More than a reader, but not quite a professional journalist just yet:
One of the questions going on inside my heading during the conference about user comments and ethics codes for news organizations is where do young journalists fit in on the web. I’m talking about student reporters, who are still in school and perhaps working at a student paper or interning locally, or young graduates still looking for a job and not yet a part of a media organization. Should we carry ourselves as journalists on the web? Should we refrain from online discussion boards … comment anonymously? or comment with our real names?
Should we debate on blogs or add comments to articles if we are journalists ourselves? Peter Kafka has shown us how Twitter can be great for tracking the development of a story, but should we use the medium to voice our own views? Should we engage in the social media movement as just places for tips, or should we respond actively? I’m trying to write my own code of ethics and am wondering what other journalists and young reporters think.
There’s such a big paper trail on the web, and I think it’s important to explore where young journalists fit in, especially if they’re looking to get into the professional news business that demands journalists understand and make use of the social media community.
Does online journalism need an ethics handbook?, poses Jeff Mayers of Wispolitics.com. ”I don’t think so, I dont think it’s all that different,” he says, referring to traditional journalism. Instead of using staff to moderate comments on the politics-based website, Mayers said the website decided to create a separate site to give the bloggers their own forum to respond and debate.
Beyond collective debate, Dhavan Shah says collaborative reporting by community members is a promising tool. ”New media has given citizens more tools to be collaborative,” he says. “We should welcome this, instead of viewing it as a threat.”
Community efforts, however, raise ethical concerns. With the freedom citizen have to comment, there’s a question whether there is a code of ethics they should adhere to while engaging in online news. Should attacking journalists, editors or other commenters be off limit? Some audience members have expressed the harshness of some online commenters. I think now because there is more of a chorus of voices out there, the nutcases will just be one voice out of many. Shah says “media literacy” teaching could be a strategy to improve the quality of online commenting.
Panelists are currently talking about how new media has changed the way stories begin and end.
Katy Culver, panelist on the current panel, has given a little plug on the hope and promise of online media. Amidst the ethical threats, Culver says there is promise of new media in the way it maximizes the impact of journalism. She describes following a citizen concern, developing a story in that community, and sending it out into the online world where other communities can investigate the same issue. “It can start from a citizen, outside the newsroom,” she says.
Peter Kafka, of AllThingsDigital, describes starting a story from a single Twitter feed. He received a tip from a friend that a magazine was closing down, and updated in real time the information he received via tweets. “This allows me to publish in a different way than ever possible,” he says. By leaving a trail of his reporting tracks, Kafka says,”I’ve been transparent.” He says that in a way this can diminish some ethical questions about the reporting process, because the reader can trace the reporter’s work in real time.
Right now we’ve got a question from someone who wants to know if the traditional news organizations really understand the online environment citizens currently live in. The questioner asks, when will the media stop talking at us and start including us?
Panelists have said today that engaging the community in the investigative movement is so important, and should shape the investigations that get coverage. However, one panelist warns, moving toward the community journalism model can be risk. “Not everyone is a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist,” Brant Houston said.
This is an important debate I think we should continue to talk about as social media is on the rise, and particularly multimedia news efforts from citizens, like i-reporting and tweets on Twitter, which are in a sense, breaking news updates from the community.
Panelists say using these new community tools is important, but also keeping journalists, journalists is important. In general, the mood is very optimistic in the room that the community news efforts going on right now can only help raise the quality of journalism, civic awareness, and ultimately if reporters follow up with what their community participants are saying, better, highly respected journalists.
Photo courtesy of Munzerr.
Robert Cribb of the Toronto Star
thinks we’re “screwed.” The cutbacks from traditional, newspaper journalism are slowly being replaced by bloggers and non-professional writers. In what he calls “Seinfeld Journalism” or writing about nothing, bloggers are simply writing about what they feel right now
. These pieces have little research and often little thought to back them up. This isn’t investigation, it’s instinct. Real investigative reporters need to think of it as more of a passion than a job.
Bloggers just don’t possess that same passion as professionals. Will they go the extra mile to get that extra information the public needs in investigative reporting? Probably not. Most bloggers have traditional day jobs and merely write their thoughts/feelings of the day after the regular 9-5. Researching and being able to contact officials in the evening hours is nearly impossible.
So will blogging and “Seinfeld Journalism” replace traditional newspaper investigative reporting? I hope not.
Should controversial photos be published? What about "baby bump" Bristol Palin speculation? Photo courtesy of baratunede.
