Blog Essay Week 7

EJ Chapt. 5

This chapter of Elements of Journalism discusses the importance of journalistic independence. In doing so, it introduces the next key principle: journalists must maintain an independence from those they cover. The chapter makes it clear that this should not be mistaken for neutrality. I’ve discussed this distinction in previous blog posts: journalists can and should have opinions, so long as they do not affect reporting.

An interesting point of discussion is the idea that opinion writers are still creating journalism that must stand up to the same ethical standards as straight fact-based reporting.  This makes sense, but it is not something I gave much thought to previously, having just assumed that the editorial section should be held to different guidelines. But who is to say that people like the late Roger Ebert are any less important to journalism than reporters? Reviewers like Ebert maintain their journalistic integrity, not by refraining from expressing their opinions, but by expressing them without influence from film studios, producers, theaters, and the like.

The authors disregard the validity of the question “is a person a journalist?” in favor of “is a person doing journalism?” This is an important distinction to make, especially in light of the modern environment of bloggers and citizen journalists. Credentials and ties to a major news organization should not be the defining factors of journalism. As I said in a previous blog post: a citizen journalist should be treated the same as any other journalist if they report the facts and adhere to ethics and standards of journalism.

As the chapter discusses, many major news organizations forbid both reporters and editors from engaging in political activism. Given the idea that independence should not equate to neutrality, these policies seem pretty ludicrous to me. Just as journalists should be allowed to express opinions outside of journalistic work, they should also be clear to participate actively in politics, provided it does not conflict with their work. Of course, this brings about questions of whether writers who focus on politics can effectively cover issues they are personally involved in. However, my point is that rules like these should be differently to different cases, rather than just sweeping all journalists under the Rug of Non-Participation.

Some criticize journalism as becoming self-confined from society, and the chapter speaks of two possible solutions: public journalism and partisan journalism. While partisan journalism is obviously not the answer, I was a bit taken aback by the authors’ consistent use of Fox News as the exemplar of this. While Fox deserves the criticism to an extent, other major news organizations, namely MSNBC, engage in this kind of partisanship, sometimes to an even greater extent. To single out Fox may indicate some of the authors’ bias creeping into the writing. That is really not such a great thing in a journalism text.

The chapter ends with a discussion of independence from economic, racial, ethnic and religious backgrounds in the newsroom. I really like the idea that, rather than having diversity in the newsroom for the sake of numbers, we should ideally work in an environment of diverse backgrounds and mindsets united by the common goal of journalistic independence.

 

ME Chapt. 6

 This chapter in Media Ethics discusses the role of mass media in political society. It starts out by comparing traditionally news media to political comedy shows like the Daily Show. As the chapter discusses, while many young people get their news from comedy shows, they are shown to be less poorly informed on the issues. This flies in the face of claims from years past that Daily Show viewers were better informed than, say, Fox News watchers. However, when both the comedy shows and the talking heads are scrutinized under Bruce William’s four-part test for political relevance, the results are less clear. In this analysis, the neglect of factuality and poor signal-to-noise ratio in mainstream political shows causes them to be less relevant than comedy. This says a lot about the state of media today, since this sort of thing dominates major 24-hour news sources like CNN.

The chapter also discusses the various roles media organizations play in political society. These include providing an alternate to the political mainstream, functioning as a watchdog, facilitating political discussion and actually promoting the state’s agenda. Of these, the monitorial and facilitative roles seem most important, as they can have a large, direct effect on politics at any level. The collaborative role seems contradictory to journalistic values and more like a role of public relations, but the broadcasting of benign information like weather forecasts from the government makes sense. I’m not sure how this role can really affect political society without becoming more sinister, however.

It’s really unfortunate that people have to turn to political ads to get information on candidate issues. When the media focus solely on poll data, political tactics and scandals, it detracts from the role of journalism as providing the information necessary for citizens to make political decisions. A candidates standing in the polls won’t help me decide whether to vote for him, but his position on healthcare might.

An interesting ethical case in this chapter is in whether a journalist should reveal private facts about a politician if an unequal power balance is involved. The chapter actually advocates violating usual ethical standards if a public person is involved in an unequal relationship while also being in a position to do harm.  This seems to fall in line with utilitarian principles: potentially bringing harm to the powerful individual to affect the greater good.

