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

 

            

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3 thoughts on “Blog Essay Week 10

  1. In response to your DQ, there are a handful of situations when running a picture of a dead body is acceptable. I loved the case study of Hurricane Katrina in our book because I felt that — despite the ethical dilemmas facing each team of editors — it was appropriate to run the photo of the dead woman floating in the water. Unless you were in New Orleans, you have no idea what the destruction felt like. You could watch the coverage and digest the fear, but you weren’t involved. It’s sad, and, probably on the local level, insulting, but I sincerely believe that running dead-body pictures in certain national stories opens the nation’s eyes to what’s actually going on.

    Your ethical concern — It’s the reality of big outlets like CNN. Their readership consists of people sitting at the office refreshing their monitor every couple of minutes. If the news doesn’t come, they jet off to another site, and CNN loses hits and profits. So, the headlines loom large and lazy. The events are predictable, and, as you pointed out, the same. Nobody can actually pick up on the context, because it’s often glossed over, and consequently we don’t understand the minute happenings or global imperatives.

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