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

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2 thoughts on “Blog Essay Week 3

  1. DQ: There is no clear cut yes or no answer to this. Yes a reporter should aim at representing the demographics of his or her community but he or she should not go out of their way to do so. A random selection process is flawed because there is no control of representation, and the end result will likely display this flaw with a uniform group of sources. Diversity is a defining characteristic of the 21st century America. More now than ever, we are all different. Yet there are some communities where diversity has not yet spread. In that case a journalist would be editorializing if he or she purposely seeked out a person of color for no other reason than diversity of voices.

    I was also upset, yet not surprised to know that journalists in larger markets are more accepting of deception. Journalists are public servants. We are here to inform our community, not compete with the paper down the road. And of course profits and the business side allow us to continue to serve our communities but in trying to stay afloat we cannot lose sight of the initial goal.

    I think the word “need” in “the primary purpose of journalism is to provide citizens with the information they need to be free and self-governing” is not exclusionary. It means, from my interpretation, more to present all the facts and information that could possibly be necessary to create an informed public–the key to a successful democracy.

  2. DQ: That is an excellent question. Here are a couple of thoughts: A reporter’s job is to inform the community with daily news and interesting stories about vibrant backdoor lives. To accomplish this end, a reporter can randomly select sources. If it accurately represents a sample in statistics, then the same logic should follow for journalism. But by seeking out different communities that aren’t receiving coverage, the reporter – who is no longer operating on a random basis – alerts his/her community to the myriad lives in the shadows. I think randomly seeking out people isn’t really an accurate representation that a journalist should strive to follow. Communities are complex, built by layers of undercurrents and cultures and diverse people. You can do so much more by really understanding your community and what’s missing from coverage or public view.
    I was fascinated by a point the blogger made in the best-seller Hitler article. It took him 60 seconds to figure out the information he came across. We, as journalists, get wrapped up. The other day we discussed implementing some form of psychological education into a journalist’s curriculum. Maybe we need to incorporate a logics course, too. This is not finger pointing. Journalists operate under waves of pressure and uncertainty every day, and that kind of mindset leads to a constant frazzled state. I don’t think it’s our inclination to think the way this blogger did, and maybe it’s a very good idea to start learning how to.

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