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.

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3 thoughts on “Blog Essay Week 6

  1. That’s an excellent DQ, Jovahn. It reminds me a lot of our research and presentation topic. At some point, I believe, you have to be a human first, not a journalist. As we’ve seen though, this behavior isn’t always enough. I think you know truth when you see it. If a charity isn’t actually putting money toward worthy causes, for example, the pursuit of truth outweighs the damage you’ll probably do to a company source. If a group of politicians promised a certain amount of change with an initiative, but they haven’t delivered, then truth surpasses source. However, reporters have to toe the line carefully. If you work the government beat, you cannot bust every politician. They probably won’t talk to you anymore. But, as we’ve discussed, if the person is emotionally debilitated and grapples with the idea of telling his/her story, especially if that story is feature, then you start to approach the divide at which you should stop pursuing the “truth.” Is there, inherently, a lot of truth in feature stories like that? I think so. But it’s different from the kind of truth you expose from negligence. Features on sources who have mental health or poverty issues highlight the complexity of life, the grey area. It’s a different kind of truth, and one you have to weigh the effects of more heavily, in my opinion.
    In regards to your ethical issues, I agree. It seems silly that NBC can editorialize so freely when it doesn’t provide adequate coverage of a landmark event.

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