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Posts Tagged ‘journalism ethics’

spjlogo-for-headerThe Society of Professional Journalists adopted a new Code of Ethics Saturday at its meeting in Nashville.

I am pleased that SPJ updated a code that I described four years ago as profoundly outdated. But I’m disappointed that SPJ didn’t provide better leadership in this code.

Before I address my disappointments, I’ll say what pleases me:

Why I’m pleased

I’m pleased that SPJ has a more timely, relevant code. The code has been outdated for years, and I applaud progress. I’m pleased that the code mostly improved since I criticized the first draft in two lengthy blog posts in April and improved a bit more since I criticized the third draft in July. It even improved since Friday morning, when I was one of many during an Excellence in Journalism conference session who criticized the “final draft” that was approved by the Ethics Committee Aug. 28. In a Friday evening meeting, the SPJ Ethics Committee and Board adopted some of the changes suggested by Andy Schotz in a blog post and at Friday morning’s discussion. That I wish for more doesn’t change the fact that this is progress and I do appreciate that. (more…)

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Update: The final draft of the code update was revised again yesterday. I like what I’ve heard about the changes, but I haven’t analyzed it yet.

I will be leading a session at the Excellence in Journalism conference today about the broader ethics discussion in journalism.

At the EIJ conference, the Society of Professional Journalists will vote on adoption of a new ethics code. Here is the latest draft of the code, though it could be amended in floor debate today. My criticism of the revision stands, and I won’t belabor it either in this post or in my EIJ session.

Other ethics initiatives I will discuss include:

Poynter’s Guiding Principles

McBride_New_Ethics_of_JournalismThe new Poynter Guiding Principles for the Journalist, published in the 2013 book, The New Ethics of Journalism, edited by Kelly McBride and Tom Rosenstiel. I blogged in 2012 from a Poynter event to discuss updating the Guiding Principles, then blogged again with suggestions for the new principles and in 2013 with praise and criticism for the completed guidelines. Among other changes, the guiding principles changed two of the three core values from the original Guiding Principles, authored by Bob Steele in the early 1990s. The 1990s principles were organized around the values of truthfulness, independence and minimizing harm. Now the core values are truthfulness, transparency and community. The 1990s SPJ Code and Guiding Principles were strongly similar, with SPJ using the same three core values, plus accountability (Bob dealt with accountability in his elaboration on the other values). In the final draft of the SPJ update, the core values are unchanged, except that transparency is paired with accountability in the last section. (more…)

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I have said multiple times here that attribution is the difference between plagiarism and research.

I also have said many times that linking is a matter of journalism ethics and that if journalists were expected to link to their digital sources, editors would prevent plagiarism more effectively and detect it more quickly.

Fareed Zakaria apparently did more research than attribution in some of his work for Time, CNN and the Washington Post. And his failure to link to sources — and his newsrooms’ failure to demand links — has damaged his credibility as a journalist, however this latest accusation plays out.

The media watchdogs who caught Buzzfeed editor Benny Johnson plagiarizing, known only as @blippoblappo and @crushingbort, have documented a dozen cases of apparent plagiarism by Zakaria. All of the incidents they cite occurred prior to the 2012 incident when Zakaria was suspended for plagiarizing the work of the New Yorker’s Jill LePore.

His employers then said they reviewed his previous work, satisfying themselves that the theft was, in the words of Time’s official statement, “an isolated incident.” On their Our Bad Media blog, the watchdogs say that they needed only “less than an hour and a few Google searches” to find a dozen examples of Zakaria using verbatim passages or lightly rewritten passages from other news sources. So they rightly question how rigorously Zakaria’s employers reviewed his work, a question Craig Silverman raised in 2012. (more…)

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Al Tompkins and Roy Peter Clark of Poynter argue in separate pieces that news organizations should identify mass killers, rather than withholding their names and photos from publication.

I admire both men greatly and have featured Roy’s writing insights in this blog. But neither of them is at all convincing here.

Most journalists and news organizations have not embraced my call to stop giving attention to attention-seeking mass killers. However the Sun News Network has decided not to publish the name of the suspect in the recent New Brunswick slayings of three police officers.

The Sun News decision prompted Al to address the issue and Roy was agreeing with Al’s post. Please read Al’s and Roy’s responses to this post, at the end of my original post.

Roy is one of my favorite writers in the business, but this piece was not as strong as he usually writes. The headline tells you what the piece is about: “What Harry Potter teaches about naming killers.” And here’s what Harry Potter teaches about naming killers: Nothing. Harry Potter is fiction. He teaches us nothing more about naming killers than Murphy Brown taught us about American families or morals back when Dan Quayle found her “lifestyle choice” disturbing. (more…)

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Margaret Sullivan, photo linked from Twitter avatar

The mass killings in California last week underscore a point I made in 2012: News media should reconsider giving mass murderers the attention they clearly crave.

