Tag Archives: Journalism & Media

Reality blast: News judgment in a click-through world

Bob Benz, Scripps Company

bob_benzOnline journalism is fueled by metrics. We know very specifically what readers are clicking on. And what they aren’t. What ethical issues do online journalists face in a medium that emphasizes driving the most possible clicks?

Bob Benz earned a BA in journalism/English from Edinboro University and holds a master’s in English literature from the University of Alabama at Birmingham. He is on the NAA’s New Media Federation board, serves on the advisory board at Ohio University’s Scripps School of Journalism and is on PowerOne Media’s board of directors. Benz has taught English and/or journalism at the University of Alabama-Birmingham, the University of New Mexico, Metro State College (Denver) and Ohio University’s Scripps School of Journalism.

Benz is general manager/interactive media for the E.W. Scripps Co.’s daily newspapers. He has worked for Scripps since 1986. In 1994, Benz was the copy editor on The Plutonium Experiment, which earned a Pulitzer Prize for reporter Eileen Welsome and The Albuquerque Tribune. He went from Albuquerque to the Denver Rocky Mountain News, where he played a key role in launching the newspaper’s Web site.

In his role as general manager/interactive media, Benz is responsible for revenue and content at Scripps newspaper sites. In 2002, those newspapers sites achieved profitability and have seen substantial audience, revenue and cash flow growth in each subsequent year.

Benz is married to Lara Edge, VP/Editorial for Scripps Networks online. They live in Knoxville in a restored 19th century farmhouse with four dogs, a cockatoo and a ghost.

Tagged ,

Typology of Online Journalism

Mark Deuze, Indiana University

The 21st century has been called the ‘Participation Age’ with regards to the various ways people across the globe use and make media. Scholars and industry observers alike signal a shift away from the mass media model (typified by terms as broadcast, top- down, show-and-tell, b2c, downstream, one-way) towards a culturally converged model (coined as bottom-up, collaborative, participatory, p2p and c2b, upstream, interactive, multiple-way). This presentation analyzes the implications of the participation age for (online and offline) journalism.

Mark Deuze (1969) is assistant professor at Indiana University’s Department of Telecommunications, and is consultant to the Journalism and New Media program at Leiden University, The Netherlands. Mark received his PhD in the Social Sciences at the University of Amsterdam, The Netherlands. His work focuses on the relationships between media production, technology and society, and has appeared in print in a number of Dutch and English books and journals (including Journalism Quarterly, Journalism Studies and New Media & Society). At the moment, he is working on a new book titled ‘Liquid Media Work’, on the changing nature of media work in the context of cultural and technological convergence. Mark maintains a weblog on journalism, new media, and culture at http://deuze.blogspot.com. E-mail: mdeuze@indiana.edu.

Tagged ,

We the Media: The rise of grassroots, open-source journalism

Dan Gillmor, Center for Citizen Media
dan_gillmor

As technology collides with journalism, democratizing the tools of media creation and distribution, news is evolving from a lecture into a conversation.

Dan Gillmor is author of “We the Media: Grassroots Journalism by the People, for the People” (O’Reilly Media, 2004), a book that explains the rise of citizens’ media and why it matters. He is currently working on several projects aimed at enabling grassroots journalism and expanding its reach. He also writes a regular column for the Financial Times.

From 1994-2004, Gillmor was a columnist at the San Jose Mercury News, Silicon Valley’s daily newspaper, and wrote a weblog for SiliconValley.com. He joined the Mercury News after six years with the Detroit Free Press. Before that, he was with the Kansas City Times and several newspapers in Vermont. A Phi Beta Kappa graduate of the University of Vermont, Gillmor received a Herbert Davenport fellowship in 1982 for economics and business reporting at the University of Missouri School of Journalism. During the 1986-87 academic year he was a journalism fellow at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, where he studied history, political theory and economics. He has won or shared in several regional and national journalism awards. Before becoming a journalist he played music professionally for seven years.

Tagged ,

Blogging from a War Zone

Robert Bateman

robert_bateman_sSoldiers have been recording their thoughts and fears in personal journals for hundreds of years. Weblogs add a new twist, however, because not everyone who reads them is necessarily a “good guy.” Finding the line, that balance between the impetus of the volunteer soldier from an open society and the need to prevent the enemy from learning about our tactics, techniques and procedures, has been a painful process for the armed forces these last three years. Misunderstandings, miscommunications, and in a few cases, non-judicial punishment, have characterized the reactions of an institution which is in turmoil in more ways than one.


