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

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.

Blog Essay Week 5

EJ Chapt. 3

This chapter discusses who journalists work for, which ties in quite nicely to our Media Ethics reading on loyalty. In this text, the authors make another definitive statement on loyalty: journalism’s first loyalty is to citizens. So, we now have our first loyalty to go along with our first obligation (the truth). My question is: which of these elements belongs at the top? Would there be any case in which a journalist would have to choose between the truth and the citizens?

The chapter gives considerable time to fleshing out the evolution of journalism from partisan press to public service and editorial independence to detached isolationism to a more community-minded media. As can be seen, these developments coincide with sociocultural changes throughout the years. This leads me to wonder if it’s really such a good idea to make such hard statements of principle like the one above, even if the opposite was the case a century or so ago.

Ever the sucker for a good analogy, I like Luce’s comparison of the separation the news and business sides of a media company to the separation of church and state. Of course, while the metaphor is good, the idea itself is shown to be fairly baseless today. Of course journalists have some stake in profitability: most of us aren’t doing this for free (or, at least, we don’t want to be for much longer). Acknowledging this would allow us to better prevent issues like the ones discussed in the chapter from occurring.

In the end, while I agree that journalism’s loyalty to the public should be paramount, after reading the Media Ethics chapter, I feel like this one fails to address the other loyalties that journalists must balance. I get that this is a book of basic journalistic principles, but sometimes it feels like the authors are putting these principles on a pedestal without acknowledging the grey areas that might surround them.

ME Chapt. 4

This chapter of Media Ethics states that most ethical decisions come down to the question of loyalty. In my experience, that sounds about right. Most ethical dilemmas I have seen or faced in journalism have involved balancing loyalties between sources and editors, among different publications, or even between oneself and one’s readers. Given the importance of loyalty to ethics, one would think the authors would have mentioned it earlier in the book, but as usual, I digress.

I like Royce’s “Hamlet option” statement about how choosing not to decide is not an option in dilemmas of loyalty. In the example of the PR professional having to choose between loyalty to an employer and loyalty to the truth, choosing neither would be self-serving. He or she is not only betraying both the employer and the cause of truth, but casting loyalty to his or her own self by making the “easy” choice of not choosing. As for Royce’s theory of loyalty as a whole, I agree with the criticism that he provides no means of balancing conflicting loyalties. His ideas make plenty of sense, but they don’t have much use if there is no clear way to apply them to reality.

With Fletcher’s identification of the two poles of loyalty—not betraying someone and completely throwing in with them—I see a tie-in, at least in basic concept, to the Golden Mean theory of earlier chapters in that, for any given question of loyalty, the best answer lies somewhere between the two extremes.

While the chapter discusses the idea of competing loyalties at length, it makes the relatively definitive statement that “virtually no situation in media ethics calls for inhumane treatment or withholding the truth.” This basically says that, if journalistic loyalties lie on a hierarchy, truth and humanity are at the top. Additionally, I would say journalists should rarely find themselves reneging on loyalty to objectivity.

The Potter Box is structurally quite similar to Bok’s model in that one begins by stepping back and examining a situation, assesses alternatives, and finally, makes a decision. The difference lies in the fact that, while Bok’s model seems to fall in line with a specific philosophy (the Categorical Imperative), The Potter Box is a more generalized decision-making system that weighs multiple philosophical views. It is comforting to me that, as the book states, the Potter Box allows you to sustain a variety of loyalties. While holding seemingly conflicting loyalties may create some cognitive difficulties, that situation still seems far better than having to completely abandon certain loyalties for the sake of others.

 

Case Studies:

4-A

I. The dilemma in this situation is whether Barrett Tryon should have removed his link and pull quote on Facebook. In accordance with the Potter Box, the facts of the case are these: Freedom Communications has a byline against posting negative statements about the company, which the post was construed as; the post did not show Tryon’s views, but merely quoted the news article; Tryon’s refusal to remove it resulted in admonishment by the company and administrative leave (with eventual reinstatement, though he resigned anyway); Tryon’s compliance would have necessitated him to censor himself.