The idea that terrorism would not exist without the mass media is both intriguing and, well, terrifying. Is it really true that the field we are all trying to join is responsible for one of the biggest problems in the modern world? It would appear so. Of course, the media can’t simply ignore acts of terror when they happen. But I would imagine 9/11 would not have been as earth-shaking if videos and photos of the burning towers hadn’t been plastered over every news channel for weeks afterwards. By covering the terrorism, news sources are inadvertently furthering the terrorists’ primary goal of causing terror.

 

Case studies:

6-A

  1. In this case study, I think the ethical issue is whether PolitiFact should fact check sources that are not necessarily intended to be credible sources of news and discourse, such as comedy shows, and whether this fact-checking constitutes journalism.
  2. The PolitiFact writers could choose to ignore comedy shows and the like completely, on the basis of the idea that they have no expectation of truthfulness. As this chapter shows, however, many people now get their news from this type of program. One could argue that scrutinizing these shows with the same criteria as “real” news could give them undue credibility.
  3. PolitiFact should continue to fact check comedy shows along with other news sources. Since many people do use these shows as news sources, it is important that they have a resource to check the factuality of what is being said. In doing this, PolitiFact could help viewers separate real information, jokes and partisan punditry disguised as these.

6-B

  1. There appear to be two major ethical issues in this case: whether WikiLeaks should obtain information exclusively from at-risk whistleblowers, and whether the organization should publish any classified information from states.
  2. WikiLeaks could continue getting information from people like Bradley Manning, which puts these sources at risk of criminal and personal repercussions. WikiLeaks could also work to get information independently, such as through undercover reporting, but this runs into new ethical issues. Additionally, WikiLeaks could limit the information it publishes, potentially keeping the public in the dark, or it could continue publishing all the information it receives, potentially jeopardizing state security and diplomacy.
  3. In regards to sources, WikiLeaks should continue using whistleblowers as a primary source of information. The whistleblowers themselves decide to provide the information, and must deal with the potential consequences. However, the organization should make reasonable efforts to protect these people. In regards to the policy of leaking everything, the organization should be more judicious about what gets published. If a piece of information has no public use or shows no injustice, but does jeopardize security or diplomacy, it should not be published solely on the basis that all secrets are bad.

6-F

  1. The ethical issue here appears to be whether the Spokesman-Review was justified in hiring someone to misrepresent himself and using deception to uncover unlawful activity by the Spokane mayor.
  2. In doing what it did, the Spokesman-Review may have uncovered misconduct by a public official, but used tactics generally considered unethical to do so. On the other end, the publication could have taken no action, even if it suspected wrongdoing. This would have avoided direct ethical issues, but brings into question the journalistic responsibility to seek the truth. A third option would have been to report suspected illegal activity to law enforcement rather than the publication taking action itself. This would have helped expose wrongdoing if it were there, but at the expense of the journalists’ opportunity to break a story.
  3. This seems to be a case of the ends justifying the means. As stated in the chapter, it is sometimes justifiable to violate usual ethics if a person in an unequal power relationship has potential to cause harm. In the case of a mayor suspected of manipulating underage men, this seems to meet those criteria. This is justifiable on the same grounds that undercover reporting can be justified if injustice is occurring.

 

DQ: How should journalists and media organizations work to mitigate their role in facilitating terror while remaining committed to the truth?

 

Ethical Issue of the Week

This week, I thought I would explore something related to my favorite field: science journalism. This (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/science/space/10644805/Asteroid-to-hurtle-past-the-Earth-at-27000-mph.html) is one of the many stories going around this week about an asteroid that “hurtled past Earth” Monday. In this particular story, the biggest issue is blatant sensationalism. The article plays up the scary aspects of the asteroid early on: it’s speed, size, and “potentially hazardous” status. It even includes what can be assumed to be an illustration of the thing about to burn up in Earth’s atmosphere. Of course, the most important information comes after all this: the asteroid is nearly 2 million miles away, and scientists say it poses no threat to the planet. Other than an interesting science story and a way to open discussion about real threats in the future, this is essentially a non-issue. However, if the writer discussed this in the headline and lede, rather than making it sound like such a close shave, she wouldn’t have much of a story.