Robert Bateman is a professional soldier, an historian and author. He is both Airborne and Ranger qualified, and has served as an Infantry officer around the world over the course of his career. He has also served as a “Military Fellow” at the Center for Strategic and International Studies and taught history at the United States Military Academy and George Mason University. Currently he is assigned to the Pentagon, where he works as a strategist.

As a freelance writer he has published more than 200 articles and reviews in both military professional as well as academic journals and commercial magazines and newspapers. His first book, */Digital War, A View from the Front Lines /*(1999) was an edited anthology about the future of war which has subsequently been published in paperback as well as Korean and Chinese. His second book, */No Gun Ri, a Military History of the Korean War Incident /*(2002), was an academic work of military history which investigated the history, and the reporting of, the events at No Gun Ri in 1950.

In January 2005 he left his home on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, and went to Baghdad. Over the course of the year he served in Iraq he wrote a column for the /*DC Examiner */newspaper and also updated the readers of the MSNBC.COM blog “Altercation,” (hosted by the liberal pundit Eric Alterman) every week with his observations about life in Baghdad and Iraq.

Tagged ,

Media Ethics in a Digital Age

Clifford Christians, University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana

What ethical issues are central now as the new technologies dominate the media professions and global information systems take shape? There are new moral problems such as digital manipulation. Privacy, surveillance, gender discrimination, distributive justice and cultural diversity are more complicated than ever. But the centerpiece ought to be an ethics of truth. A sophisticated principle of truth should at the leading edge of the cyberspace revolution.

Play Video

Tagged , ,

The Issue of Ethics in Tragic Events Coverage

Tetyana Vorozhko, Ohio University

Natural disasters, technological catastrophes and splashes of violence compose a prominent part of Mass Media content. The purpose of this work is to analyze the way the decisions were made about coverage of tragic events; the opinions expressed and to work out a set of rules, helpful while covering tragic events. The cases scrutinized are a suicide committed by Pennsylvania Treasurer Budd Dwyer (1987), a shooting of prisoner by Vietnamese general (1968) and plane catastrophe at aviation show in Ukraine (2002). The arguments in support for and against showing tragic on TV are debated. Violation of right of privacy, offending of people?s feelings and taste are contradicting to broadcasting horrible details on TV. Among the arguments for showing tragic events is the public right to know about real life, the argument of serious problems in society and mobilization of population. The impact of external factors such as other TV channels, movies and ?angry viewers? is examined. The author applies moral theories and Codes of Ethics of professional journalist organizations. The conclusion states that tragic events have to be shown, but in moderation. The result of this work constitutes the set of rules designed to help while making decision about coverage, shooting and editing tragic events.

Tagged ,

Ethics, Morality and the Law: A Discussion on September 11

Ali Muhammed Khan, Virginia Commonwealth University

The events of September eleventh, 2001 had an indelible effect on the American national psyche, for the cultural, historical, and societal significance of the event, as well as the literally continuous media coverage of it, contribute to the permanence of this event in American history. The media?s role in creating this etching onto the American collective consciousness cannot be ignored. The media has a necessity to cover the events that are occurring as they occur; the means which the media utilized in order to achieve its ends, however, by using graphic images of the attacks, were not at a similar level of necessity. By applying various ethical principles and media values to the coverage, one finds that the ethical decision behind the ultimate coverage of the event appears unethical when compared to the public?s reaction to it . Further examination of this apparent conflict of interest finds that the media?s loyalties? monetary and otherwise ? were to blame for such unbalanced coverage. Thus, while the images of destruction and chaos have become ingrained into all Americans who lived to see the events of September eleventh, it is unfortunate that these images are also symbolic of the damaged relationship of American media with its audience ? as well as of the proverbial fraying of the American societal fabric itself.

Tagged , ,

Ethics and Sensationalism in the Realm of Scientific and Medical Reporting

Jennifer Habermann, University of St. Thomas

Prior to July 17, 2002, the media released information on the Women’s Health Initiative (WHI) hormone replacement therapy (HRT) trial which was formally published and released on July 17, 2002, in the Journal of the American Medical Association. This study analyzed the ethics, sensationalism, and implications of such reporting. A formal content analysis was conducted using 36 articles from the Boston Globe, the Los Angeles Times, New York Times, Rochester Post-Bulletin, St. Paul Pioneer Press, and USA Today. The data from the content analysis revealed that there was no significant difference between the accuracy of the articles prematurely released by the press and the articles that proceeded the release of the information contained in the WHI study. Coding factual data revealed that 19.4% of the articles scored above average. The total coding of factual content was lowest in USA Today at 75 points (range 0-180), but the USA Today had the highest total coding of sources at 86.5 (range 0-120). Six females (ages 38-61) participated in a focus group and reported that factual content was most important. The coverage of this HRT trial was sensational. The issues to the public were compounded by the unethical premature release of information of the study results