W. The values in this case, from Tryon’s perspective, are his job, his freedom of speech, the truth, and his credibility. Utilitarianism would suggest that Tryon delete the post, as it allows him to keep his job and keeps the company happy. From the Golden Mean perspective, the mere post of a news story seems to be a reasonable compromise between outright criticism of the company and complete silence. The duties of veracity and justice in keeping the post might outweigh duty to beneficence and fidelity in deleting it. As for the third step of Bok’s model: keeping the might cause harm to the company and its members.

C. Tryon was right to keep the post and protest the company’s actions. His loyalty to truth and his value of free speech outweigh his obligation to the company. Even so, the company’s rule was, in itself, unethical, and his post did not appear constitute a violation of it anyway.

4-C

I. In a breaking news situation, should a reporter break news instantly via Twitter, or publish it later through his or her news organization? The facts are as such: reporters have an opportunity to personally tweet breaking news instantly; doing so would rob their publication of breaking the news, thus robbing the publication of potential business; a reporter could get fired for doing this; the brevity of tweets limits the amount of depth and context one can go into.

W. The values in this case are the journalist’s job, company loyalty, getting the story first, and publishing a complete story. Utilitarianism appears to favor waiting, as it benefits the publication without substantial loss to the reporter. Between the extremes instant tweeting and publishing in the future, the Golden Mean might suggest a middle ground of discussing the news with editors before tweeting about it. From a Kantian perspective, tweeting might harm the publication, but not doing so might harm a reporter’s reputation.

C. Given the situation, I would attempt to publish a comprehensive story of the breaking news via the publication I work for, rather than instantly tweet it, unless given clearance by the publication to do so. In doing this, I maintain loyalty to the publication and the truth without really doing damage to myself. I may not get the story first, but that is of relatively low personal value compared to the others.

4-D

I. The main dilemma in this case appears to be whether Jessica Luce should have dated someone she knew could become a source or could present a conflict of interest. The facts: Luce and Schenck appeared to be dating purely out of mutual attraction, rather than ulterior motive; Luce neglected to tell her editors about the relationship until it became an issue; Luce lives in a small community where everyone is a potential source; even though no conflict of interest appears to have come about, one very well could have, and readers could perceive it that way.

W. The values in play here are Luce’s relationship, her credibility, and her obligation to her publication. From a pure utilitarian perspective, Luce should not have engaged in the relationship as it benefits the most people, even if it’s at the expense of her own happiness. Kant would say otherwise: Luce’s own feelings should play into the equation as well. A pluralist approach might weigh the duty of self-improvement against that of justice.

C. Luce was right to maintain her relationship. As the facts show, it would be nearly impossible to have any real human relationship in such a small community if one neglected to have relationships with potential source. Furthermore, though it appeared to be a potential conflict of interest, none really existed. In this case, Luce’s loyalty to her own personal desires and sanity should triumph. It would, however, have behooved her to disclose her relationship to her editors earlier.

Discussion QuestionCould a situation arise where loyalty to citizens and obligation to truth come into conflict? If so, how should it be addressed?

 

Ethical Issue of the Week:

On Sunday, the New York Times took a look at one of Japan’s largest new broadcasters. (http://www.nytimes.com/2014/02/03/world/asia/news-giant-in-japan-seen-as-being-compromised.html) The article characterizes the Japan Broadcasting Corporation (NHK) as the BBC of Japan. In spite of the network’s prestige, NHK has been racked by controversy recently, most notably regarding accusations that the network is essentially a government puppet. This seems to be an excellent example of a news organization facing competing loyalties. It would appear that NHK’s loyalty to the government is compromising its loyalties to the public and the organizations own vow to report the news truthfully an objectively. As a BBC-like public broadcaster, NHK may owe its existence to the Japanese government, but it will lose all credibility (and likely, relevance) if it becomes the PR outlet for the government.

 

Vocabulary: 

Social Contract: The idea, asserted by philosopher Thomas Hobbes, that loyalty is a social act that forms the basis of political society.

Loyalty: Journalists have competing obligations to various groups, including readers, the general public, sources, and the companies they work for. Theologian Josiah Royce defined loyalty as devotion to a cause, rather than to oneself or any one party.