I didn’t blog about this immediately after the May 23 killings because I was focused on other matters and I haven’t repeated this point every time a murderer goes on a rampage. But I was immediately struck with how clearly this case was a successful attempt by the killer to go out in a blaze of infamy. His hateful videos and his 141-page diatribe (I think calling it a “manifesto” perhaps overdignifies it) make it clear that attention was as much a motive of this hate crime as was misogyny.

I’m discussing this case a week late because Margaret Sullivan, Public Editor of the New York Times, addressed the issue of whether the Times should have published the diatribe and video.

Sullivan’s a friend and the best public editor the Times has had. I’m glad she raised the issue of whether the Times should have published these items and the name of the killer. But I disagree with her conclusion that the Times’ decisions were the right ones.

“In general, I don’t believe in holding back germane information from the public,” she wrote. (more…)

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Project Unbolt logoThis is the fifth of seven blog posts about the Berkshire Eagle Unbolt Master Plan (which I explained in the first post). A staff committee developed the plan in response to my call for newsrooms to free themselves from print culture and workflow in six primary areas. This is the plan to update and uphold the Eagle’s standards. Most of this post will be the Eagle’s plan lightly edited, with my comments in italics. 

What are “standards”?

Standards establish the baseline of our credibility at The Eagle. Standards are our accuracy, ethics and integrity that build our brand as The Eagle and entrust us as the No. 1 news source with our readers. Our high standards differentiate The Eagle from the competition.

How do we apply Unbolted standards?

We adhere to the Society of Professional Journalists Code of Ethics. We aim to avoid errors, and we correct errors as soon as we learn they have been committed and after verifying the accuracy. We may offer explanations as to how the errors were made and how the correct information now affects the context of a news story.

Buttry comment: I’ve blogged about how the SPJ Code of Ethics needs updating and how the first draft of an update is disappointing. I recommend one of two approaches: adhering to Poynter’s Guiding Principles for the Journalist, which have been updated, or developing a few Berkshire Eagle additions or amendments to the SPJ Code.

The notebook

  • Create one binder/notebook for all staff members that will include materials discussed in this committee and the other Unbolt committees. Also, we need to create a “digital” notebook as well. An internal WordPress blog? Buttry: I like the idea of a blog on ethics. You need to handle it carefully, discussing issues without embarrassing staff members who have made mistakes (unless they are egregious offenses such as plagiarism or fabrication). While I see the value of an internal blog, where you might be able to be more candid, without causing embarrassment, I also encourage occasional public posts about ethical matters. I think we build credibility by telling the public about our ethical decisions and standards and our commitment to ethics.

Digital consistency

  • Put a person in charge of coming up with web uploading standards and making sure they are communicated to all staff. Create a web upload checklist (put in notebook)
  • Let’s write these down, be specific, give examples of the proper way to slug, SEO headlines (put in notebook) and make sure ALL STAFF are trained.
  • Feedback when doing web uploading wrong. Have a weekly “state of the web” email sent out to let people know when updates to protocol have been made.

Eagle style

  • Someone needs to be in charge of updating our Eagle stylebook. This person needs to be given time to do this.
  • Updated style guide put into notebook and also online where staff can access it (blog, webpage?).

Corrections policy

  • Who does the reader contact with a correction? (Make sure that person’s contact info is easy to find on the web and in print) Suggestions for policy:

o   All corrections from every department should run in the same spot in the paper.

o   All corrections should be slugged the same. Example: (Section)CORRECTION(date) and filed into B2/B3, along with an email sent to Tom and the night desk editors that a correction has been filed.

  • Online corrections: Ask online editor Jen Huberdeau to correct the error online ASAP and include an editor’s note in italics at the top of the story explaining the correction and date and time the correction was made. The editor’s note should be included online only when the correction is a factual error (i.e. spelling of name, incorrect information, wrong date, place, time) not for punctuation errors. Those should just be fixed.
  • All online corrections should also go in one place online. One suggestion is a live blog of editor’s notes (similar to what AP Breaking news does) that Jen would update after the correction is made in the story. Buttry: The New Haven Register, another of our Project Unbolt pilot newsrooms, has a corrections blog.