 

Vocabulary:

Disinterested: The state of being neutral or having no interest in a given issue. Journalists should not be disinterested, but rather, maintain independence when covering issues.

 

Partisan journalism: Journalism presented from a certain political or ideological viewpoint.

 

Journalism of affirmation: journalism based on affirming the beliefs of the audience rather than on accuracy and verification.

 

Civic journalism: journalism designed to reconnect journalists with the community.

 

Mass media: media, such as print, broadcast, or online communications, used to transmit messages to a large audience.

 

Audience fragmentation: In mass media, the division of the audience of a given publication or medium into groups largely based on geographic location.

 

-Jovahn Huertas, jhuertas@ufl.edu

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Blog Essay Week 6

 EJ Chapt. 4

In this week’s chapter we explore the “essence” of journalism: verification. On first glance, that seems suspiciously like a rewording of our first Element of Journalism: journalism’s first obligation is to the truth. I suppose, however, that this is more like the practical application of the first element. Verification is basically the method through which truth is sought. So, if we are obliged to the truth, verification is the essence of what we do as journalists. After last week’s new element, journalism’s loyalty to the citizens, which seemed in conflict with the first even after closer scrutiny, this week’s element makes a lot more sense.

I wasn’t crazy about the authors stating that “journalism alone” is focused on accurately recording events as they happened. Of course, that is true out of the few professions that they listed, but there are plenty of others that have this as a focus. The disciplines of science and history would be nothing without accurate recording and verification of the facts.

The chapter also touches on the confusion surrounding the term “objectivity.” I definitely agree with the original definition as given in the chapter: that objectivity is not absence of personal bias, but rather a method through which journalists can prevent the influence of bias in their work. As I brought up last week, there’s nothing wrong with journalists having opinions, as long as they don’t let them affect the journalism.

I thought the authors’ five intellectual principles of reporting made sense. Each of the first four is simply a permutation of the Prime Directive: tell the truth. The fifth, “exercise humility”, seemed out of place with the others at first. Why can’t a journalist be honest and transparent, as well as proud of his or her talents? The chapter does a good job of clarifying this: not only should one strive to verify and report the facts, one should also be skeptical of one’s own ability to know and interpret said facts.

ME Chapt. 5 

This chapter deals with privacy, and especially, privacy issues pertaining to the modern world of technology and globalization.  I had always seen privacy through a fairly narrow lens: one’s right to not be watched without consent. As the chapter states, invasion of privacy today actually manifests in four different ways: intrusion, public disclosure of private facts, false-light publicity, and misappropriation of a person’s name or likeness. Additionally, the idea that privacy is an inherent “right” is not universal, nor is each of the manifestations of privacy treated equally in all places and contexts.

The chapter discusses the difference between interpreting privacy as a right and a need. As a right, privacy is something everyone should have. However, as a need, privacy is something everyone must have to live. From the standpoint that one cannot make free and rational decisions without privacy (how could you choose to vote out those in power if you knew they were constantly watching you), as well a from a purely mental health standpoint, I would definitely argue that privacy is more of a need than a right, at least in a democratic society.

Just as there are four different types of privacy invasion, there are four different harms that could come from invasion of privacy. The authors make the case, somewhat sardonically, that American constitutional law as it stands does not adequately address all these harms in the modern age. While this may be true, the point of the court system and the legislature, at least ideally, is to bring our government up to date with modern issues, and that includes privacy.

Privacy can be seen as a right and a need, and certainly a want, but there are also rights, needs and desires to know things.  The conflict between privacy and public knowledge seems to be the basis of most ethical dilemmas that might arise involving privacy, especially in the context of journalism.

Lute Olson reading

The sports editor committed serious ethical violations in this case. If we use the five principles outlined in this weeks EJ reading as guidelines, he appears to have broken every single one. The editor added information that was not there in the form of speculation, deceived the audience by publishing baseless accusations as, neglected transparency by writing under a false byline, relied on the original reporter’s (albeit flawed) fact-gathering, and showed incredible lack of humility by publishing such allegations without fear of consequences.