Tagged ,

Media Coverage of People with AIDS

Richard Wilson, John Carroll University

This essay examines the ethical dimensions of AIDS media coverage in the early 1980′s. Through critical analysis and application of Carol Gilligan’s ethic of care (1982), this essay dissects how media coverage in the early 1980′s reflected male-based ethics, which rely heavily upon notions of justice. Since AIDS first struck the male homosexual community, an already marginalized segment of society, coverage was minimal and in theory, the homosexual P.W.A.’s (People With AIDS) were “deserving” of the illness they received because of their non-traditional sexual behavior. The media’s choice to under-cover the AIDS epidemic clearly demonstrated adherence to justice-based ethics. Consequently, the lack of coverage resulted in the widespread proliferation of the AIDS epidemic in the United States that ultimately permeated the heterosexual community. The suggestion and proposition is made for media to operate under Gilligan’s care-based ethics as a solution to remedy past media damage. Furthermore, future application of care-based ethics would help to foster greater understanding, compassion, love and peace for all P.W.A’s, regardless of their race, sexual orientation, national origin, etc.

Tagged ,

Corporate Interests and Their Impact on News Coverage

Julie A. Demorest, John Carroll University

Hypothesis

There is no denying that news media is big business. The complete coverage of stories and investigative reports are certainly at risk with the rise of media as a business, rather than strictly a service to the public. Over the past few years, there have been a number of cases where television stations or news publications have killed news stories or forced reporters to slant stories due to pressure from advertisers or those in power at the news. This paper will attempt to examine the relationship between social responsibility and news editors, and apply ethical theories to explain what should and can be done. Should editors have the power to kill or slant stories, depending on their own interests or those of their advertisers?

Literature Review

A number of books and articles investigated the relationship between corporate and advertising interests and news coverage. In the May/June 2000 issue of Columbia Journalism Review, Lowell Bergman wrote an article entitled, “Network television news: With fear and favor.” Bergman sums up his findings by saying, “Executives of the network news divisions say that they will report any story of public interest and import without fear or favor, without considering its potential commercial consequences. They say that, but they do not believe it” (p. 50).

Karl Idsvoog’s journal article, “TV sitting on stories to improve ratings,” claims that “the decision on when (or if) to run a piece is no longer determined just by asking is the report concise, clear, and well produced; is it fair, thorough and accurate? There are now more critical questions. What’s the lead-in? Where do we place the promotion? Will it deliver better numbers on Monday or Wednesday?” (Idsvoog, p. 38). However, he adds that “in the long run, adhering to a higher standard of ethics delivers a higher standard of performance” (p. 39).

Carol Guensburg examines the ethical dilemmas of news reporting that involve the media agency’s owner in the December 1998 issue of American Journalism Review (p. 10). In “When the story is about the owner,” she determines that it is up to the individual journalists and news operations to continue reporting important stories, regardless of the impact they may have on corporate or advertising interests (Guensburg, p. 11).

American Journalism Review‘s October 1998 article by Jane Kirtley, “Second-guessing news judgment,” looks at the issue of FCC regulations of news coverage (p. 86). She notes that having the governmental agency get involved in news coverage would likely lead to the consequence that “broadcasters will be discouraged from covering controversial issues at all” (Kirtley, p. 86).

In addition to these and many other articles referencing corporate interests in the media, an organization called Project Censored does annual research to “explore and publicize stories of national importance on issues that have been overlooked or under-reported by the mainstream news media” (Jensen, p. 14).

Body

The relationship between social responsibility and news editors must have a very delicate balance. As stated, news is a business that depends on high ratings and advertising dollars for its survival. However, the news media is also a social organization responsible for informing and educating the public. Corporate interests are important, but the guiding principle for news organizations should be the responsibility to inform the public. News editors have the huge task of determining what stories are told on their news programs or in their publications. The interests of upper management, owners, and outside advertisers make the editors’ decisions even more difficult.

