EJ Ch. 9
This chapter is essentially a follow-up to the previous one about making news coverage engaging and relevant. While that chapter discussed how to cover stories, this one focuses on what journalists should cover in the first place. The principle at hand is that journalists should keep the news they cover in proportion and make it comprehensive.
The authors characterize journalism as “our modern cartography. It creates a map for citizens to navigate society.” Extending the analogy, they discuss how, in the past, the most popular maps filled in the unknowns with sketches of sea serpents and gold mines. This is a good metaphor for how sensationalism often helps sell newspapers and garner page views, even if it is just based on unfounded speculation or outright fabrication.
The authors proceed to set up a golden mean of sorts for the content of news stories. A front page filled with entertaining stories with new real news value is just as unbalanced as one filled with hard data and Big Stories without any attention to human interest. This relates to the people-powered front-page experiment from a few weeks ago. The front pages generated by page views skewed too far in favor of the former, though the exercise may well have shown that editors of major newspapers today make a few too many choices for the latter.
I agree with the idea that targeted demographics in journalism aren’t a great idea, and especially that journalism should include news of all communities. This reminds of the local situation of the Gainesville Guardian. The Guardian is a separate newspaper published by the Sun that is meant to serve the predominantly African-American East Gainesville area. My issue with this has been that it seems a lot like segregation. Why aren’t the Guardian’s stories worthy of the Sun proper? And if they are, what is the necessity of a separate publication?
The dichotomy between broadcast news becoming more entertainment-based and fictional television shows becoming more grounded in reality, as Robert Krulwich observed, was very interesting. I’ll take a moment here to shout-out my favorite podcast, Radiolab, in which Mr. Krulwich and Jad Abumrad spend an hour or two every month making similar mind-bending observations, usually involving science or philosophy (www.radiolab.org) Also, for an interesting ethical issue involving the show, check out the Yellow Rain incident (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yellow_rain#2012_Controversy).
The authors propose that the solution to resisting sensationalism is keeping journalists separate from the realities of the media marketplace. They’ve brought it up before, and it’s great in theory, but it’s quite unrealistic in practice. In a lot of journalism classes and writings on the state of the modern journalistic landscape, I’ve often heard that a journalist should treat him or herself as a one-person business. With fewer publications hiring full-time staff, journalists must resort more and more to freelance work, especially in my area of interest: science writing. With that in mind, separating reporter from marketplace seems virtually impossible.
For the authors, the mapmaking metaphor of journalism ends with the subjectivity of the question “what is news?” that is not found in cartography. This is reasonable, since, as they state, a big story for some is unimportant to others. There is a time and place for speculation and entertainment in journalism, but they should not overly encroach on the news center.
Case Study 10-B
- The major ethical issue here is whether NBC should have omitted the seemingly incriminating segment of Bob Costa’s interview of Jerry Sandusky.
- NBC could have aired the segment. On the surface, this may have made many viewers uncomfortable, as Sandusky is basically admitting his criminal acts, and even laughs at one point during the exchange. Furthermore, it could be seen as a “trial by media” incident, in which the media, and by extension, the public, are condemning Sandusky based on his comments before he can get a fair trial by law. Alternatively, by choosing not to air the clip, NBC avoided further disconcerting comments on primetime TV, at the expense of valuable information that would directly contradict the comments that were broadcast.
- NBC should have aired the edited section of the interview. While it may have made viewers uncomfortable, it was necessary for a complete picture of Sandusky in the interview. If NBC did not want to air these comments for fear of trial by media, it should not have aired the prior comments in which Sandusky professed his innocence either, as these could be just as detrimental to a lawful trial
Case Study 10-G
- The ethical dilemma here is a bit difficult to peg. Obviously, Lehrer’s fabrication of quotes is unethical and against journalistic standards. A more difficult issue here is whether his self-duplication should be considered plagiarism. Therefore, the ethical issue I will focus on is whether The New Yorker should have punished Lehrer for his self-duplication.
- By allowing Lehrer to remain on staff, The New Yorker implied that self-duplication is not nearly as egregious as plagiarism. While it does not have the same effect as stealing another’s work for profit, it is still a form of deception and demonstrates a lack of original reporting. If The New Yorker had fired him, it would have made a statement that self-duplication is at least as bad as plagiarism. This may be two harsh a penalty for a victimless transgression. However, there may be other consequences, such as demotion or suspension that could also be used as punishment.
- The New Yorker should not have let Lehrer off so easily for copying his own writing. While it is not as bas as true plagiarism, is still dishonest to editors and co-workers if not to the readers. While I don’t think firing him would have been the best course of action, some repercussions should have occurred. Furthermore, investigating his past work more may have uncovered his more serious ethical violations sooner.
Case Study Sports vs. Journalism:
- In 2013, ESPN teamed up with PBS’s “Frontline” to present a documentary on brain injuries in the NFL. Before it aired, however, ESPN pulled it’s branding from the documentary amid accusations that the NFL was pressuring the media company. The NFL is ESPN’s biggest television partner, allowing them to broadcast games and use NFL branding. Despite this, most of the film is based on the work of two ESPN investigative reporters. The ethical dilemma here is whether ESPN should have pulled support for the piece under pressure from the NFL.
- By taking this action, ESPN gave the image of favoring profits and comfortable business partnerships over journalistic integrity. However, this calls into question whether ESPN is primarily a news organization or a sports entertainment broadcaster. Based on the amount of sporting events broadcast by the network, I would lean towards the latter. People across the US rely on ESPN channels to broadcast sporting events that they wouldn’t be able to access otherwise. Even SportsCenter largely consists of commentary. Another alternative would have been for ESPN to maintain its support of the project. This likely would have tarnished relations with the NFL, though I wouldn’t go as far as to think the NFL would terminate its partnership with ESPN. However, the move would lend ESPN credibility as a journalistic network. Even if it is focused on entertainment, it has journalistic elements, which means it also has some commitment to the truth, even if it puts the NFL in a bad light.
- If the decision where mine, I would have maintained ESPN’s support of the documentary. Knowing the relationship between ESPN and the NFL, I doubt it would have seriously affected their mutually beneficial business partnership. The NFL would lose a major source of viewers, and therefore, advertising revenue, by cutting ESPN out of the loop. From a purely ethical perspective, the news of brain damage in professional football is important enough to trump the NFL’s ire. If ESPN has any journalistic integrity, it should favor the wellbeing of players over the minor repercussions that the network might face.
DQ: Is creating a separate, targeted publication the best way for a metro newspaper to address an underreported community? If not, what might be a better alternative?
I wanted to complain about CNN refusing to take Flight 370 off the top of their home page for three weeks, but then I realized I already did that. Poynter tends to be good for an ethical issue, so here’s one from Monday: http://www.poynter.org/latest-news/top-stories/244808/advance-defends-bonuses-for-reporters-who-post-frequently-and-join-comment-chains/ The Oregonian has a bonus system that rewards reporters for posting a lot and commenting on stories. This is a good example of how not to separate reporters from the media marketplace, and it’s basically asking for quality over quantity. However, if a news organization wants lots of traffic-getting posts and increased social interaction, there’s probably no more of an efficient way to get it than by paying the writers.
-Jovahn Huertas, firstname.lastname@example.org