PoynterVision

Ellen Shearer said the hardest part of reporting on drones is choosing what stories best suit audiences. She distinguishes between the popular view of drones as war machines, versus the reality that there are wide variety of unmanned aircraft and vehicles that can be defined as drones. She emphasizes that journalists must understand the implications of drones and the growing drone industry to properly report on the issue.

Privacy Test

The site knew what OS I was using, what my screen resolution was, what site I just came from, and where I was located. This didn’t surprise me, nor did it make me think my privacy was compromised. I could prevent my browser from storing cookies, making it impossible for the site to know my recent browsing history, but I think cookies are too useful to disable completely. I could hide my IP, and therefore my location, by using a proxy, but the inconvenience of doing this outweighs my desire to be geographically anonymous.

Case studies:

5-B

1)    Since this case is rather broad, I am going to focus on the ethical dilemma of whether Facebook should engage in the outlined violations of privacy.

2)    Facebook could continue to infringe on user privacy. This could make the user experience better by integrating information about a person seamlessly into the site without need for action by the user. It could also make public information that the user did not want publicized. Nonetheless, Facebook’s legal terms outline what the site can and cannot do, and it is mostly due to improper reading of these terms that people are outraged when they discover Facebook’s privacy violations. With this knowledge, they could simply elect to opt-out of Facebook.

Alternatively, Facebook could stop infringing on privacy, strictly allowing only what information a user preselects to be made public, and allowing users to choose exactly who see said information. This could allow users full privacy, but at the potential cost of user experience.

3)    I conclude that Facebook should continue to make reasonable infringements on privacy to enhance user experience, but only with the consent of the users. It’s legal terms should be simplified and made easily readable, so users know exactly what they are signing up for and can choose to opt out if they please.

5-C

1)    The dilemma in this case is whether journalists should publicize the identities of high-contributing donors or decline to out of respect for privacy.

2)    Journalists could publish the names of high-profile donors. This is potentially valuable information, as it gives the public insight into how politicians’ campaigns are being supported, and it allows people to potentially denounce or boycott certain public individuals or organizations if they disagree with them. This falls in line with the utilitarian principle. However, this violates the donors’ privacy rights.

Alternatively, journalists could refuse to publish names of donors. This allows the donors full privacy, but at the expense of potentially valuable information to the public. Respecting the needs of each individual person without regard for the greater good could fall in line with the Categorical Imperative.

3)    I conclude that journalists should continue to publish the names of high-profile donors. Most of these people are public individuals to begin with, and have thus relinquished a good portion of their right to privacy. As said in the case study, getting financially involved in modern politics also has the effect of bringing one into the public spotlight. Additionally, the public informational value of donor identities trumps what privacy is left.

DQ: In journalism, at what point does the need to tell the truth outweigh a source’s need for privacy, and vice versa?

Ethical Issue of the Week

Every two years, NBC’s monopolistic Olympic coverage in the U.S. creates a goldmine of things to complain about, starting with the Opening Ceremonies:

(http://www.boston.com/sports/columnists/wilbur/2014/02/despite_improvements_nbcs_olympic_coverage_remains.html). Of the multiple issues here, I think the ones that stand out are whether NBC should even editorialize its coverage of the Ceremonies in the first place. If not, should they only give minimal descriptive commentary on the events, or should they just shut up altogether and let the potentially historically events play out? Even if you can justify the commentary, can you really justify its utter lack of meaningful content? If NBC must be the sole television source of all things Olympic, it should at least make an attempt to be objective, or at least engaging.

Vocabulary

Harm Principle: The philosophical idea that one should take an action, such as violate a person’s privacy, if not doing so would cause greater harm.

False light: Publically distorting the truth about a person’s image, either in a positive or negative way.

Discretion: Journalists must carefully decide when the needs of public information necessitate a violation of privacy.

Objectivity: the method through which journalists can limit or eliminate their personal biases from the reporting of news.

False equivalency: Presenting two opposing sides as equal when evidence clearly supports one over the other.

