Monday, June 1, 2009
It's funny that I have spoken about the conflict between business and journalism in a few classes this year. The interesting thing about this subject is the idea that business should not interfere in news gathering, yet news gathering and reporting would not exist without money.
The major problem with the newspaper industry in America is editors and businesspeople argue over the right way to present the news. The sad fact is they don't understand each other. The editor doesn't care about money, except when it comes to keeping the newspaper alive. The CEO expects to make a profit from the minute the news hits the web.
Whoever made the decision to place print stories online for free was using the wrong business model, plain and simple. This is how I personally view it because, in the end, it hurt more to give away the facts.
I came into this profession to write informative news stories for the public. It saddens me to know the public doesn't want to support the media and pay a dollar or two for the work they do(and I don't mean a large-scale profit model). It can be compared to the whole issue of illegal downloading. After all, the music didn't appear out of thin air.
My solution to this problem is to convince the public that our news is better than anything found online, or basically it's worth paying the money. Bloggers and other online sources keep slipping up and eventually the public will have to realize that is why the real, professional journalist exists.
Thursday, May 28, 2009
Blogging is becoming more and more a part of the mainstream media. Therefore, information can get out very quickly because it's an outlet that can be accessed at virtually any time.
- Brett Favre possibly coming out of retirement? That news first reported by a blog, then picked up by television.
- The Washington Capitals may have received steroids? Chalk that one up to blogs, too, before the story hit the wires.
Accuracy, even when reporting rumors, is paramount. If your name is attached to it, misinformation could cause a journalists professional credibility to go downhill.
Some things to remember when reporting on blogs:
- Blogging can have a huge impact. Whether it's a minor story or not, blogging gets it out quickly, so make sure it's accurate
- Rumors and predictions can have their place in the blogging world, but they should definitely be labeled as such until the appropriate amount of source work and research has been done. There is nothing wrong with labeling something as rumor before it gets out as a legit story.
Tuesday, May 26, 2009
Telling the truth has been ingrained in us since birth. It has never been acceptable to lie. But when I told my parents and friends I wanted to major in Public Relations at Ohio University, we all joked that I would major in lies. But is withholding the truth, a practice talked about in various scholarly journals and readings throughout my lessons in ethics, really "bad"? We must look closer at this problem to determine the answer.
Is the public obligated to know everything? Should they have access to any and every fact we have on a certain topic? An online article directed at public relations educators attempted to tackle the problem of telling the public anything and everything. The author believes that it is in fact, a lie to not full disclose all necessary information to the public.
In polls the author, David Marintson, conducted, many felt that the most serious actions that PR practitioners can take would involve lying to the public, while situations such as giving evasive answers are not "as severe" as flat out lying. Refusing to comment on a press release or refusing to divulge more information than what is found in a release was not considered to be a lie by these professionals and heads of PR departments at universities throughout the nation.
As a student, the most serious finding in the survey was that these professionals felt that it was unethical to release information that management ordered a practitioner to release. I understand that we are to do as we are told by superiors, but we are also to do what we believe is right, according to our own moral compass instead of the moral compass of the company.
We are told by the PRSA code of ethics that we are to have no conflicts of interest ("Act in the best interests of the client or employer, even subordinating the member's personal interests"). How are we supposed to act when we are ordered to do something that is obviously unethical, such as covering up a toxic spill in a local community when our code of ethics again says to do all we can to find the truth and disclose it ("Investigate the truthfulness and accuracy of information released on behalf of those represented" and "Avoid deceptive practices")? How are we to stand up for what we believe in, act in the best interest of the company, avoid conflicts of interest, and be truthful when in a situation like this? We are pulled in every direction.
It is hard to determine, as a graduating PR senior where the line should be drawn. I can find a number of links online about deceptive PR practices and bad examples of PR, but finding examples of PR challenging the norm and acting ethically are hard to find. As a graduating senior and beginning professional, I hope that my moral compass is pointing the right direction. I just hope that the ethics and morals I learned while studying public relations will lead me in the right direction.
The Life Span of the Daily White Lie
According to World Daily Net News, the average person tells four to six lies in the span of an entire day. Although these lies, generally along the lines of "I'm stuck in traffic" or even "I love you," may seem trivial and insignificant, they build a degree of indifference toward lying that develops into a habitual, substantial behavior.