-Jovahn Huertas, jhuertas@ufl.edu

Blog Essay Week 4

Elements of Journalism: Chapter 2

The second chapter of Elements of Journalism focuses on the Prime Directive of journalism: to tell the truth. It seems like such a straightforward principle if you don’t give it much thought, and it makes you feel all warm and fuzzy inside to think that, as a journalist, you’re main obligation is to the noble cause of Truth. Of course, this chapter tears through the façade of simplicity, discussing how truth doesn’t mean the same thing to everyone and in every situation.

The chapter starts with a summary of the Pentagon Papers imbroglio, which involved issues very similar to what we looked at in last weeks case studies: namely, that accurately reporting what is said may not necessarily be the same as, or may even be directly contrary to, reporting the truth.

On the subject of the truth behind the stated ‘facts’, here’s a thought: when Pew published the survey of journalists in which 100 percent of respondents said “getting the facts right” is a paramount value, how many of those responded truthfully? Sure, you would think most would respond that way, but all of them? How many Stephen Glasses or Jayson Blairs are behind that statistic? The truth may lie well below 100 percent, but until we figure out mind reading, it would be impossible to know for sure.

The idea of such seemingly opposing groups as oppressive dictators and postmodernists come to similar conclusions on literal definitions of truthfulness is actually somewhat disturbing to me. Postmodernism always seemed like a liberating worldview to me, but with that in mind, it seems like you could use it to justify oppression without much intellectual stretching.

I think Richard Harwood’s football analogy is an extremely effective way to show the different levels of truth. As the venerable philosopher Shawn Carter once said, “Numbers don’t lie, check the scoreboard.” It’s the story behind those numbers that is up for debate.

The chapter continually touching on the conflicts between truth and other values, like fairness, balance and simple accuracy, before making a more or less definitive statement: truth should always win out. With all the paradigm-challenging and gray areas in this class, I think that, at least, is something I can stand by. Truth may be a difficult goal to define, but it should still be something to strive towards. Just as the chapter describes the process of reporting a topic as a process of getting closer to the truth of the matter, the experience of reporting gets us as journalists closer to understanding truth itself.

Media Ethics: Chapter 3 (pp. 61-62)

This section of the third chapter of “Media Ethics” focuses on the conflicts and commonalities between journalism and public relations. The basic idea is that the professions have complementary goals, but differ in their definitions of news. The reading states that, while PR flacks see no news (or rather, things going as planned) as good news, journalist’s focus on when things go wrong. While this is a fairly accurate way to look at the dynamic between the two, it is no rule by any means. With the “no such thing as bad publicity” ethos, a PIO could turn poor sales into an underdog story. Conversely, Apple making huge quarterly gains makes headlines as much as when the company posts bad sales for releasing a new smartphone that made no real improvements on the previous one.

I feel like this section is making the implicit argument that public relations people, by the nature of the job, make more ethical concessions than journalists by trying to be persuasive under the guise of being informative, and by preventing potentially harmful information from leaking. That may be true, but the authors don’t seem to give PR a fair shake. They raise all these questions, followed by asking “Doesn’t persuasion need the contrast of news to succeed?”, and then promptly switch subjects. I get that the book is geared toward journalists, but it seems disingenuous for an ethics text to describe a conflict with multiple angles and takes one side without really giving too much thought to the other.

I hate synergy. They made me read “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People” in high school, and it was bogus. This may color my view on the issue, but I think media synergy is a huge issue when you have a conglomerate like Disney that owns a media company like ABC. What happens when Disney Channel is promoting it’s latest teen idol and ABC News runs a story on her latest rehab stint? I’d love to be at that company picnic.

Rashomon:

This is definitely an appropriate film for a week dealing with the tricky nature of truth. In the film, four witnesses to a crime give conflicting accounts of a rape and murder. Each person’s version of events reflects his or her own interests, tying into the idea that each person constructs a separate version of reality in his or her mind. While no single story can be said to be the true account, some semblance of the truth emerges from the commonalities among the stories. This ties into the idea of the synoptic, but it also seems to bear resemblance to the marketplace of ideas philosophy: that the truth can arise from several competing ideas.

