by Jeff Kocur
I am encouraged by the stories of some former students who have encountered ethical dilemmas at their college newspapers.
One of my former students resigned as managing editor at a college newspaper on the East Coast after he said he watched his editor-in-chief repeatedly breach standard journalistic ethics in gathering and reporting information. Several other editors accompanied him in his very public resignation.
Good journalists act as a watchdog and expose the truth even though it may have a cost. This journalist had the courage to accept a very personal cost when he saw the editor-in-chief operating in a way that was not acceptable, and he did journalism a favor by standing up to it.
Will it change anything? Will the editor-in-chief understand his breach of ethics? Will he ever work as a professional?
I don’t know.
I do know that my former student, who is enrolled next year at the Medill School of Journalism for a graduate degree at Northwestern University, understands clearly what harm can be done by acting unethically in his profession, and I hope we see more people coming into this profession that see things like he does.
For more information about this situation: http://www.thejustice.org/forum/alleged-sexual-assault-represents-problem-with-greek-life-1.2988498#.UUC0ctHF1uI This commentary in the other campus newspaper at Brandeis discusses the issue at the Hoot, which was one of the three reasons the editor resigned. It also discusses several other things connected to the issue, but not specifically related to the ethics of the editor’s actions.
Practicing sensitivity is essential. Examine your approach to covering difficult topics. #25HZLWD http://tinyurl.com/a9w8szq
How do we, as today’s information consumers, sift through the rumors, the gossip, the failed memories, the spin and try to capture something as accurately as possible?
How can we overcome our own limits of perception, our biases, our experience and come to an account people will see as reliable?
This essence of journalism is a discipline of verification. Controversy is in the eyes of the beholder. Our job is make sure anything controversial is reported rightly, accurately and coherently.
We must also note any coverage can turn controversial if the reporter has not done his or her job. As Kovach and Rosenstiel in “The Elements of Journalism” quote Walter Lippmann, “just because news is complex and slippery, good reporting requires the exercise of the highest scientific virtues.”
In other words, the authors say, the journalist is not objective, but his method can be.
Objectivity can thus be equated with the approach, the professionalism in information-gathering and storytelling.
For example, Kovach and Rosenstiel list these intellectual principles of a science of reporting:
- Never add anything that was not there.
- Never deceive the audience.
- Be as transparent as possible abut your methods and motives.
- Rely on your own original reporting.
- Exercise humility.
In applying these guidelines to reporting of teens, also look at: http://jeasprc.org/minors-as-subjects-of-sensitive-topics/
The goal, say the authors, for any coverage of sensitive information or not: what does the audience need to know so it can evaluate the information for itself.
• Protocol for covering sensitive issues
• The future of news: Investigative journalism
• Explain controversial coverage to your audience
• Can unconscious biases affect our news?
• How the media frames political issues
• 10 ways to talk to students about sensitive issues in the news
• Confidential news sources policy
• Getting source consent when handling sensitive issues
• Tips for successful investigative reporting
• Six roles, or job duties, of modern journalism
Questions for thought:
• 1 Walter Lippmann once castigated journalists as untrained, accidental witnesses. How do we train them not to be? In a 300-word position paper assignment, suggest ways students would try to develop scholastic journalists who were not.
• 2 Watchdog reporting implies that the student press should recognize where powerful institutions, like public schools, are working effectively as well as where they are not. What types of reporting would illustrate this statement? Develop a lesson plan to explore this approach with students, stressing its heritage and future with new media. Is it something they are willing to do?
• 3 Choose a topic sensitive to your school or one you know would be at your school. Outline the approach to the reporting, from planning to packaging and publishing. (Could also include multimedia. As you plan sources, etc., show how you will avoid legal and ethical entanglements by identifying potential trouble points and how you would solve them.
• 4 School officials argue prior review is important because school media represent the image of the school to the community. Analyze this argument and make two sets of recommendations: one supporting prior review, the other arguing against it. Develop criteria and arguments for each position.
• 5 Explore instances where scholastic media excess damaged public trust, a belief in the First Amendment and/or a school system. What led to the excess? How best could it have been prevented? What actions, including censorship, would have prevented it? Would we be better off limiting our freedoms to avoid the excesses? Why or why not? Sketch out an approach that could have prevented the excess.
Develop a strong code of ethics, and follow it daily in planning all coverage. #25HZLWD http://jeasprc.org/tweet18-develop-follow-code-of-ethics
No matter which media platform you use, ethics will play a daily role in your decision making.
Rushworth Kidder in “How Good People Make Tough Choices” says ethics is a “right versus right” process.
“Right versus wrong” situations are best decided by knowing and applying press law. The act of deciding involves a concept we will call ethical fitness. Ethical fitness removes the need for control because students practice critical thinking. At the same time, we do not permit anyone to punish students for making – or failing to make – decisions that are not right versus wrong instances.
When it is time to take action, students who are ethically fit, who have already done the thinking, are prepared to resolve issues they face.
From story selection to explaining why a decision was made not to name a source, ethical thinking is at the core of a successful scholastic journalism program.
• NSPA Student Code of Ethics
• JEA Adviser Code of Ethics
• Press Rights Commission Online ethical guidelines for social media
• Press Rights Commission yearbook ethical guidelines
• Visual reporting ethical guidelines
• Questions student staffs should discuss before entering the social media movement
• Online ethics resources
• Journalism ethics situations
• Social media toolbox available
• So say we all
• What values?
• What are the ethics of online journalism?
Queens, N.Y., Nov. 1, 2012 — FEMA Community Relations (CR) team members moved through Breezy Point and Rockaway, NY, after Hurricane Sandy. The CR members talked with disaster survivors about FEMA assistance and assessed the situation on the ground. Photo by Walt Jennings/FEMA
by Megan Fromm
When Hurricane Sandy hit the United States early last week, citizens turned to Twitter for a constant stream of information. The hashtag #Sandy provided hundreds of live perspectives each minute, including photos of the impending storm and subsequent devastation.
For those covering the story live, the storm spawned an entirely new lexicon of descriptors (“Frankenstorm” among the most widely-used) and created an ethical dilemma all-too-common in today’s instant media environment: How to sort the fact from the fiction?
Even today, a week out from the storm’s landfall, fake images from New York and New Jersey are still making the rounds on social and professional media outlets.
Would your students know which photos were real, and which were fake? Have your students take this quiz, and then use the following information to further consider the importance of verifying information as it is shared in real-time.
This Atlantic article is among the best sources we found for updating Sandy images as they are verified (or debunked) and is a great starting point for a larger discussion with your journalism students and scholastic journalists:
• Did your students retweet or repost any of these images? Which ones?
• How many followed the Hurricane Sandy hashtag? Did they make any attempts to verify the information they were receiving? Why/why not?
*Editor’s note: This is the second of a series of rotating columns by commission members to appear Wednesdays. Megan Fromm will present best practices for teaching ethics; Jeff Kocur will discuss common problems student leaders and advisers face and how to overcome them; Candace Perkins Bowen will examine journalistic ties to Common Core standards; Mark Goodman will write about current events and impact on law as it affects scholastic media and Marina Hendricks will address ethical issues and online journalism.
by Jeff Kocur
When my students told me they wanted to write a story about a transgender student, my first thought was. “Here we go again.”
After last year’s series of controversial topics such as fighting, teen pregnancy, hazing, race, and other issues that raised the ire of my admin, simply because of their topics, I was ready for at least one issue that didn’t push the envelope.
But that isn’t really journalism.