pulitzer-winning photo, you have an example of what comes up in virtually every journalism class when the subject turns to ethics: a published photo of someone dying. This one adds another layer in that it is a child who is dying. I will say that, on first thought, I feel that both taking the photo and publishing it were ethical, but let’s see how I feel after this.

Bok’s Model:

  1. I feel that publishing this photo was ethically justified. The photo is a fitting and accurate portrayal of events, and, as the text stated, helped bring attention the issue of poor fire escape maintenance.
  2. Another way to achieve the goal of portraying the event might have been to publish a photo of the building on fire, sans the falling girls. Even then, this is a more generic photo, and it doesn’t have the same public service affect as the original.
  3. Obviously, the family of the deceased girl might have objections to the photo, and this, in my view, is the biggest ethical roadblock to publication. Some readers, too, might take offense to the depiction of death, though since the photo is not overtly graphic, I feel this is less of an issue.

Aristotle’s Golden Mean: The main issue here, I think, is decency. In that case, the golden mean would be between self-censorship and obscenity. Being that the image is not gory or overly graphic, nor does it even show the actual death, this falls well short of being obscene. To not publish the image would, in my view, constitute unnecessary censorship, so the publication of the photo falls in line with the Golden Mean.

 Kant’s Categorical Imperative: This model says one should treat individuals as ends rather than means. In that case, when taking into account the feelings of the girl’s family members, it might not be ethically justified to publish the photo.

Utilitarianism: I think this guideline offers the strongest case for publication. While the girl’s family might suffer emotional distress from publication of the photo, it has the potential to bring an important issue to a wide audience and thereby bring about positive change. In that sense, it works for the greater good.

 Ross’ Pluralistic Theory of Value: Based on this principle, I would likely publish the photo. The duties of fidelity to the family and to easily offended readers, and of not injuring others inform me against publication. However, the duties of justice, beneficence, self-improvement, and veracity inform me in favor of publication. I feel that the duties of reparation, gratitude, and nurture are not applicable in this situation.

 Communitarianism: I think that, since this philosophy focuses on social justice, it supports publication. Not only would the photo provide information that could help society at large, it would specifically help a group of people who may be particularly in need: poorer people living in inadequately maintained inner-city buildings.

 So, at the end of the day, I would still publish this photo, though I have a few more reservations in regards to the family. I think I would at least discuss it with them before publication, time permitting.

Ethical Issue of the Week 

Random Attacks in Denver Version of “Knockout Game”?

 The ongoing “knockout game” issue has been one of my favorite points of discussion for a while. Despite increasing media attention to the “game”, there has been little, if any, real evidence that it is a trend. This story, like many others, is written in a sensationalist way that takes the existence of the trend for granted. It’s not until halfway down the page that the reader finds out that the only one implying a connection to the supposed game, other than the writer, is the victim. The ethical issue here lies not only in exaggerating the existence of the game without proper evidence, but also in the fact that extensive media coverage might actually help cause the trend by giving it wider exposure. I the best ethical choice in this case would be to take the emphasis off of the knockout game allegations, and focus on what the story really is about: alleged assault and battery. Of course, this would probably make the story unworthy of a national news site like cbsnews.com, but that’s another problem.

DQ

Are all five ethical guidelines equally valid today? If yes, explain why. If no, identify which you consider less valid, and give reasoning.

Vocabulary

 Ethics vs. Morals: Ethics is a rational process founded on certain agreed-on principles, while morals are the often religiously based distinction between right and wrong. Contrary to morals, ethics often focus on the conflict between equally compelling options, or on choosing the lesser of two evils.

 Aristotle’s Golden Mean: Aristotle’s philosophy of ethics can be reduced to the idea that virtue lies at the mean between two extremes of excess and deficiency. To determine this mean, he said that one must be aware of his or her actions, select an act for its own sake, and that the act must spring from a firm and unchanging character. In example, skepticism might be seen as the mean between gullibility and cynicism. This is similar to the Buddhist “Middle Way” between self-denial and self-indulgence.

 Kant’s Categorical Imperative: Immanuel Kant’s well-known imperative can be stated in two ways. First, that an individual should act as if the choices one makes for oneself could become universal law, and second, that one should act so that he or she treats each individual as an end and never as just a means. By calling them categorical, Kant meant that the rules’ demands were universal and unchanging. The imperative rests on the notion that moral force resides in an act rather than the actor.

 Utilitarianism: This ethical philosophy, originating in the 18th and 19th centuries, is based on the idea that the consequences of actions are important in deciding whether they are ethical. Utilitarianism focuses on bringing the most benefit to the most people, meaning that it may be ethical to harm an individual for the benefit of the many. According to Media Ethics, this is the basis of investigative journalism.

 Ross’ Pluralistic Theory of Value: The 20th century philosopher William David Ross believed that there is often more than one ethical value competing for preeminence in our ethical decision-making. Ross claimed these ethical claims, or duties, are equal, and include fidelity, reparation, gratitude, justice, beneficence, self-improvement and not injuring others. Media Ethics recommends two more: veracity and nurture.

 Communitarianism: Rooted in political theory, this ethical philosophy seeks to provide ethical guidance when confronting the wider issues of current political or business activities.  It focuses on the outcome of individual ethical decisions analyzed in light of their potential impact to society, and asserts that social justice is the predominant moral value.

Essay Responses

 COMING SOON

Jovahn Huertas, jhuertas@ufl.edu

 

 

 

 

 

About Me

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My name is Jovahn Huertas, and I am a third year student at the University of Florida’s College of Journalism and Communications focusing on print and online journalism. I moved to Gainesville in the fall of 2011 from my hometown of St. Petersburg, Fla., to attend UF. While I had written for my high school paper, and was reasonably sure that I wanted to go into journalism as a career, I wasn’t sure if I should major in it initially. After my first semester, however, I couldn’t see myself doing anything else. I have written frequently as a stringer for the Independent Florida Alligator. Most recently, I completed an internship at The Gainesville Sun during the fall 2013 semester, and am now a paid freelancer for The Sun.

My journalistic interests currently lie in the fields of science, technology and the environment. As far as career plans go, I hope to some day become a correspondent in one of these fields for a major metro publication, or else write for a specialty publication like Wired, Scientific American or National Geographic. For now, I’m trying to get as much experience as possible in all fields of journalism, though I hope to get an internship that allows me to focus on my interests in the near future.

I would define ethics as the commonly accepted and often unwritten rules and guidelines that determine right from wrong. In the context of journalism, this would include issues of honesty, privacy, taste, and plagiarism. While some of these issues may be covered to an extent by written law, they all fall under the greater ethical umbrella, and are thus not always clear-cut.

One ethical issue I’ve run into occurred during my Beat Reporting class in fall 2013. As the UF beat reporter, I was looking for a prominent person at the university to profile, and decided on the director of a popular volunteer program at UF Health Shands Hospital. Though she initially seemed more than willing to speak with me, she began delaying an interview for unclear reasons. Weeks went by before she finally told me the truth: she was in the process of resigning. While this made for an even more newsworthy story, she told me this off the record. Nevertheless, The Sun wanted to run the story as soon as possible, and my editors pressured me to make it happen. In this situation, I could have gone to Shands for comment or written the story anyway, betraying the trust of my source. To a lesser extent, I faced an ethical dilemma in that I felt I was putting undue stress on my source by pressuring her to go on record when it was clearly an unhappy subject for her. Fortunately, after I explained my situation to her, she agreed to go on record immediately after speaking to the program’s volunteers about her resignation, and we were able to break the story in the next day’s paper.

So, now that I’m thoroughly tired of talking about myself, here’s hoping for a great semester.