I think the next panelist may have read my post from Thursday night! His question is related to what I was hoping would be discussed: the ethics behind the decision to publish a controversial photograph. The situation presented involved an incredibly dramatic photograph of a mother who had just arrived home to discover that her child had died in a fire. The panelist asked the audience whether the picture should be published and whether posting the picture on the Web changes the ethics behind the decision.
The first audience member questioned said that this particular photograph seems like a huge invasion of privacy. To her, the important question is whether showing the mother at the moment she finds out her child dies is really necessary. She suggested that the photo should only be run if it’s the only way to convey the truth of what happened.
Another audience member suggested that the intrusion of privacy idea is misguided in this case. He argued that as journalists, we are charged to convey to people the sense of loss that occurred, which photographs can do much better than text.
I would have to agree with the first audience member. Personally, I’m not convinced that running this photograph is at all necessary for capturing what happened. A well-written piece could tell the story effectively while still protecting the mother’s privacy. Read more…
Session 2 is just about to begin. The panelists are presenting tough ethical issues that they have faced in the newsroom, without any details of what they did or what the audience responses were. Moderator Lee Wilkins will be asking the audience what they think the proper, ethical responses would be.
USA Today reports on whether Barack Obama is a natural born citizen.
Owen Ullmann, editor at USA Today, is presenting the first ethical dilemma. During the 2008 presidential election, USA Today received pressure to cover stories that were circulating online and in the blogosphere. These included several “rumors,” like one that Obama was not born in the United States.
Wilkins asked the audience whether USA Today should have covered these stories. The first audience member questioned said that he didn’t see the situation as an ethical question at all. He instead said that as a reputable newspaper, there is no reason to cover these ludicrous theories because there is no truth behind them. Other audience responses were varied, with some saying these stories deserve limited attention if they are based on fact and others saying they don’t deserve any coverage because they have little to do with the actual election. Another audience member brought up a related point: why wasn’t there more coverage on how the Obama and Palin campaigns were trying to manipulate the media with these rumors?
What do you think? Does USA Today have a responsibility to its readers to investigate these rumors? Or by doing so, is it wasting resources that could be put toward stories based on verifiable fact?
Screenshot of Huffington Post "branding" courtesy of MyEyeSees.
A question has just come in from the online forum:
What do you recommend for smaller newspapers that want to brand themselves online?
Panelists have shared their views. Ellen Foley said though from an editor perspective branding is the last thing you want to talk about, it’s so necessary today. Even a small media outlet, panelists say, can be at an equal playing field with the big boy media when they brand themselves online.
Foley says the newsroom and the content has shifted from the editor to the reader, with all of the content now online. The audience and the people are the focus. Jon Sawyer from the Pulizer Center on Crisis Reporting said the news production side is as important as the after-math commentary on the story. Engaging the audience after the story is published is now the key, he says. Online comments and in-person forums on college campuses are way to expose the journalism and engage in a conversation about the content. Everyone benefits with this model–the students who can participate in the content, and the journalists, who can keep a pulse on what their audience wants.
I think this new model of shaping content delivery around what the users crave is what is working today on the web. The most successful new journalism caters to the blogosphere and to the social media-centric user. Drudge, Huffington, Politico. But do these sites demand a different type of journalism, that is perhaps edgier just to attract traffic? If journalists are so concerned with catering to the users, do we lose the coverage of tough topics?
I hope that everyone is excited for all of the ethical goodies in store today. I hope to see some good conversation on digital media ethics today, especially concerning those who are not perceived as traditional journalists. At what point do bloggers become citizen journalists and finally professional journalists? Are they bound by professional ethics from the outset, or are those ethics something that come later in the process? Who, if anyone, has the right to determine that? Is there such a thing as a professional citizen journalist who does their own reporting and news gathering without any outside aid, what is his or her responsibility? Read more…
With journalism evolving and adapting to new media, I’m really interested in learning how journalists make ethical decisions in a continuously changing profession. How do traditional ethics of journalism interact with newer, nontraditional forms of media? Do the same ethics that were developed for conventional media apply to new media?
I’ll be posting items to our running blog during Session 2, an interactive discussion on making tough ethical calls in the newsroom. I’m hoping that some of the situations presented will lead to a discussion on the place ethics has in online media. The same problematic questions can lead to different answers in different mediums. But should they? Is there a difference between showing highly sensitive material during a nightly news broadcast and making it available for viewing online? In the first case, the viewer could be considered more of a passive recipient of the news who didn’t necessarily choose to view the content. In the latter, it could be argued that posting sensitive material online is different because it allows the user to choose whether or not they want to seek out the content.
What do you think? Is it okay for these double standards to exist? Or are they not really even double standards, as long as journalists base their decisions for each medium on the same ethical principles?