Blog Essay Week 5

EJ Chapt. 3

This chapter discusses who journalists work for, which ties in quite nicely to our Media Ethics reading on loyalty. In this text, the authors make another definitive statement on loyalty: journalism’s first loyalty is to citizens. So, we now have our first loyalty to go along with our first obligation (the truth). My question is: which of these elements belongs at the top? Would there be any case in which a journalist would have to choose between the truth and the citizens?

The chapter gives considerable time to fleshing out the evolution of journalism from partisan press to public service and editorial independence to detached isolationism to a more community-minded media. As can be seen, these developments coincide with sociocultural changes throughout the years. This leads me to wonder if it’s really such a good idea to make such hard statements of principle like the one above, even if the opposite was the case a century or so ago.

Ever the sucker for a good analogy, I like Luce’s comparison of the separation the news and business sides of a media company to the separation of church and state. Of course, while the metaphor is good, the idea itself is shown to be fairly baseless today. Of course journalists have some stake in profitability: most of us aren’t doing this for free (or, at least, we don’t want to be for much longer). Acknowledging this would allow us to better prevent issues like the ones discussed in the chapter from occurring.

In the end, while I agree that journalism’s loyalty to the public should be paramount, after reading the Media Ethics chapter, I feel like this one fails to address the other loyalties that journalists must balance. I get that this is a book of basic journalistic principles, but sometimes it feels like the authors are putting these principles on a pedestal without acknowledging the grey areas that might surround them.

ME Chapt. 4

This chapter of Media Ethics states that most ethical decisions come down to the question of loyalty. In my experience, that sounds about right. Most ethical dilemmas I have seen or faced in journalism have involved balancing loyalties between sources and editors, among different publications, or even between oneself and one’s readers. Given the importance of loyalty to ethics, one would think the authors would have mentioned it earlier in the book, but as usual, I digress.

I like Royce’s “Hamlet option” statement about how choosing not to decide is not an option in dilemmas of loyalty. In the example of the PR professional having to choose between loyalty to an employer and loyalty to the truth, choosing neither would be self-serving. He or she is not only betraying both the employer and the cause of truth, but casting loyalty to his or her own self by making the “easy” choice of not choosing. As for Royce’s theory of loyalty as a whole, I agree with the criticism that he provides no means of balancing conflicting loyalties. His ideas make plenty of sense, but they don’t have much use if there is no clear way to apply them to reality.

With Fletcher’s identification of the two poles of loyalty—not betraying someone and completely throwing in with them—I see a tie-in, at least in basic concept, to the Golden Mean theory of earlier chapters in that, for any given question of loyalty, the best answer lies somewhere between the two extremes.

While the chapter discusses the idea of competing loyalties at length, it makes the relatively definitive statement that “virtually no situation in media ethics calls for inhumane treatment or withholding the truth.” This basically says that, if journalistic loyalties lie on a hierarchy, truth and humanity are at the top. Additionally, I would say journalists should rarely find themselves reneging on loyalty to objectivity.

The Potter Box is structurally quite similar to Bok’s model in that one begins by stepping back and examining a situation, assesses alternatives, and finally, makes a decision. The difference lies in the fact that, while Bok’s model seems to fall in line with a specific philosophy (the Categorical Imperative), The Potter Box is a more generalized decision-making system that weighs multiple philosophical views. It is comforting to me that, as the book states, the Potter Box allows you to sustain a variety of loyalties. While holding seemingly conflicting loyalties may create some cognitive difficulties, that situation still seems far better than having to completely abandon certain loyalties for the sake of others.

 

Case Studies:

4-A

I. The dilemma in this situation is whether Barrett Tryon should have removed his link and pull quote on Facebook. In accordance with the Potter Box, the facts of the case are these: Freedom Communications has a byline against posting negative statements about the company, which the post was construed as; the post did not show Tryon’s views, but merely quoted the news article; Tryon’s refusal to remove it resulted in admonishment by the company and administrative leave (with eventual reinstatement, though he resigned anyway); Tryon’s compliance would have necessitated him to censor himself.