The purpose of a public relations representative is to communicate the issues truthfully, which means the whole truth. This is an especially difficult task considering the human propensity for unrestrained expression of white lies, which may then mature into "truth spinning" or even omission of crucial facts, something PR representatives are asked to do on a daily basis.
One Tough Job Description
It is often the case that public relations representatives are hired to speak on behalf of a company. In doing so, they are generally guided toward painting that company in a good light, which benefits not only their employer and stockholders, but also themselves as the employee, hence the common perception of public relations specialists as "spin doctors." The trickiest part of the PR job is determining where to draw the line between ethical truthfulness and company objectives. Where does their private citizenship end and their public citizenship begin?
The Golden Standard
After years of debate and objective inconsistency, public relations specialists settled on a standard that would address the common tendency to lie by omission, or intentionally deceive those to whom they communicate. Since truthfulness is the goal of the communication, "substantial completeness", a term developed by Tom Beauchamp & Stephen Klaidman helps guide PR professionals.
According to these virtuous journalists, substantial completeness is defined as "the point at which the reasonable person's requirements for information are satisfied." This seems pretty reasonable. It should be the goal of the public relations representative to consider the interpretation of the recipient of the message rather than the goals of the company.
Let's break apart the name: they relate to the public, therefore the public's interpretation of their fact should be their primary concern. Forget the codes of ethics crafted by major companies. Enron's is now selling on eBay for $31. The only ethical code that public relations specialists need to rely on is the one that was instilled in them through their education as journalists. They are well aware of the difference between right communication and wrong communication.
As I get ready to graduate this June and start my journey into the multi-faceted PR field, I plan to have my ethical shield held high. I believe that the public should know the truth and not be persuaded into believing false information distributed by “respectable” sources.
I am aware of the negative connotation that the public gives PR practitioners, and I for one do not want to be considered a “spin doctor.” While working in the field, I will strive to tell the whole truth while still doing my job by properly representing my clients; however, is this the case for all PR practitioners? Will my ethical efforts be overshadowed by others in the field who feel that truth comes second and positive coverage comes first no matter what the cost?
What constitutes as the truth?
In the article, “Truthfulness” in Communication Is Both a Reasonable and Achievable Goal for Public Relations Practitioners, by David Martinson, the question of whether or not withholding information from the public is considered the same as telling a lie. Withholding information may not be the same as telling a lie; however, the practice is deceitful and can ruin relationships and credibility.
According to Martinson, the goal of PR practitioners should not be to make the worse appear better. He believes that PR practitioners need to be ethical communicators who truthfully communicate their clients’ messages. Although Martinson makes a strong argument for the need of ethical communicators in the PR field, do PR professionals practice ethical communication?
Take it from the professionals
According to a bog post, “Public relations vs. journalism,” by the News & Record’s editor, John Robinson, Public Relation executives do not feel they have the obligation to tell the truth. More than 260 PR executives voted on the issue in a PR Week sponsored debate and 138 voted against the motion while 124 voted for the motion. The main reason for this belief is the media.
The executives blamed the journalists for “constantly sought out tension, discord and disruption.” Therefore, the executives had to protect their clients and, when necessary, “fib/be economical with the truth/lie.” Although this is not a surprising claim, PR professionals and the media need to work together to make sure the public is getting the truth and not deter one another from that goal.
Monday, May 25, 2009
The Whole Truth and Nothing But the Truth
“Is withholding a fact the same as telling a lie?” That is the question David Martinson raises in the introductory paragraph of his article “‘Truthfulness’ in Communication Is Both a Reasonable and Achievable Goal for Public Relations Practitioners.” Growing up, I was taught that I should always tell the truth. My mom always said that the only time it was okay to withhold information was when, say, planning a surprise birthday party for someone. In that instance, it was okay to deceive because of course, you’re going to want to keep the party secret in order to make it that much more exciting. I think Martinson raises a crucial question, one that we should consider whether we work in public relations or any occupation for that matter.
Withholding Critical Information
There will be times when we hear news stories that appear better than what they really are. There will also be times where news stories appear worse. Although news stories may consist of the truth, sometimes, significant facts are omitted and viewers are left to think the worst.