Accuracy checklist

Goal: Create one to print out and put in notebooks

  • Remember: Who, what, when and where
  • Spell names correctly; check with that person in person and verify place names. Do a quick Google search on the name, or even check Facebook, especially when the name is a questionable spelling.) Before hitting send, check the names one more time!
  • Check phone numbers (Google search)
  • Check web addresses
  • Double check locations (Everyone should have a map of their coverage area. Also, someone with local knowledge should put together a “common mistakes” list when it comes to local streets/places to help new reporters.) Is your sense of direction correct?
  • When writing about an event: Time, date, place
  • Any red flags? Don’t just take the police report/coach’s word for absolute, final truth. Does something seem fishy? Ask. Does a name or city street name look different? Ask.
  • Get another read before sending to the web, or putting it on the page. No editors around? Ask a fellow reporter.
  • Know your own weaknesses. Do you have trouble with numbers? Triple check your work. Are you terrible with commas? Ask an editor or reporter to double check your punctuation.
  • SPELL CHECK!

Buttry: I’m an advocate of accuracy checklists. As Craig Silverman notes, they have proven to prevent errors by other professionals, such as pilots and surgeons, and journalists should use checklists, too. Craig and I have developed checklists, but I encourage newsrooms or journalists to develop their own checklists, improving on ours.

Social media/blog standards

  • Live by the rule: “The standard is the standard.”
  • Before posting on Twitter, Facebook, blogs run through the accuracy list above.
  • Appoint a point person to do a nightly check of what our reporters/editors are tweeting/posting. Is it meeting our standards? Is someone doing a great job — and have they been told that lately?

Buttry: I pumped my fist at the suggestion of telling people that they’re doing a great job (if they are). I have noted before that praise is one of the most important and effective management tools.

Code of Ethics

  • Make sure everyone has a copy and at least one is posted in the newsroom and posted online — our readers should know the code of ethics we follow.
  • Possible additions: A reminder that these ethics apply to all platforms of journalism: Print, web, mobile, tablets and social media.
  • Respect for others in the newsroom/your co-workers. Is your space clean? Avoid using language that offends others trying to work. Buttry: These are good points, but I don’t see cleanliness or foul language as matters of ethics. Might want to change the heading or give that point its own heading.

Communication

  • Email should be a back up. Phone or face-to-face is best. Buttry: Excellent point for most important communication. Email is valuable, though, for repeating or reminding of the points made face to face, and can be efficient if people are working different hours or someone is in the field.
  • Similar to the meeting we had to roll out Unbolt, let’s have a quarterly meeting to go over large initiatives.
  • Departments should have a “huddle” once a week to go over changes, check in to see how everyone is doing, discussions about what worked and what didn’t. The “huddle”  should be quick, efficient.
  • Editors should come up with a way to encourage staff who have gone above and beyond. Maybe a monthly wrap-up of what went well? (Similar to the “Strokes and Pokes” newsletter Charles used to create.)
  • Praise goes both ways and across departments!

Buttry: I’ll repeat my praise for including praise here.

Features Editor Lindsey Hollenbaugh led the standards committee, assisted by Entertainment Editor Jeff Borak, sports writer and columnist Howard Herman, Sports Editor Richard Lord, Berkshires Week Associate Editor Maggie Button, community news coordinator Jeannie Maschino and editor and paginator David LeClair.

Other posts on the Eagle’s master plan

Berkshire Eagle Master Plan gives direction to the work of unbolting from print 

Berkshire Eagle’s plan to unbolt coverage and storytelling

How the Berkshire Eagle is unbolting planning and management from print culture

Berkshire Eagle plans for mobile success

The Berkshire Eagle’s plan for stronger engagement

The Berkshire Eagle unbolts from its processes and workflow from print

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This continues my analysis of a draft of a revision to Society of Professional Journalists Code of Ethics. I commented Friday on the changes to the “Seek Truth” section of the code. Here I’ll address the next three sections: Minimize Harm, Act Independently and Be Accountable.

I remain disappointed in the revisions and hopeful that SPJ members will insist on a more thorough update. My primary criticisms from Friday’s post still stand: The Ethics Committee went into this process with most members having already decided that the current Code of Ethics, adopted in 1996, just needed a little tweaking. I argued in 2010 and on various occasions since that the code needs an overhaul. I don’t know if we’re in a majority of journalists, but lots of people have told me privately that they agree (a poll on that 2010 post showed a vote of 138-22 in favor of updating, but I’m under no illusion that my blog readers are a cross-section of journalists.

The committee’s draft just tweaked and didn’t sufficiently address the needs of journalists today or the recommendations of a digital “subcommittee” on which I served (only one member of the subcommittee was an actual member of the Ethics Committee). (more…)

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