W. The values in this case, from Tryon’s perspective, are his job, his freedom of speech, the truth, and his credibility. Utilitarianism would suggest that Tryon delete the post, as it allows him to keep his job and keeps the company happy. From the Golden Mean perspective, the mere post of a news story seems to be a reasonable compromise between outright criticism of the company and complete silence. The duties of veracity and justice in keeping the post might outweigh duty to beneficence and fidelity in deleting it. As for the third step of Bok’s model: keeping the might cause harm to the company and its members.

C. Tryon was right to keep the post and protest the company’s actions. His loyalty to truth and his value of free speech outweigh his obligation to the company. Even so, the company’s rule was, in itself, unethical, and his post did not appear constitute a violation of it anyway.

4-C

I. In a breaking news situation, should a reporter break news instantly via Twitter, or publish it later through his or her news organization? The facts are as such: reporters have an opportunity to personally tweet breaking news instantly; doing so would rob their publication of breaking the news, thus robbing the publication of potential business; a reporter could get fired for doing this; the brevity of tweets limits the amount of depth and context one can go into.

W. The values in this case are the journalist’s job, company loyalty, getting the story first, and publishing a complete story. Utilitarianism appears to favor waiting, as it benefits the publication without substantial loss to the reporter. Between the extremes instant tweeting and publishing in the future, the Golden Mean might suggest a middle ground of discussing the news with editors before tweeting about it. From a Kantian perspective, tweeting might harm the publication, but not doing so might harm a reporter’s reputation.

C. Given the situation, I would attempt to publish a comprehensive story of the breaking news via the publication I work for, rather than instantly tweet it, unless given clearance by the publication to do so. In doing this, I maintain loyalty to the publication and the truth without really doing damage to myself. I may not get the story first, but that is of relatively low personal value compared to the others.

4-D

I. The main dilemma in this case appears to be whether Jessica Luce should have dated someone she knew could become a source or could present a conflict of interest. The facts: Luce and Schenck appeared to be dating purely out of mutual attraction, rather than ulterior motive; Luce neglected to tell her editors about the relationship until it became an issue; Luce lives in a small community where everyone is a potential source; even though no conflict of interest appears to have come about, one very well could have, and readers could perceive it that way.

W. The values in play here are Luce’s relationship, her credibility, and her obligation to her publication. From a pure utilitarian perspective, Luce should not have engaged in the relationship as it benefits the most people, even if it’s at the expense of her own happiness. Kant would say otherwise: Luce’s own feelings should play into the equation as well. A pluralist approach might weigh the duty of self-improvement against that of justice.

C. Luce was right to maintain her relationship. As the facts show, it would be nearly impossible to have any real human relationship in such a small community if one neglected to have relationships with potential source. Furthermore, though it appeared to be a potential conflict of interest, none really existed. In this case, Luce’s loyalty to her own personal desires and sanity should triumph. It would, however, have behooved her to disclose her relationship to her editors earlier.

Discussion QuestionCould a situation arise where loyalty to citizens and obligation to truth come into conflict? If so, how should it be addressed?

 

Ethical Issue of the Week:

On Sunday, the New York Times took a look at one of Japan’s largest new broadcasters. (http://www.nytimes.com/2014/02/03/world/asia/news-giant-in-japan-seen-as-being-compromised.html) The article characterizes the Japan Broadcasting Corporation (NHK) as the BBC of Japan. In spite of the network’s prestige, NHK has been racked by controversy recently, most notably regarding accusations that the network is essentially a government puppet. This seems to be an excellent example of a news organization facing competing loyalties. It would appear that NHK’s loyalty to the government is compromising its loyalties to the public and the organizations own vow to report the news truthfully an objectively. As a BBC-like public broadcaster, NHK may owe its existence to the Japanese government, but it will lose all credibility (and likely, relevance) if it becomes the PR outlet for the government.

 

Vocabulary: 

Social Contract: The idea, asserted by philosopher Thomas Hobbes, that loyalty is a social act that forms the basis of political society.

Loyalty: Journalists have competing obligations to various groups, including readers, the general public, sources, and the companies they work for. Theologian Josiah Royce defined loyalty as devotion to a cause, rather than to oneself or any one party.

-Jovahn Huertas, jhuertas@ufl.edu