This happened in the well-known 1990s Food Lion case. In this case, ABC’s Primetime was tipped off on unsanitary practices that were happening at Food Lion. Primetime reporters went undercover (an unethical practice in itself) and captured footage of Food Lion’s unhealthy ways, which they ultimately decided to air. Viewers were aghast and as a result, Food Lion’s business was significantly destroyed.
Although ABC aired truthful footage, they left out some critical details, deceivingly slanting their story. Over 45 hours of footage that was never aired revealed that the undercover reporters actually encouraged violations of company policy. But, more importantly, it showed Food Lion employees resisting, deciding to follow more ethical practices. As a result, ABC had to pay.
An Internalized Value
Of course telling the “whole truth” will be difficult and tedious at times, but we must all strive to be genuinely truthful. If we do not, we could be hurting others and may have to pay detrimental repercussions. We need to internalize truthfulness as a value. Many who withhold the truth may never get caught. In actuality, they are not lying, but they ultimately are not being true to themselves.
Have “‘corporate values’ become an oxymoron?” Shane McLaughlin asks in the article “A New Era for Communicating Values.” My answer to the question is absolutely not. I look forward to creating my own personalized list of ethical codes and I will carry them with me as I begin my job search. At the top of my list: truthfulness.
The movie "The Paper" covers many aspects of a journalist's life like the chaotic newsroom environment, the struggle between advertising and reporting, and the process of chasing down a big scoop. But to me, the most engaging aspect of the film was watching Michael Keaton's character Henry try to balance the long intense hours of being a journalist with the demands of being a husband and father.
When I think about my future as a journalist, I see myself in a very demanding job where I'd work 60-hour weeks including latenights, early mornings and weekends. I want a job that I can throw myself into entirely, the way Henry does in "The Paper". I know I can be a journalist without spending so much time at work, but it’s the intensity of the job that I’m drawn to, and I want the excitement of working around the clock and chasing stories at odd hours.
At the same time, however, I know I want to have a family and children in the future, and I spend a lot of time thinking about how I can simultaneously be a reporter and a parent. When I was watching “The Paper,” I paid special attention to the contrast between Glenn Close’s character Alicia and Marisa Tomei’s character Martha.
Martha chose family and gave up her reporter job with The Sun to have a child. She spends most of the movie trying to convince her husband to cut down on his work hours as well, in preparation for the birth of their baby. Alicia on the other hand, is clearly a career woman who chose climbing the ladder at work over having a family. She’s portrayed as the bitch of the newsroom who spends all her time at work and doesn’t have patience for friends, family or emotion. However, for her dedication, she is rewarded with a senior position in the newsroom and the respect of her colleagues.
When I think about my future, I sometimes think that these two characters are laying out the two basic paths my life could take. I know it’s possible to have a career and be a parent at the same, but can I be the BEST reporter I can be while also being the BEST parent I can be? I worry that I’ll love my job too much to be willing to take time off to start a family, or that I’ll love my kids too much to be able to go back to work after they’re born. Knowing I’ll face a decision like that causes me to wonder if I’m not better off putting my journalism degree on the shelf and going to graduate school to be a librarian or a teacher.
I don’t want to be sexist and say that only women will be faced with these choices, as clearly Henry in “The Paper” faces such a quandary as a man. I do think women are more often faced with this challenge of work and family, however, and I think that the best we can do now as we enter the workforce is to keep it in mind as we move through jobs and positions. Like Martha explains to Henry at the end of the movie: it’s not going to be a single moment where someone holds a gun to your head and asks you to choose work or family. Instead, it’s a series of small decisions you make every day that will shape your future.
Friday, May 22, 2009
I had the pleasure of watching the movie, 'The Paper', in class yesterday for the first time. I can't believe I had never seen this classic, but I suppose it is better late than never.
The Paper emphasizes a universal problem for all types of journalists, which at times, gets overlooked by today's media critics. Since the inception of journalism, reporters have all had to deal with one single pressure that will never go away. The deadline. The deadline, is what often times puts media ethics and criticism into overdrive.
Imagine a world where deadlines were non-existent. In this journalists' utopia, where every fact can be checked 100 times over and reporters can take a month to find that source who is just right, it seems like the ethical decision making process would be a bit easier. It is the deadline, that puts journalists into tight spots.