In 1969, the Federal Communications Commission said that “rigging or slanting the news is a most heinous act against the public interest” (Kirtley, p. 86). Yet, it happens – all the time. Two particular cases are especially applicable. The first involves Lowell Bergman, former executive producer of CBS’s “60 Minutes.” As executive producer, Bergman was intimately involved in the 1995 Brown & Williamson situation, when “60 Minutes” decided not to air a report on Jeffrey Wigand. Wigand, former vice president of Brown & Williamson, claimed that the company kept the truth about tobacco’s harmful properties hidden from the public (Bergman, p. 50). He claimed that CBS self-censored itself to avoid a potential lawsuit from Brown & Williamson. Bergman also added that while working for ABC news he discovered that it was against “ABC code” to do an enterprise story about a major advertiser or supplier or to do a critical story on the owner of an NFL team (p. 51).

The second example directly showing how corporate interests impact news coverage took place in 1997. Jane Akre and Steve Wilson, award-winning investigative reporters for WTVT-13 in Tampa, Florida, were fired in December 1997 after they refused to broadcast false reports. Akre and Wilson had been working on a series of reports about a controversial growth hormone being injected into dairy cows for months, and the reports were scheduled to air beginning February 24, 1997. On the eve of the first broadcasts, the reports were pulled from the airwaves after Monsanto (maker of the hormone) complained to Fox Television, parent company of WTVT-13. WTVT management reviewed the reports, found no errors, and rescheduled their broadcasts. Monsanto lawyers sent a threatening letter to Fox’s news division head, and the reports were postponed once again. In the nine months that followed, Akre and Wilson were ordered to rewrite the story with false information more than 80 times, none of which were acceptable to Fox executives. Akre and Wilson threatened to tell the FCC “of a false, distorted, or slanted news report which she reasonably believed would violate the prohibition against intentional falsification or distortion of the news on television.” They were ultimately fired in December 1997. (Trigoboff, p. 27).

Instances such as these, where corporate interests override the public’s need to know,” most likely occur quite frequently. “Almost all media owners have friends who are given preferential treatment in news stories – friends whose ranks include advertisers, politicians, relatives, and acquaintances” (Armao, p. 46). Media critic Ben Bagdikian noted in an article that media organizations often pull back stories when they might offend advertisers (Winch, p. 132). He also stated that “no commercial power should dominate the news – just as no state power should” (Goldstein, p. 25).

In Critical Studies in Mass Communication, Matthew Ehrlich explained one of the factors accounting for trivial, superficial, and often inaccurate reporting – the “competitive ethos,” which he defined as a “powerful, taken-for-granted set of norms within the community of television newsworkers” (p. 196). People who work in the news business have an unwritten set of codes, and they tend to base their work on them. One of those “codes” is that news is “whatever the competition is covering” (Krajicek, p. 184). This leads to a homogenization of the news, with all programs taking on a similar shape.

Another problem with news coverage is that media managers often appear to design news “based on what interests the public rather than what is in the best interests of the public” (Winch, p. 131). Sensationalism in news has certainly been a deterrent to credible and accurate reporting. The great news anchor Walter Cronkite has said that “the networks now do news as entertainment” (McCartney, p. 44). The public wants to see the wildest, craziest, and most outlandish news stories – not necessarily the stories that would have the greatest impact on their lives.

The “competitive ethos” factors listed above indicate one of the reasons why the role of the news editor is so crucial. It is up to the news editor and his team of editors to determine what is important to the public on a “need to know” and “right to know” basis, with “want to know” and “don’t necessarily want to know, but need to show it to the public to gain ratings” much less important.

In his book, The Media Monopoly, Ben Bagdikian says that “because the country’s top editors are being integrated into the management imperatives of the corporation, journalists, through their editors, become less responsible for the integrity of the news and more for the profitability of the whole enterprise. That is not journalism. It is advertising and marketing. Combining journalism with advertising and marketing ultimately will destroy the integrity of the news” (Edge, p. 197).

There is no clear-cut answer to the social responsibility and corporate interests conflict. Adopting a communitarian ethic based on the needs of society would probably make editors’ decisions easier. Communitarianism insists that “mass-media structures make a decisive break with individualistic capitalism” (Christians, p. 14). Deni Elliott’s three nonnegotiable principles of journalism should apply to news editors and management as well, and are especially applicable to determining content of television news (Christians, p. 55). Her first principle is that “news reports should be accurate, balanced, relevant, and complete” (Christians, p. 55). Truth is the most important factor in news, so if a story is not honest, it should not be news. The second principle is that “journalists share the principle that reporting should avoid harm” (Christians, p. 55). While journalists should only report stories that avoid harm (and not cause it), they should also be careful to report stories that would possibly cause, or allow, harm to occur if not reported. Elliott’s third principle for journalists is “to report information that viewers and readers need to know” (Christians, p. 56). As stated previously, it is essential that the news media provide vital information to the American public. The media has a social responsibility to share its wealth of information, especially when the news would have a direct impact on lives.

