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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4 thoughts on “Blog Essay Week 7

  1. Hey Jovahn,
    I think your ethical dilemma and DQ mesh perfectly this week.
    DQ: When I read your question, I thought back on the chapter from Elements of Journalism about truth. As journalists, we have a duty to seek truth, and report what we know of it, even if that account isn’t the most complete, accurate version. We have to place faith in citizens — and ourselves — to keep pursuing the correct information without launching a moment of terror. It was a terrifying for me to realize, from this week’s readings, that schools of thought place the ideological blame of terrorism on journalism. We absolutely bring terms and trends to life. But there is a responsibility for us to share this information. People need to have the proper context, and context builds through years of coverage and time. So to ignore terrorism, because it further perpetuates terrorism, is foolish. There will always be people, journalists and citizens alike, who overstate the implications of situations. All we can do is understate and tell the most complete version of the truth and hope that people follow us during that search.
    Ethical dilemma: Similar to my thoughts above. But still, these kind of articles need to provide more context, and far less half-baked terror-instilling quotes like “potentially dangerous.” After reading that Telegraph article, I noticed something huge: The publication, or the writer, gives no comparison points. We’re just told this huge flaming thing is looming toward Earth and could graze the atmosphere. Well, let’s define our atmosphere, or give people a reference point to work with. Science journalism is so important – and fascinating – but it also needs to focus on jargon-related issues such as this, where a lack of basic understanding can produce mass fear.

  2. DQ:
    Your DQ is a complex question and something I definitely considered while reading the ME chapter and case studies. When, if ever, is it okay to cross the line of objectivity when it’s a matter of national security? This question also arose in a show I’ve been watching a lot of lately, House of Cards. In the show a journalist uncovers incriminating information about the president’s involvement in smuggling foreign money into Super PACs. By publishing her findings, which she consistently claims are only allegations, the journalist put America’s relationship with China at a high risk. This served as a reminder to me–we have more power as journalists than we realize. Part of using that power wisely is remember our audience, and as was discussed in previous chapters: who do we owe? Publishing information that could harm our country’s standing in the world powers is a fine line that not all journalists would cross but, with a good reason, I think it’s acceptable. The truth is in our job description, in no definition of journalism does it say we are to protect our country–we’re free thinkers, not soldiers.

    I think the idea of not covering terrorism may be even scarier. Knowledge is power and an informed public is the key to a functioning society and democracy. Look at what’s happening in Venezuela, where the government doesn’t afford journalist or residents any freedom of press or speech. Peaceful protests are being turned into deadly riots and no news of this is being broadcast to any public in the country. America is barely covering it. This is what happens when the voices of a community are suppressed and it’s worse than being over-informed.

    –Erica A. Hernandez
    erica513@ufl.edu

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