Ethical Issue of the Week

The web was full of complaints this week that U.S. news sources were over-reporting a certain young male pop sensation’s legal issues to the detriment of stories on issues with decidedly more impact—namely, the Ukrainian protests. Then you have this video (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GH68bSJXGE8) in which MSNBC host Andrea Mitchell interrupts a live discussion with a Congresswoman on the NSA to break news about, you guessed it, Justin Bieber. This obviously ties into the aforementioned issue, which is more of a question of good reporting standards. But the ethical issue here is that this Congresswoman is taking time out of her day to discuss an issue that could affect millions of people, and MSNBC interrupts her mid-sentence to cut to celebrity fluff.  It does a disservice to both the guest and the viewers, and it hurts MSNBC’s credibility as a news source.

DQ

Should PR professionals be held to the same ethical standards when it comes to the truth?

Vocabulary

Bread and circuses: the concept of giving up one’s personal sovereignty in exchange for pleasure self-indulgence. For a media example, see the above “Ethical Issue of the Week.”

Edward Bernays: One of the earliest pioneers of public relations, Bernays used psychology to develop propaganda and PR, such as the “Torches of Freedom” campaign depicting smoking as symbols of women’s liberation.

Truth: The primary obligation of journalism, truth cannot be defined in a single sentence. The approximations of “reality” and “fact” do not do it justice. See above for my musings on truth.

Objectivity: In journalism, the principle of maintaining a neutral stance and not letting personal opinions or ideology affect the reporting of news.

“The world outside and the pictures in our heads”: The dichotomy between objective reality and the how each person’s perceives it. Journalist Walter Lippmann argued people know the world indirectly through these pictures, and that the media largely obscures the pictures.

Construction of Reality: The idea that each person interprets and responds to reality in a different way, creating a different version of reality in each person’s mind.

Synoptic: something providing a general view or synopsis.

Synoptic Gospels: the first three Gospels of the Bible, so called because they include similar stories and are written in a similar way, in contrast to the fourth Gospel, John.

Rashomon Effect:  interpretations of an event by different witnesses that contradict each other. The term comes from the Japanese move Rashomon, in which four witnesses have each have different account of a crime.

Blog Essay Week 3

Elements of Journalism: Chapter 1

First off, I think the anecdote about the Polish people rejecting their government’s version of truth ties in nicely with this weeks Media Ethics chapter on different views on truth—namely, the concept of a “marketplace of ideas” with competing versions of the truth. I’m not sure I agree with the writers plainly stating “the primary purpose of journalism is to provide citizens with the information they need to be free and self-governing.” Though I do largely agree with the sentiment, I think it’s a bit presumptuous to assume that the press can know what the citizens “need.” For all the talk about citizen journalism in the book’s introduction, this chapter still seemed to largely ignore it while discussing the challenges modern journalism faces in a landscape of conglomerate ownership and globalization.

Media Ethics: Chapter 2

In much the same way Chapter 1 outlined the historical development of ethics in a concise and easily digestible way, this chapter did the same with changing ideas of truth. It is a bit refreshing to see journalistic objectivity discussed in realistic terms, rather than put on some unreachable pedestal as some texts do. At the same time, the writers don’t take the cynic’s approach of completely writing off objectivity as unattainable.

In the section on the ethics of lying, the survey of journalists’ views on lying fell mostly in line with my expectations, though it was disheartening to hear that journalists in competitive markets were more accepting of deception, as these are often the places where news reaches the most people. Of the ethical news values listed at the chapter’s end, I feel I struggle most with diversity. Looking back on my stories, I find that I too often speak with sources with similar backgrounds to my own. I do this largely subconsciously and out of convenience, but I want to become more representative when looking for sources in the community.

Case Studies:

2-A

Micro issues:

  1. Journalists should give in to a politician on quote checking and the like only if there is no other way to accurately obtain his or her views.
  2. Information obtained after quote alteration by sources is about as reliable as information from an e-mail interview: that is to say, sources are much more likely to self-censor and even completely what they said what they say when given this opportunity.
  3. The practice would probably be more acceptable in science journalism because it deals less with views, which can be controversial, and more with fact. As such, a source would likely only wish to make changes for clarification or factual correction.

