Blog Essay Week 11

EJ  Chapt. 8: Engagement and Relevance

This week’s element of journalism is probably the most interesting one so far: that journalists must make the news engaging and relevant in their stories, newscasts, and photography. To introduce this idea, the authors give the example of an 1,100-page book on an urban planner written 40 years ago. In a journalistic landscape that currently focuses on brevity and up-to-the minute news, that seems like the polar opposite of “engaging”. Their point, which is justifiable, is to show how focusing on power struggles and telling one person’s story to explain something larger can make newswriting more compelling. However, it still seems like a somewhat poor choice to get the conversation started.

The authors discuss what they portray as a fall dichotomy of engaging vs. relevant: that the important stories are at odds with the interesting ones. I definitely agree with the sentiment that storytelling and information are not contradictory. Any journalistic story needs some sort of relevant information to qualify it as news, just as any information-dense story should be made engaging, lest it be just a bunch of facts and numbers randomly splayed out on a piece of paper or web page.

Despite it’s seemingly out-of-touch introduction, the chapter does eventually get down to some modern implications. Specifically, the authors discuss how cutbacks in the newsroom are affecting the quality of news stories for the sake of quantity, something we saw discussed in the “Page One” documentary of the New York Times. This obviously damages both the ability of a news organization to gather relevant information, as well as the ability to make it engaging. Additionally, the authors argue that space is a factor in limiting engagement of news stories. I would say that, while the attention span of the audience has supposedly gotten smaller, the Internet as a medium allows for more in-depth storytelling when used correctly.

The Lewinski/ABC News example clearly shows the quest for engagement trumping relevance, as talk of whether President Clinton is “passionate” and “a good kisser” overshadows the legal and political aspects of the interview.  Sex certainly sells. While I think there is a place for this kind of information, (the public does care about it, after all) it should not have taken center stage in the interview.

I like the characterization of infotainment as basically a self-fulfilling prophecy. If news organizations shift too much towards entertainment and trivia, they lessen the appetite of the audience for real news and drive away those he genuinely still want it.

The many alternatives the chapter gives in response to the call for more relevant and engaging news are all good ideas. I especially liked the Hour Glass structure, as it flies in the face of what they drilled into our heads in Reporting class about the inverted pyramid. I like breaking down preconceptions. Anyway, for any of these to work, however, news organizations must simultaneously clear out much of the infotainment and junk news.

 

ME Chapt. 9: New Media: Continuing Questions and New Roles

Billie Joe Armstrong, of Green Day fame, said he did not want a nation under the new media. (He also said some decidedly unpatriotic things about America in the same breath, but that’s beside the point.) Unfortunately for Mr. Armstrong, the new media—websites, podcasts, blogs and, likely in near the future, telepathic messages—is here to stay, and that’s what this week’s Media Ethics chapter discusses.

As seems to often be the case, the chapter begins by eulogizing the old guard of trained journalists for major publications, their places being taken by tweeters and bloggers. Fortunately, the chapter focuses on some positive aspects of citizen journalism, such as the live recording of the 2011 Arab Spring protests. Even at the height of foreign bureaus, now news organization would have had the manpower to cover the protests as extensively as a bunch of people with cell phone cameras did.

The authors claim that citizen journalism lacks information verification, and that this is where professional journalists come in. I would argue that citizen journalists certainly have the ability to verify information. They just don’t have a structured organization of editors to make sure that it happens.

The hypothetical about cutting a photo into pixels and rearranging them into a new photo is intriguing, but ultimately flawed. A pixel is literally just a tiny dot of a certain color. You could probably rearrange a big enough picture into practically anything. A photograph is the arrangement of pixels, not the sum of the pixels themselves. Claiming the end product as copyright infringement would make about as much sense as trying to claim infringement on some pop song because it’s in the same key as that song you wrote for your garage band in 9th grade.

It sort of blew my mind that the forerunner for Google News was created more than 30 years ago. I didn’t even think the Internet existed in the early 80s. I thought people just communicated via messages tied to luftballons back then, or something. I found it even harder to believe, however, that interviewing was once considered a controversial practice in journalism. Did writers just get their information by divine providence before that?

 I can see how the Internet would bring issues of anonymous sources to the forefront. Who knows whose behind that Reddit username? How can we know if @Lord_Voldemort7 on Twitter is really the Dark Lord? In the case of anonymous Internet sources, I think the same standards used in traditional reporting should apply: journalists should use whatever means necessary to verify a source’s identity and publish it, unless there is a compelling reason to do otherwise, such as to protect the source’s safety.

I don’t think the Internet’s origins as a government communications medium hamper its potential as a journalistic medium. Most web space today is on private servers and computers, and the connective infrastructure is largely owned and controlled by private utility companies. Of course, come to think of it, that could be even worse for journalism than if the government owned the Internet infrastructure. We are a democracy, after all, something that corporations cannot call themselves.