In each of our case studies, time is an issue. It is ever present, and without it, again there would be no worries. Hell, media companies could in theory poll their audiences and wait for feedback to see what is going to come off as ethical or not. In the real world though, the tough decisions are made under some of the tightest time frames, and often this haste is what leads to irrational decisions, or lack of oversight.
The ironic part of this cycle is that the consumers of news are the ones who make deadlines relevant. If it were not for the demand of the public for increasingly fast turnaround on news stories, there might be more time to preview packages and weigh the ethical nature of them. Then, when in this rush, a decision is made that offends someone or steps on someone's toes it is the same people who demand this speed and put this pressure cooker on the media that are the first to criticize.
It is extremely problematic, but it is the way of journalism. When considering case studies in the future, or possibly real life cases, I will always remember that perhaps the most relevant but overlooked external force is the deadline. He is king, and no matter what other factors are putting pressure on a media group, the deadline will never go away, or be satisfied if his interests are not met.
The 1994 movie, The Paper provided a glance into typical conflicts in the newsroom. The New York Sun fell in a tough spot between running a story on a murder based on easily obtained information or following a hunch and diving deep into the hard to report truth. The easy route was running a story pinning a murder on two young innocent boys.
The conflict between city editor Henry Hackett and managing editor Alicia Clark is a warranted one, determining whether the two boys names will be slain in the media or their innocence will be heard. It's sad to think that this is a quite likely a real life situation, and some reporters and editors find decide to take the easy route and meet a deadline instead of doing the extra footwork for the truth.
Another issue in the dealing with the matter was an issue of sources. Protection of sources is an important issue to keeping the truth in journalism and informing the public. Many knew the boys in the movie were innocent and that there were mob connections in the murder case, but no one wanted to go on the record with the information.
These situations leave the journalism field in a Catch 22. People must continue to question the media fed to them because of those that have been dishonest, but journalists must stay loyal to the confidentiality of their sources to continue receiving information when there are corruptions within businesses, government, and organizations.
This one situation addressed multiple questions that provide a realistic look at issues that the media confronts daily. It is imperative that journalists continue to go the extra mile to conquer these conflicts in seeking the truth and reporting it, as well as addressing issues about sources.
The Paper tells the story of Henry Hackett and his struggle to be a good editor of The New York Sun, a daily newspaper. Between interviewing at a different paper, financial struggles, a pregnant wife and newsroom drama, the film is a chaotic comedy.
The plot centers around a double homicide and the press’ coverage of the investigation. Two young black males have been taken into custody, but their involvement in the crime hasn’t been substantiated. Hackett recognizes the need to think about repercussions of publishing stories. A slanted story could reignite racial tensions and damage the reputations of the men. Hackett stands up to his peers at the paper and argues for further investigation and cautiously worded headlines and stories until more information is known.
While Hackett takes a few ethical missteps throughout, he remains dedicated to the truth of the story and the integrity of his paper. I felt the most valuable lesson of the movie was that important publishing decisions should be made objectively, by clearly evaluating all of the stakeholders and issues. Unfortunately these ethical calls must be made by fallible people. They are not static. They do not occur in a vacuum and are affected by an array of factors.
The reporters’ salaries that were at stake during the movie were one influential factor, as well as the cost of pushing back the printing ($12,000 for each half-hour after deadline) and the loss incurred by stopping the presses to reprint a different cover. The constant chaos of the newsroom made it a difficult work environment and the personal lives of the reporters impacted (often, inhibited) their personal work abilities and added to the office politics at the Sun.
What the film demonstrates is the importance of relating our course curriculum to the real world as often as possible. By drawing solid ethical boundaries in as many hypothetical situations as possible, we as journalists can better prepare ourselves for the unknown decisions we may face. And these dilemmas are almost guaranteed. Alicia Clark is redeemed in the end when she steps outside of her personal life and evaluates her options and consequences as objectively as possible.
Separating such a decision from the rest of oneself is difficult, but it is a skill that improves with practice, and remaining dedicated to one’s values is the first step.
"The Paper," a 1994 film, brings up several good ethical questions. Is it wrong to steal true facts from other media outlets? How can journalists deal with confidential sources? However, one of the biggest issues that comes up is that of deadline. The whole film revolves around the inevitable fact that The New York Sun must find a story for the front page by deadline - no matter what. Throughout the movie, the staff works to decide what it will be.