Midrange issues:

  1. If quote approval must exist, then video-focused journalists should have an equivalent practice at their disposal. However, quotes within video cannot be ethically edited to change the meaning. If a source wanted something changed, either whole quotes would have to be removed, or interviews would have to be reshot.
  2. I believe reporters should disclose quote approval to readers, but I also think that this might cause problems with sources, making them less likely to speak with you. In that case, it may be an issue of not disclosing the information versus not having any information to disclose in the first place.
  3. When quotes are subject to approval, they can either become a more accurate version of the truth, allowing a source to clarify what was ambiguous, or a warped version of the truth, allowing sources to censor a view that they hold but do not wish to make known.

Macro issues:

  1. Quote approval does open a debate as to whether reporters are serving the public or politicians. I would say that, while it can be a breach of public trust, it is usually more of a “necessary evil” when reporting on the views of politicians, in that one may not be able to get these views otherwise.
  2. When a candidate speaks “off the cuff” with a citizen, and that citizen quotes and publishes the candidate, it can break down the usual politician-journalist barrier. However, since citizen journalists are often not held to the same standards as “professional” journalists, they may be more likely breach ethics by misrepresenting themselves to politicians.

2-D

Micro issues:

  1. Laurens could have, and arguably should have, researched the factuality of the mayor’s accusations. However, submitting the story as is was not necessarily the wrong choice, but merely not the best choice.
  2. The mayor is correct in that the reporting was balanced, but giving additional information would not necessarily be judgmental of any side. If his comments were inaccurate, and Laurens placed the factual information after the mayor’s statements in the story, it would be up to the reader to judge him.
  3. The councilman is justified in his complaints about Laurens’ story, but calling her irresponsible is an overstep. Though she didn’t provide the contrary information, she reported the facts of the exchange accurately.

Midrange issues:

  1. A journalist should fact-check statements from both sides of a public controversy, rather than simply reporting what is said. A story can still be fair and accurate, and can even be made more so, if facts are provided that directly contradict what someone in the story said.
  2. Objective reporting in the sense of reporting what is said without any additions can make a story more of a transcription of events than actual journalism, which runs contrary to standards and can give the sense of credibility to statements that are provably false.
  3. If reporters are as the readers’ eyes and ears, background research is a part of what a reporter hears and sees in regards to what they are covering.

Macro issues:

  1. In the context of this issue, fact would be what both parties said, while truth would be that plus any relevant facts that might support or contradict what is said. In that sense, truth is the sum of all relevant facts, and what journalists should strive for in a story.
  2. A journalist should let readers know if a fact in a story is untrue. Reporting should only be objective in that the writer should not inject his or her views into the story or apply fact-checking unequally to different sides of an argument. Therefore, a reporter can be objective even when providing facts that disprove one side of an argument.
  3. In an era of media outlet surplus, many outlets have an ideological slant. Ethical journalists have a responsibility to combat this by reporting the truth in spite of ideological leanings.

2-F

Micro issues:

  1. Phone hacking is unethical because it involves obtaining private quotes and information from a person without their consent, which is dishonest.
  2. Davies may have been pursuing the story out of self-interest or to help his own publication, but it is more likely that he was attempting to uncover a scandal in the way a reporter would with any other organization. The fact that his publication competed with the organization he was investigating is irrelevant.
  3.  The way of journalist collects information is a component of a story’s truthfulness because dishonestly obtaining information still breaches ethics and truthfulness, even if the information is factually correct.
  4. Phone hacking is similar to undercover reporting in that it involves the use of dishonesty to get information, even if it is for a perceived greater good. The difference lies in that, while undercover reporting involves directly lying to sources, phone hacking involves not making a source aware of your presence as a listener.

Midrange issues:

  1. Competition can create ethical issues in media organizations playing “watchdog” to each other in that an organization might look try to find more “dirt” on a competitor than other organizations. This can also apply to other institutions that do not compete with the media organization, but affect its existence in some way.
  2. The 24/7 news cycle and wild nature of the Internet do encourage working at the edge of acceptability. Ethical media companies and professional organizations should attempt to mitigate this by creating rules against acquiring information dishonestly except in extreme situations.
  3. This case shows an organization that fosters a culture of getting stories at all cost, and is not indicative of journalism as a whole.

