I’m not a seasoned blogger, but here goes! The new media and ethics panel is off to a great start. Some tidbits from Katy Culver…
Potholes. Yes, potholes. Katy Culver noted a citizen tip that potholes were not being filled led to a full-on investigative story showing disadvantaged urban areas had obnoxiously infrequent road repairs compared to the more affluent neighborhoods. It kicked off similar investigations across the nation. More of a response to some earlier conference discussion, but an interesting point nonetheless.
Affairs. A colleague of Culver’s once said “I could go home and tell my wife I’m having an affair and be as transparent as possible, but I’m still having an affair.” Which is to say, while “transparency” is thrown around as an ideal in online communication, accuracy and ethics need to be up there too.
Culver believes ethics is a process; that journalists should follow a set of determined rational steps, not just “gut check” their actions. I’d like to hear more from the panel (or blog readers) on this idea; is it possible to lay out specific rational ethical processes across new media?
This final panel should be interesting given our generation’s use of digital media.
Does technology cause ethical problems? The final panelists seem to disagree a bit. Katy Culver has suggested that ethics should be thought of not as a set of codes, but as a process—coming up with conclusions based on a step by step method regardless of the medium. Though there may be a threat with the web, Katy suggests there is tremendous promise to do great journalism online.
Peter Kafka said he does not think ethics change with technology, and used the example of breaking the Conde Nast’s closing of Portfolio magazine through his personal Twitter account this week as a step by step look at how he dealt with the same sourcing situations as he would if in print.
Ira Basen said he thinks there are problems that can come from digital media. He said there is a difference between policy and ethics. Just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should. How do you deal with the problems that online media presents, for example, removing something from web archives if it is doing someone harm? There is a policy to not change history and remove something that is accurate, yet we are not in a business to do harm to individuals.
Jeff Mayers doesn’t think online journalism is all that different from print. Journalists are working to put the information out there. He is the first to bring up the issue of moderating comments. I always wonder about the ethical issues of that. Should comments be moderated online? Why or why not? Role of the journalist is essentially the same, he said, whether online or in print.
Dhavan Shah said his research involves journalism and democratic participation. New media is giving individuals an important role in getting civically engaged. He said the web is key in collective knowledge and collective editing (Wikipedia), as well as a tool in collective action. He said officials in media are very concerned about opening up the content creation to citizens. How can journalists come to view these citizens as an asset rather than a threat?
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.
Some newspapers have been slow to adopt modern media. Photo courtesy of Little Spooks.
Katy Culver, a “glass is half full kind of a girl,” wanted to start this fifth and final session by downplaying the threats of new media and looking at some of the benefits. As an example, she cites an award-winning story from the Mke Journal-Sentinel which came, ultimately, from a suggestion by a citizen journalist.
This sentiment that technology is the bad guy has not just been the dominant one today at the conference, but is widespread at actual newspapers as well (at least, in my limited experience). I’ve heard editors and reporters occasionally lamenting the good old days before the Internet and cell phones, and while I sympathize a little, still shudder to think how I’d get by in such a world. (And I’m not even a member of this current, millennial, constantly twittering and texting generation.)
Is the reluctance of newspapers to embrace and exploit the latest technologies particularly bad, or is it on a par with other industries slow to adapt to change? Is this mostly negative view of it also usual across careers, or do newspaper folks (and journalists in general) particularly despise new technology and its ill-wrought effects?
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.
I’m excited to be a part of today’s UW-Madison J-school inaugural ethics conference, providing live coverage with social media. I’ll be blogging the conference’s final session, “New Media, Ethics and Democratic Journalism,” and there’s quite a panel lined up.
With new social media tools popping up everyday, and user communities growing exponentially (Twitter’s unique users doubled in March, for example), it’s a jungle out there for communicators. Are there ethics inherent to new media, or are stuffy newspaper-reading professors just forcing old journalism ethics to apply to this new media jungle? I’ll argue there are ethics to be followed, and I think those ethics are determined – no, demanded – by the new media user community – of which those stuffy professors are a part! That’s the simultaneouly cool and difficult thing about new media – most everyone can participate. So how can ethics be imposed on such a diverse population? I’ll be interested to see what the panel has to say.
I’ll also be tweeting @bresciaann for Sessions 3 and 4, so check out the #uwethics Twitter feed and join the discussion!
My generation, the care-free Gen Y, has been criticized in the past for not caring about our communities or civic duties. Perhaps this is why newspapers are on the downturn. We don’t read print. Perhaps it’s eco-friendliness or just plain laziness, but we’d rather get our news online and for free. We’re tech savvy, on the go, and want our news here and now. Are we the downfall of traditional journalism?
No. We do care about our communities and have unique voices that we want to be heard. The last election proved that. Younger voters turned out in record numbers to stand behind ‘change’ even though most of us barely even recall living pre-Bush 43.
I believe that after we leave the bubble of college, Gen Y will be what brings traditional journalism back. We’ll demand fairness, accuracy and information that only professional journalists can provide. We’re not going to settle for blogosphere opinions when we have good journalism at our fingertips in traditional publications. Just give us quality information and we’ll give you quantity of readership.
Panelists are stressing the use of online databases to do investigative work, and to make investigative work a community, collaborative effort. With many documents now available on the web, like childcare inspection reports or health care facility documents, for example, citizens can investigate documents themselves. A citizen can now do a lot of the work a journalist does on his or her own, and use a blog to report. However, panelists have said that this access can most serve investigative journalists, who can post documents, do their own investigations, and engage with the public during the story building process. Investigative journalism of today, the panelists are stressing, is becoming a community-centered and community-engaging medium.
Investigative journalism is growing because there is a demand from the public, the panelists say. Even though readers aren’t demanding in surveys directly that they want more investigative work, when they see it, they say they want more of it. Just because Britney Spears news may lead, and may seem at times that this is what the public want to read, there is a higher need for quality, in-depth, investigative news that involves readers’ small communities.
Panelists say investigative journalism today can fill the lack of coverage on beats from mainstream coverage. It can also serve as a communication tool with the community, when today it can be almost impossible as a citizen to reach your local journalists.
Students can practice investigative reporting skills at student newspapers. Photo courtesy of foreverdigital.
Some advice from the pros at the conference about getting into investigative reporting:
Kate Parry: Start by learning at seminars. They teach you all kinds of skills. (Andy plugged the $20 Better Watchdog Workshop next weekend at the j-school as one such example). She also mentioned to keep digging for those good ideas.
Brant Houston: A student said “I’m young and I’m cheap, and will work long hours for little pay.” There are niche publications that are the equivalent of covering beats. He said the stimulus package will be good for investigative reporting because there will be lots of places trying to follow the money. The usual hierarchy of the media does not exist anymore with all the multimedia out there. Content and methodology and credibility will still be important.
Andy Hall: Students should do something tangible to show those editors—join college newspapers or ethnic media organizations. Editors love to see cross-cultural abilities in reporting.