Deadlines and False Truths
The most climactic scene is when one of the managing editors, Alicia, says she doesn't care if the story they print on the first page is true. If it's false, she says, they will print a retraction the next day. Once the story has already gone to the presses, it would be too costly to start over again - even if they have the true story in the palm of their hands. It's a startling part of the movie, and it was jarring for me. Does this really happen in real life? Have there been newspapers who have intentionally printed a story that is untrue? While I'm sure it has happened, Frank Scandale, editor of the (Bergen, N.J.) Record, has a good point.
Deadlines in the Digital Age
Scandale explains that technology is changing the way a deadline works. I think today's journalism is very different from that of journalism in 1994. Only 10-15 years later, the internet has made it possible for journalists to correct their stories in realtime, blurring the lines of what we call a true "deadline." The internet is changing the rules of journalism. While I'm not sure that's necessarily a good thing, in the case of changing a story that is inaccurate, it is.
Journalists deal with ethical decisions everyday. To spend time with family or heed the obligation to their job? To write the the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth or to disregard it in order to save precious money? The journalism world is filled with ethical dilemmas and the 1994 movie "The Paper" deals with a few of them.
"The Paper" is about Henry Hackett and his life at a New York tabloid-esque newspaper. His wife is pregnant and hoping he'll secure a higher-paying, better-hours job at a much more distinguished "world" paper. Throughout the movie, Henry deals with ups and downs with his wife and his job as he works tirelessly to get one big story to boost the reputation of the "cute" paper he currently works on.
The family or the job?
As we all know, journalists spend countless hours at their job that should be spent at home with their families. It has been like this since the early ages of the printing press. The journalist gets pinned between a rock and a hard place. Henry had to stay late at work in order to fulfill his obligation to his job. Yet his obligation to his wife and unborn child was therefore unfulfilled. The job is obviously a necessary staple to maintain a financially-secure family yet how much should one sacrifice for a job? Maybe we could all take a couple pointers from this World War II era film made by the US government in 1944...
Balancing Work and Family
The truth or the money?
In "The Paper," Henry endlessly works to print the real truth about two young men who were wrongly charged with murder. He pestered police, ruined his job offer, and even physically fought his female superior to try to stop the presses, just to ensure that his paper let the truth be known. Although much of these situations were exaggerated for entertainment's sake, such dedication to the truth is commendable. Not all journalists feel the same way as Henry, as we saw in the film "Shattered Glass" (that Media Ethics students viewed in our class a few weeks ago). If you've seen Henry's dedication to the truth in "The Paper," it's time you see just the opposite in "Shattered Glass." Here's a trailer for the film...
As an aspiring journalist myself, I find Henry Hackett's allegiance to truth inspiring and Glass's lack thereof to be appalling. Here at E.W. Scripps School of Journalism, we are trained to be independent thinkers and ethical journalists. And hopefully we'll be better at balancing work and family in our futures than Henry was able to in "The Paper." But considering our career of choice, it'll be difficult, to say the least.
Thursday, May 21, 2009
Deadline: the latest time or date by which something could be completed – as Bernie so lovingly reminds Henry as he waltzes into the 3 o’clock meeting in the feature film The Paper. As if Henry didn’t know. For the journalist, deadlines are a love-hate relationship.
The deadline is the finish line. At ten minutes ‘till, it’s a burden weighing you down. Making it is a race to the end. As soon as it passes, it’s an adrenaline rush and a weight lifted until embarking on the next project. The Paper examines the power of the deadline and its role in ethical decisions.
When Henry attempts to stop the presses, Alicia doesn’t accept his defense as reason to spend the extra cash to correct the wood. It’s correct for today, she says. Right for right now. You can fix it tomorrow. But is it ever ethical to print something knowing it’s false? Henry doesn’t think so.
Deadlines in a Digital Age
In an Internet era, deadlines are a revolving door. As soon as something is written, it is posted, read and commented on. If it’s wrong, it will be corrected in the commentary. If it’s exclusive, that won’t last long.
In this digital age, Alicia’s argument doesn’t stand a chance. As soon as something is published, it is out of date. There is no fixing it tomorrow. There is only now. The deadline is waiting.