Macro issues:

  1. Democratic governments should not police ethical behavior of corporate media owners when that policing oversteps the boundaries of law. It is not the government’s job to regulate media ethics.
  2. The ethical difference lies in the fact that News of the World is profit-driven and it’s newsroom culture is focused on getting the story at all cost, while the Guardian is essentially not-for-profit and promotes an ethical culture with annual audits.
  3. Ethically speaking, mass media should stay as divorced as possible from political and economic institutions so as to report on them objectively when the need arises.

Ethical Issue of the Week:

On this week’s episode of  “When Trend Stories Attack,” we see a bunch of major medial outlets putting out stories on the meteoric rise of Hitler’s memoir, Mein Kampf, to digital bestseller status. Before you go trying to out that guy on the bus with the Kindle as a Nazi, you should know that the whole thing is almost completely false. As this blog points out (http://davidgaughran.wordpress.com/2014/01/16/fake-controversy-alert-hitlers-mein-kampf-was-not-a-digital-bestseller/), the book wasn’t selling all that well in digital format—that is, until the “trend” started making the rounds.  It’s a classic case of poor research, bandwagon-jumping and a media-made trend.

DQ: In “man on the street” reporting, should a reporter purposely search out diverse sources or use a random selection method? Which best represents the community?

Vocabulary

Plato’s Cave: Published in his Republic, Plato’s allegory of the cave is a metaphor for truth as a world of pure form to which humans have only indirect access. In the allegory, truth is likened to an object casting a shadow on the wall of a cave. While those looking at the shadows might think them to be truth, they are only indirect representations.

Pragmatism: The idea that knowledge and reality are not fixed, but rather the result of an evolving stream of consciousness and learning. It also defines reality as that which is probable, not something intrinsic or determined by only one observation method. It was born among such 20th century American intellectuals as John Dewey and Charles Sanders Pierce.

Marketplace of Ideas: The concept, proposed by Milton, that ultimate truth would emerge from a “marketplace” of competing and coexisting notions of the truth. This concept helped pave the way for Enlightenment philosophy.

Partisan Press: Press that does not attempt to be objective, instead reporting with an ideological slant. The Internet, including the advent of blogging, has made this type of press financially viable.

Early 20th Century Progressive Movement: The Progressive movement of reform and activism flourished in the United States during the early 20th century. A type of socially conscious journalism popularly known as muckraking was a large part of this movement.

Walter Lippmann: an early 20th century journalist who proposed that people make assumptions about things based on their cultural environment, and then apply those assumptions as stereotypes when actually seeing said thing.

Pseudo Event: an event that only exists for the sake of media coverage. In these events, news is essentially pre-packaged and released in a controlled manner, rather than arising organically. Examples can include press conferences and planned demonstrations.

Coherence Theory of Truth: Also known as the convergence theory of truth, this view states that truth is discovered by determining which facts form a coherent mental picture of events and ideas investigated through various methods, rather than through any single method.

Interlocking public: A theory stating that journalism reflects a subtle understanding of how citizens behave.

Jovahn Huertas, jhuertas@ufl.edu

Blog Essay Week 2

 Elements of Journalism: Preface & Introduction

I think the book’s preface adequately justifies the need for updates in the face of a changing journalistic landscape and ever-advancing technology. I am especially glad about the addition of the tenth principal, The Citizen’s Rights and Responsibilities. Whether we like it or not, citizen journalism is a real part of the industry that isn’t going away anytime soon, and it needs to be addressed. In any case, I’m happy to see a textbook that releases a new edition for good reason, rather than those that seem to change a few words here and there just to hamper the used book market. There’s an ethical issue for you. But I digress.

Media Ethics: Chapter 1

This chapter outlined five major ethical philosophies, roughly in order of their inception from Ancient Greece to the modern day. As I read through them, each seemed to be the “right” way of looking at things, only to be challenged by the next. Aristotle’s Golden Mean seems like a tidy way of looking at ethical dilemmas, until utilitarianism makes you realize that the former has little to say about consequences of actions. Likewise, utilitarianism seems too rigid, even cruel, when compared to the pragmatic and social justice-focused view of communitarianism. Obviously that’s the point of the chapter: these are all guidelines, and none of them are more correct than the others.