In the chapter’s conclusion, I think the authors do too much line-drawing between citizen journalists and “professional” journalists. It’s quite a broad assumption to say that bloggers aren’t interested in education and city councils. The line between the two supposed camps is already blurred, and that blurring is just going to continue as we move forward.

 
Case Study 9-A

1.                    The case concerns the reporting done on the 2012 Supreme Court case on the constitutionality of “ObamaCare.” The issue at hand is whether Fox and CNN should have focused on getting the news of the case out as quickly as possible without adequately verifying the facts.

2.                    By acting as they did, the news organizations may have been able to get the news out as quickly as possible, but risked sacrificing accuracy, as was the case. Alternatively, the organizations could have waited to confirm the initial rumors, potentially losing their ability to report the news before competitors, but while saving face if the initial reports were inaccurate and making sure the public was well informed.

3.                    The organizations should definitely not have acted as they did. This was an issue that had been anticipated for weeks in advance, and would not have any real effects until years later. There was no tangible reason to report it in the manner that they did. Doing so only hurt their audiences and their own credibility.


Case Study 9-B

1.     The major issue in this case is whether it is ethical to aggregate news stories by other news organizations and journalists if proper attribution is given.

2.     One option would be to not aggregate at all. This would take care of any ethical considerations, but jeopardize the existence of publications like the Hartford Courant. Another option would be to aggregate with proper attribution. This calls into question the ethicality of republishing the work of another, even if it is attributed. Is a byline the only line between plagiarism and fair use? Finally, one alternative that can be decisively crossed out is aggregating without proper attribution.

3.     It is ethically sound to aggregate news stories on the Internet, provided that thorough attribution is used and the original story is linked when possible. This can be beneficial to both the aggregator, allowing its continued existence, and the original authors, bringing increased readership.

 

Ethical Issue: Last week, the NPR ombudsman released this (http://www.npr.org/blogs/ombudsman/2014/03/19/291479274/ethics-morality-and-a-ticking-clock-for-how-to-report-on-the-r-skins) epic tome detailing its stance on using the name of the Washington Redskins in its programming, despite the racial controversy surrounding it. The piece followed an incident in which the host of Weekend Edition refused to say the name, causing varied reactions from listeners. Despite having “bleeped” the name out in the title, the author does not appear to come to a meaningful conclusion about NPR’s stance by the end of some 5,000 words or so.

 

Discussion Question: What is the best method for news organizations to make the telling of news more engaging without sacrificing relevance?

 

Vocabulary

Spin alley: the meeting area for press members to interview public policy experts after political events. Notably criticized by Jon Stewart on his infamous Crossfire appearance.

 

Fair use: Uses of authored material that do not constitute copyright infringement, such as for criticism or educational purposes.

 

Echo chamber: a situation in media where ideas are simply repeated and reinforced while drowning out opposing views. 

 
Advertisements

Take-home exam proposal

Advances in robotics and computer technology are likely to cause large increases in job automation during the next few decades. Creative jobs like journalism may seem immune, but in the last few years, that notion has also been challenged.

The Chicago-based company Narrative Science has created a computer algorithm that can write news stories. The algorithm is able to scan large sets of data, pick out the important facts, and create a cohesive written story based on them. The stories aren’t just lists of factoids, but cohesive, well-written stories that are often difficult to distinguish from human writing. While the algorithm focuses on data-based stories like sports and finance, advances in technology like voice-recognition software could someday allow computers to conduct interviews.

New developments in automated journalism raise issues found in any similar situation, whether we should allow unpaid automatons to put paid humans out of work being the main one. But automated journalism also raises it’s own questions. Can a computer really show creativity without human intervention? Can a robot be trusted to get the facts right? But the most important question concerns the nature of journalistic ethics itself: how can an algorithm-based computer program make the same ethical calls a human reporter would make?

For this issue, I have identified three major alternatives. The journalism industry can wholly reject automation, dodging the question of computer ethics and allowing humans to keep their jobs, but potentially making the industry lag behind technologically and economically. On the other extreme, journalism can wholeheartedly adopt automation, allowing computers to take human jobs and possibly causing an ethical crisis. Finally computerized journalism and human reporting can coexist and complement each other. This seems like the most likely option, but the question of the extent and scope of automation in this scenario create issues themselves, which I intend to explore.

           

            

Blog Essay Week 10

EJ, Ch. 7

This chapter focuses on the public forum element of journalism. However, before even mentioning this, it begins with an anecdote about this principle being abused in the modern media environment, with a freelance journalist being falsely accused by Chris Matthews and Rush Limbaugh of threatening a woman involved in the Clinton scandal of the late 90s. And this was before Twitter and the blogosphere. While the news media may be an appropriate place to call a person such as Shearer into question, the rush to get the story should not lead journalists to hasty conclusions or even outright libel.