The pragmatic thought of John Dewey could be applied to this ethical dilemma as well. In his book, Democracy and Education, Dewey identifies four Theories of Morals: the inner and the outer, the opposition of duty and interest, intelligence and character, and the social and the moral (Dewey, 1916). The opposition of duty and interest is directly applicable to the corporate interests/news media dilemma. The opposition of duty and interest is defined as distinguishing the difference between acting on principle and acting on interest. Dewey explains acting on principle as acting “disinterestedly, according to a general law, which is above all personal considerations (1916). Acting on interest is “to act selfishly, with one’s own personal profit in view” (Dewey, 1916). A news organization choosing to run a story that negatively impacts an important advertiser would be seen as acting on principle. The news organization would be acting without interest and above their personal considerations of how their jobs and profits might be impacted. Choosing not to run the story would be acting on interest, with personal and professional profits in clear view.

Summary

This paper attempted to explain that corporate interests are having a large impact on what the news media report to the American public, and theorized about how the situation could be changed. Adopting a communitarian ethic would allow the news media to more accurately and completely report the news that is important to the daily lives of Americans.

Conclusion

Corporate interests are important, but the guiding principle for news organizations should be the responsibility to inform the public. In The Messenger’s Motives, John L. Hulteng stated that “the central, ruling ethic of journalism is to report the news of the world dependably and honestly” (p. 171). Given that corporate interests do play a role in what appears on television news and in newspapers, what should be done? The news giants and advertisers aren’t going to go away, so the public and news media need to share the social responsibility. The American public needs to realize that the news media aren’t always giving the complete story. They should not rely solely on television and print news media for information, but should look elsewhere for alternative sources of news. The news media have considerable impact on what we know, and they need to realize the impact that their work has on the lives of the American public, and report the news as accurately, completely, and objectively as they can, for the good of the people. A communitarian ethic based on Deni Elliott’s principles and John Dewey’s theory of the opposition of duty and interest would be a good start.

Works Cited

  • Armao, R. (2000). The history of investigative reporting. In M. Greenwald & J. Bernt (Eds.), The big chill: Investigative reporting in the current media environment (pp. 35-49). Ames, Iowa: Iowa State University Press.
  • Bergman, L. (2000). Network television news: With fear and favor. Columbia Journalism Review, 1, 50-51.
  • Christians, C.G., Ferr?, J.P., & Fackler, P.M. (1993). Good news: Social ethics & the press. New York: Oxford University Press.
  • Dewey, J. (1916). Democracy and Education. New York: The Macmillan Company.
  • Edge, M. (2000). And “the wall” came tumbling down. In M. Greenwald & J. Bernt (Eds.), The big chill: Investigative reporting in the current media environment (pp. 197-210). Ames, Iowa: Iowa State University Press.
  • Ehrlich, M.C. (1995). The competitive ethos in television newswork. Critical Studies in Mass Communication, 12, 196.
  • Goldstein, T. (1999). Does big mean bad? In B. Levy & D.M. Bonilla (Eds.), The power of the press (pp. 24-27). New York: The H.W. Wilson Company.
  • Guensburg, C. (1998). When the story is about the owner. American Journalism Review, 10, 10-11.
  • Hulteng, J.L. (1985). The messenger’s motives. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, Inc.
  • Idsvoog, K. (1994). TV sitting on stories to improve ratings. Nieman Reports, 1, 38.
  • Jensen, C. (1996). Censored: The news that didn’t make the news and why. New York: Seven Stories Press.
  • Kirtley, J. (1998). Second-guessing news judgment. American Journalism Review, 20, 86.
  • Krajicek, D.J. (1998). Scooped! Media miss real story on crime while chasing sex, sleaze, and celebrities. New York: Columbia University Press.
  • McCartney, J. (1997). News lite. In B. Levy & D.M. Bonilla (Eds.), The power of the press (pp. 44-54). New York: The H.W. Wilson Company.
  • Trigoboff, D. (2000, August 28). Reporter wins in milk suit. Broadcasting & Cable, 130, 27.
  • Winch, S.P. (2000). Ethical challenges for investigative journalism. In M. Greenwald & J. Bernt (Eds.), The big chill: Investigative reporting in the current media environment (pp. 121-136). Ames, Iowa: Iowa State University Press.
Tagged ,