In the case of the United Way scenario, I would publish the information about the executive director’s actions. The alternative would be to publish an incomplete story, possibly allowing the individual to commit similar actions in the future. While it would definitely hurt the executive director’s reputation, and might tarnish the organization’s image, it would benefit the public by informing them of the wrongdoing.

Case Study 1-A 

In the 1976 Pulitzer-winning photo, you have an example of what comes up in virtually every journalism class when the subject turns to ethics: a published photo of someone dying. This one adds another layer in that it is a child who is dying. I will say that, on first thought, I feel that both taking the photo and publishing it were ethical, but let’s see how I feel after this.

Bok’s Model:

  1. I feel that publishing this photo was ethically justified. The photo is a fitting and accurate portrayal of events, and, as the text stated, helped bring attention the issue of poor fire escape maintenance.
  2. Another way to achieve the goal of portraying the event might have been to publish a photo of the building on fire, sans the falling girls. Even then, this is a more generic photo, and it doesn’t have the same public service affect as the original.
  3. Obviously, the family of the deceased girl might have objections to the photo, and this, in my view, is the biggest ethical roadblock to publication. Some readers, too, might take offense to the depiction of death, though since the photo is not overtly graphic, I feel this is less of an issue.

Aristotle’s Golden Mean: The main issue here, I think, is decency. In that case, the golden mean would be between self-censorship and obscenity. Being that the image is not gory or overly graphic, nor does it even show the actual death, this falls well short of being obscene. To not publish the image would, in my view, constitute unnecessary censorship, so the publication of the photo falls in line with the Golden Mean.

 Kant’s Categorical Imperative: This model says one should treat individuals as ends rather than means. In that case, when taking into account the feelings of the girl’s family members, it might not be ethically justified to publish the photo.

Utilitarianism: I think this guideline offers the strongest case for publication. While the girl’s family might suffer emotional distress from publication of the photo, it has the potential to bring an important issue to a wide audience and thereby bring about positive change. In that sense, it works for the greater good.

 Ross’ Pluralistic Theory of Value: Based on this principle, I would likely publish the photo. The duties of fidelity to the family and to easily offended readers, and of not injuring others inform me against publication. However, the duties of justice, beneficence, self-improvement, and veracity inform me in favor of publication. I feel that the duties of reparation, gratitude, and nurture are not applicable in this situation.

 Communitarianism: I think that, since this philosophy focuses on social justice, it supports publication. Not only would the photo provide information that could help society at large, it would specifically help a group of people who may be particularly in need: poorer people living in inadequately maintained inner-city buildings.

 So, at the end of the day, I would still publish this photo, though I have a few more reservations in regards to the family. I think I would at least discuss it with them before publication, time permitting.

Ethical Issue of the Week 

Random Attacks in Denver Version of “Knockout Game”?

 The ongoing “knockout game” issue has been one of my favorite points of discussion for a while. Despite increasing media attention to the “game”, there has been little, if any, real evidence that it is a trend. This story, like many others, is written in a sensationalist way that takes the existence of the trend for granted. It’s not until halfway down the page that the reader finds out that the only one implying a connection to the supposed game, other than the writer, is the victim. The ethical issue here lies not only in exaggerating the existence of the game without proper evidence, but also in the fact that extensive media coverage might actually help cause the trend by giving it wider exposure. I the best ethical choice in this case would be to take the emphasis off of the knockout game allegations, and focus on what the story really is about: alleged assault and battery. Of course, this would probably make the story unworthy of a national news site like cbsnews.com, but that’s another problem.

DQ

Are all five ethical guidelines equally valid today? If yes, explain why. If no, identify which you consider less valid, and give reasoning.

Vocabulary

 Ethics vs. Morals: Ethics is a rational process founded on certain agreed-on principles, while morals are the often religiously based distinction between right and wrong. Contrary to morals, ethics often focus on the conflict between equally compelling options, or on choosing the lesser of two evils.