This anecdote begins a decidedly cautious take on a journalistic principle throughout the chapter. The authors also note early such precautions as not focusing on the extremes of an argument simply to create the illusion of balance. This approach makes sense, since, as the authors state, the public forum principle is probably where the technology-vs-journalism debate is most divisive.

 One particularly frustrating issue with debates in modern media that the chapter points out is the “food fight” style of debate that occurs on cable news. I can’t count the number of times I’ve tuned in to CNN or MSNBC for a news update, only to get a bunch of talking heads taking over each other. I think the big irony of it is that, come election season, some of those same talking heads are moderating candidate debates.

The authors say that exchanges in the media should drive at resolutions, which is pretty much the heart of the entire issue: within the so-called “Argument Culture” of modern media, we see argument for the sake of ratings and filling-time, rather than for the sake of meaningful resolution. This essentially creates a façade of dialogue, behind which the public forum principle is barely at work, if at all.

The primary takeaway from this chapter seems to be that, despite new technology presenting all kinds of opportunities for expanding of the public forum role, it has so far done the opposite. Unfortunately, this chapter doesn’t offer much in the way of possible solutions.

 

ME, Ch. 8 

For me, this chapter focuses on the aspects of journalism that I am perhaps least familiar with: audiovisual. While I’ve worked with photography and videography in class, I don’t consider myself particularly adept at either, so I tend to avoid them when possible. However, with the changing media landscape, we can’t really avoid it, so this may be one of the more important chapters for “word people” like myself.

The chapter jumps right into citizen photojournalism, which is probably the most common form of citizen journalism. I remember the first video I saw of the Boston Marathon bombings came from a 7-second vine on Twitter. However, the average person on the street holding an iPhone likely isn’t thinking about ethics when they’re faced with an event like that.

Garry Bryant’s checklist for tragedy photography seems like a very good guideline to keep in mind when having to make quick decisions as a photographer. The disclaimer, too, is important. A photographer may, in the process of capturing a tragic event, take some photos that would violate ethical guidelines, but that doesn’t mean they will go to print. To capture the event, the photographer often just has to keep hammering the shutter.

In the case of staging photographs or reenacting events, I think these things should definitely be used sparingly and be labeled as such. If a photograph or video is the equivalent to a written article, than a staged photograph is equivalent to a fabricated quote or anecdote.

Of course, the chapter focuses on the most obvious ethical considerations specific to visual journalism: photo manipulation and editing. When I took a photojournalism class last semester, I was a bit surprised to discover that some editing was allowed, and even encouraged. The point, however, was not to necessarily make the photo look better, but to compensate for mechanical limitations or improper settings on the camera, thus bringing the final product as close as possible to the naked-eye reality of the photographed subject.

The eyewash issue is probably the fuzziest, ethically speaking. It seems wrong to pass off a photo of a child injured from an accident as an example of child abuse, but simply placing unrelated photos that wouldn’t be associated directly with a story by most rational people isn’t as clear-cut. If anything, it seems more like a journalistic quality issue than one of ethics.

 

 Case Study 8-A

  1. The primary ethical issue here seems to be whether a news organization should purchase and publish photos or video of Scott’s suicidal jump from the Vincent Thomas Bridge. Since non-journalists took the photos, this isn’t really a question of whether the photos should have ethically been taken or not.
  2. One option would be to publish the visuals without question. This would certainly help to tell the story of a prominent individual’s death, but it would also expose the audience to graphics that are unnecessarily graphic (I doubt this would pass the “Post Toasties Test”) and disregard the desires of Scott’s family. Consulting the family first might be a good option, but it still leaves the issue of the graphic images. Alternatively, a news organization could opt not to use the images. This would be most ethically sound, but it prevents the publication from presenting a unique visual angle to a major story.
  3. A news organization should not publish these photos. Not only does it make sense ethically, it also falls in line with journalistic standards. Suicides in general are often not covered by most news sources. While this does fall into the category of a notable death, it still doesn’t justify publishing photos of the death itself.


Case Study 8-B

  1. The major question here is whether Herbert should have taken the steps he did to help the women or put journalism first.
  2. Herbert could have taken photos without helping the women, maintaining the role of an objective observer. He could have taken photos first, then helped, likely changing the outcome for the worse. In doing what he did, Herbert saved the women, but did not get photos of the car fire and put himself in the story. If he had simply helped without taking any photos, the story, which went nationwide, would simply not have been published.
  3. Herbert took the best course of action here. While the role of objectivity is important, it should not trump one’s role as a human being. He knew there was something he could do to help the women, so he should have taken those steps, and did. While he may have thereby documented a story he was a key part of, he focused on the roles of others in extinguishing the fire and extracting the women.