Beating the Clock
The pressures to produce news around the clock mean many stories make it to the presses before reporters have had time to flush them out. As stories change and develop, new deadlines are met and corrections are made.
The new timeframe only increases the importance of sharing the process with our readers and viewers. On a constantly refreshing deadline, mistakes are bound to be made. The only preventative measure is transparency.
Our influence in the court of public opinion is heavy handed. Our mistakes can change the lives of our characters forever. If we share what we know when we know it, as well as what we don’t know, we prevent ourselves from drawing bold conclusions before they’re due.
In the 1994 film, "The Paper," several ethical dilemmas are brought to the surface through a comical cast who play the role of a New York City newsroom staff. While the movie may have been created with the intention of entertaining an audience, using exaggeration and ridiculous scenes for constant laughs, reality proves that several newsrooms are full of dynamics like the ones shown, fusing together an array of different personalities and characters that inevitably make ethical matters more complex than any code of ethics could ever predict.
Being the species of human beings that we are, sometimes people don't always think with a clear mind; sometimes, even in a professional setting, we let emotions get the best of us, no matter how hard we try to avoid situations like the ones presented in the movie.
In any given situation where a co-worker or situation drives us to become angry or frustrated, we as humans will undoubtedly use rather inappropriate language or physical tantrums to express that anger. In a climactic scene featuring Henry and the editor of "The Sentinel," the reporter uses language that may otherwise be inappropriate in a professional setting. But, sometimes the rules don't apply.
Other times, we allow pride to become part of the mix in our professions. While Alicia is a legitimately experienced reporter, she is constantly seeking a boost in salary and using her position as managing editor as a power tool to fight off other employees, namely Henry.
And while we may be the best professionals out there, matters of our personal lives sometimes inevitably overlap with the life we lead at work. In the movie, this was apparent in Bernie's poor health condition or in Marty's pregnancy.
While we should always act with integrity and professionalism, sometimes the toughest ethical decisions must be made in a second's time. Sometimes, we make the right decision. And sometimes, we make mistakes. At the end of the day, whether right or wrong, we're still only human.
I feel as though I can bring interesting perspective to many journalistic ethical issues. As a public relations major, earning a bachelor of science in journalism degree, I learn about the "right" way to portray things in one class, and fall in line with fellow journalists to discuss ethical publishing practices in another. While watching "The Paper" in this ethics class today, I found myself drawn to a specific ethically-questionable action, one that in turn resonated in the entire subsequent plot of the movie.
Here's a little background for those who haven't seen the movie; Henry is the Editor at "The Sun," a self-proclaimed sensationalistic 'newspaper' constantly struggling to be the go-to commuter paper. During an interview for a job at "The New York Sentinel,"(A New York Times-esk derivative), Henry pokes for information from the managing editor on an up and coming story. After an initial denial, Henry puts his journalistic training to work and investigates the other editor's notes, when he's not looking, and steals a look at their to-be-published lead. The ensuing plot has Henry running with new information, chasing down the story and *PLOT SPOILER* playing the ethically-responsible hero by saving the day and not running an erroneous story.
Now, really, don't we see this as somewhat contradictory? He makes a decision to step over a boundary and snatch the story from the highly-respected paper to make himself, and "The Sun," look better. But post-story stealing, Henry is miraculously the ethically responsible editor who stops the presses (mid fist-fight with a woman, may I add) to publish the true story for the sake of the truth, not the sake of money.
Of course, the viewer learns this is an exclusive story for "The Sun," success ensues, and we're lead to believe financial obligations are not the primary problem at hand any longer.
Where this leaves me, I don't know. However, and correct me if I'm wrong, I see the entire thing as slightly incongruous, and not to mention, idealistic at best. Is my view skewed because of my academic training being somewhat-contradictory itself, or am I not the only one on this tree branch of skepticism...?
Of all the ethical dilemmas in The Paper, job and family, and truth and money were the ones that dictated the movie's plot.
Henry Hackett, the metro editor of the New York Sun, loves his job but his wife is pregnant and was a reporter before she took a leave of absence to have the baby and start their family. He is constantly late for planned meetings with his family because his constant quest for the story and the quote get in the way of his family life. For journalists, this is common. We have to prioritize what is more important to us on a day-by-day and case-by-case basis. For beginning journalists who may not have many ties, just immediate family, this isn't such a huge problem. However, for seasoned journalists who have a family and obligations, this ethical dilemma could cause tension and problems.