 Aristotle’s Golden Mean: Aristotle’s philosophy of ethics can be reduced to the idea that virtue lies at the mean between two extremes of excess and deficiency. To determine this mean, he said that one must be aware of his or her actions, select an act for its own sake, and that the act must spring from a firm and unchanging character. In example, skepticism might be seen as the mean between gullibility and cynicism. This is similar to the Buddhist “Middle Way” between self-denial and self-indulgence.

 Kant’s Categorical Imperative: Immanuel Kant’s well-known imperative can be stated in two ways. First, that an individual should act as if the choices one makes for oneself could become universal law, and second, that one should act so that he or she treats each individual as an end and never as just a means. By calling them categorical, Kant meant that the rules’ demands were universal and unchanging. The imperative rests on the notion that moral force resides in an act rather than the actor.

 Utilitarianism: This ethical philosophy, originating in the 18th and 19th centuries, is based on the idea that the consequences of actions are important in deciding whether they are ethical. Utilitarianism focuses on bringing the most benefit to the most people, meaning that it may be ethical to harm an individual for the benefit of the many. According to Media Ethics, this is the basis of investigative journalism.

 Ross’ Pluralistic Theory of Value: The 20th century philosopher William David Ross believed that there is often more than one ethical value competing for preeminence in our ethical decision-making. Ross claimed these ethical claims, or duties, are equal, and include fidelity, reparation, gratitude, justice, beneficence, self-improvement and not injuring others. Media Ethics recommends two more: veracity and nurture.

 Communitarianism: Rooted in political theory, this ethical philosophy seeks to provide ethical guidance when confronting the wider issues of current political or business activities.  It focuses on the outcome of individual ethical decisions analyzed in light of their potential impact to society, and asserts that social justice is the predominant moral value.

Essay Responses

 COMING SOON

Jovahn Huertas, jhuertas@ufl.edu

 

 

 

 

 

About Me

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My name is Jovahn Huertas, and I am a third year student at the University of Florida’s College of Journalism and Communications focusing on print and online journalism. I moved to Gainesville in the fall of 2011 from my hometown of St. Petersburg, Fla., to attend UF. While I had written for my high school paper, and was reasonably sure that I wanted to go into journalism as a career, I wasn’t sure if I should major in it initially. After my first semester, however, I couldn’t see myself doing anything else. I have written frequently as a stringer for the Independent Florida Alligator. Most recently, I completed an internship at The Gainesville Sun during the fall 2013 semester, and am now a paid freelancer for The Sun.

My journalistic interests currently lie in the fields of science, technology and the environment. As far as career plans go, I hope to some day become a correspondent in one of these fields for a major metro publication, or else write for a specialty publication like Wired, Scientific American or National Geographic. For now, I’m trying to get as much experience as possible in all fields of journalism, though I hope to get an internship that allows me to focus on my interests in the near future.

I would define ethics as the commonly accepted and often unwritten rules and guidelines that determine right from wrong. In the context of journalism, this would include issues of honesty, privacy, taste, and plagiarism. While some of these issues may be covered to an extent by written law, they all fall under the greater ethical umbrella, and are thus not always clear-cut.

One ethical issue I’ve run into occurred during my Beat Reporting class in fall 2013. As the UF beat reporter, I was looking for a prominent person at the university to profile, and decided on the director of a popular volunteer program at UF Health Shands Hospital. Though she initially seemed more than willing to speak with me, she began delaying an interview for unclear reasons. Weeks went by before she finally told me the truth: she was in the process of resigning. While this made for an even more newsworthy story, she told me this off the record. Nevertheless, The Sun wanted to run the story as soon as possible, and my editors pressured me to make it happen. In this situation, I could have gone to Shands for comment or written the story anyway, betraying the trust of my source. To a lesser extent, I faced an ethical dilemma in that I felt I was putting undue stress on my source by pressuring her to go on record when it was clearly an unhappy subject for her. Fortunately, after I explained my situation to her, she agreed to go on record immediately after speaking to the program’s volunteers about her resignation, and we were able to break the story in the next day’s paper.

So, now that I’m thoroughly tired of talking about myself, here’s hoping for a great semester.