Case Study 8-C

  1. Hey, it’s the Alligator! The issue here is whether the good folks at America’s finest college publication should have run the photos of the detectives with the miscarried baby.
  2. The editors could have opted not to run this photo. This would have prevented them from using the photo in a public service role, such as showing the potential realities on a college campus. However, it would also prevent a rather disturbing photo from running. Alternatively, by publishing it, the Alligator was able to covey the desired messages, albeit at the expense of readers’ tastes and, potentially, the mother’s sensitivity.
  3. The editors should not have allowed this photo to run. While it is certainly a good photo, and it does have legitimate reasons for being published, it certainly doesn’t pass the breakfast test, and it doesn’t take into account a woman who is likely emotionally compromised from miscarrying, only to possibly see the body of her baby in a newspaper.

 

Case Study 8-E

  1. The issue here is whether the Register-Guard the photo of officers trying to resuscitate 2-year-old Shelby McGuire.
  2. The Register-Guard could have declined to publish the photo. This would have been a clear-cut response to the paper’s policy of not publishing photos of dead children, and it would have avoided the huge, emotional public response to the photo. However, it would have robbed the story of a spectacular photo that encapsulates the situation and shows the hard work of the officers. By publishing the photo, the paper was able to show a great photo, but at the expense of potentially violating it’s own ethics code and upsetting a large part of its readership, as well as those involved in the story.
  3. This one isn’t as clear-cut as the other “to publish, or not to publish” issues. However, in the end, the best course of action would again be to not publish the photo. As great as the photo is, running it is not worth alienating readers and harming the paper’s credibility, or causing emotional distress to the surviving members of the family.


Case Study 8-G

  1. The issue in this case is which major publication made the best decision in publishing the Nielson photo, or whether not publishing the photo at all would have been the best option.
  2. This case study neatly lays out the major alternatives. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch published the photo on page A10. This prevents a potentially disturbing photo from going right on the front page, but still keeps a journalistically good photo in with the rest of the main Katrina coverage. The LA Times published the photo in the center of A1. This elevates one of the photos that best captures the situation in Katrina to a visible position, but also presents a disturbing image on the front page. The Chicago Tribune ran the photo two days later in a special section of the paper. This probably has the least effect of disturbing readers, but it delays a highly newsworthy photo and relegates it to a less-traveled section of the paper. Another alternative would be to not publish the photo at all, eliminating the ethical issues but preventing a newsworthy photo from being published.
  3. The Dispatch made the best decision in this case. By publishing the photo in the A Section, but not plastering it on the front page, the Dispatch kept a powerful photograph in it’s ongoing coverage of the situation in Katrina while working to prevent reader’s sensibilities from being offended. In any case, this photograph should definitely have been published in some way. Although it shows death, it is not in an overtly graphic way, it encapsulates the reality of post-Katrina New Orleans.

 

People-Powered Front Page

            My group was assigned the Washington Post. The people-powered front page replaced economic and foreign policy issues with human interest ones, such as lion cubs being born taking the place of coverage on the Ukraine crisis. I do not think that a front page based on readership or sharing of stories online should be instated. Rather, editors should take reader interests into account when laying out a front page, but also maintain focus on other factors, such as need-to-know information and balance of topics.

 

Question: Should photos of dead bodies or dying people be excluded from publication? If not, how is that ethically justified?

 

Ethical Issue of the Week

 On this snapshot of CNN.com from yesterday http://web.archive.org/web/20140317111052/http://www.cnn.com/, we see two of the biggest stories of the last few weeks featured: the crisis in Crimea and the search for Flight 370. The story receiving top billing, however, is the latter. Despite the subhead advertising “Big developments, major questions,” nothing had really changed much in the past 24 hours. The story from the previous day was largely the same: http://web.archive.org/web/20140316003613/http://www.cnn.com/. In Crimea, however, the official vote tally had come in just recently indicating that Crimea was on the fast track to secede from Ukraine and get annexed by Russia, a move that was denounced as breaking international law by many world leaders. So you have a story that affects exponentially more people, is certainly timely, and is even a bit physically closer to CNN.com’s readership, trumped by an overblown rehash of a story that, to it’s credit, sounds like the plot of an action movie. I thought this tied in well with the people-powered front page experiment, as it showed what appears to be something similar in action on an actual news site.

 

Vocab

Post Toasties test or Wheaties test: A test for photos or video accompanying morning news stories that asks, “should this be shown at breakfast?” Essentially, is an image so graphic or disturbing that it might make someone nauseated?

 The public sphere: The social area in which the public at large can engage in discussion. The press functions as a key forum of the public sphere.

 Argument Culture: a media trend characterized by artificial debates intended to provoke and titillate, functioning primarily as a method of filling time and maximizing profits.

 

-Jovahn Huertas, jhuertas@ufl.edu