The movie also touched on the importance of running a story that is true, obviously. The managing editor wanted to write what they knew by the deadline in order to save money, which in fact was a false story. However, Hackett wanted to really try to get the quote that vindicated two teenagers because he knew that the story that The Sun wanted to run wasn't correct. As journalists we always are pursuing the truth. However, the pursuit of the truth can be a messy road, but ethically it's worth it to only report the truth. If you are unsure about the story, then don't run it, or only run what you know to be true.
The USA Today article, “Warning: Advertising May be Hazardous to Your Health,” was really not all that surprising to me. Granted, I’ve been studying journalism for the past four years and have become cynical of every aspect of the media, almost to a fault. However, is it really “news” that advertisers put unrealistic, material-based and often unethical ideas in our heads? I didn’t have to pay $20,000 a year at college to figure that out.
The article did, however, bring back a particular memory of high school study hall. I attended an extremely sheltered, conservative Catholic school in Columbus, Ohio. At the beginning of every study hall, a five-minute program aimed at delivering the news to high-schoolers would run, complete with upbeat music, a handsome male and an attractive female anchor. The key events covered by most major news sources would be touched on, often involving funny quips, clever phrases and common slang for teens. There were also some very targeted advertisements during this five-minute news program. Although my memory is a bit foggy, I’d have to estimate that about 2 to 2.5 minutes of the program were sold to advertisers like Clarisol skin care, Nike shoes, Herbal Essences shampoo and Axe body wash.
It was targeted advertising, it took up a lot of program time and it congested the minds of countless teens with the idea that their skin wasn’t clear enough, their shoes weren’t cool enough, their hair stunk and they would get more chicks if they wore Axe. Overall, however, it was ethical (at least according to today’s standards). The editorial content wasn’t altered (that I know of) to accommodate the wants of the advertisers and the line between the reported news and when the advertisements started was clear.
Of course advertisements aren’t going to aid in us reaching optimal mental, physical or emotional health, but advertisements aren’t going away, so we need to deal. We need to educate ourselves on the concept of brainwashing, keep a level head, stay realistic and be happy with the life we are living. And we need to teach our children to do the same.
It’s sort of like smoking cigarettes. They are there. They are bad for you, pretty much all around. But they are legal and they aren’t going away. So we use our free will, ability to make decisions and education to deter people from using them. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. Some people will buy into the advertisements (pun intended) and some will not. If you are of age, it is ultimately your decision to make, as to how (or if) you will let advertisements contaminate your thinking. If you aren’t of age, it is your parents’ obligation to help you see through the gimmicks.
Today in my Media Ethics class, we watched the movie "The Paper." I noticed that a common theme throughout the movie was the struggle of balancing work and family. In "The Paper," the character Henry Hackett had several tough decisions to make that are very applicable to working parents in the real world. With a baby on the way, Hackett had to decide whether or not to accept a job at a more prestigious paper that required less hours but received more pay, or to keep his more demanding, lower-income job at a paper he enjoyed working for.
Although I have neither a full-time career nor a family of my own, I have witnessed this struggle for balance in my own family growing up as my father tried to gain more success in his career. Similar to Hackett’s character, my father felt the pressures of obtaining a higher paying job in order to provide the best he could for his family. This leaves me wondering if there truly can be a balance between work and family? It is parents' responsibility to provide for their children so they naturally try to achieve higher paying positions. Is it possible for somebody to be successful in his or her career but also be a dedicated full-time parent?
Chief Executive Officer of PepsiCo, Indra Nooyi, discusses her personal struggles of balancing work and family in the video below.
After watching The Paper, I was amazed at the number of ethical dilemmas that the newsroom faced. It's just a movie, but I know that journalists face these problems on a daily basis. Here was one of the dilemmas facing the newsroom: a deadline.
We as journalists have to be on time when it comes to stories. And some of you are probably thinking, "Duh!" But what if you don't have the full story? What do you do? Do you delay until you find out the true story like Michael Keaton's character did? Or do you run the story knowing the information is false? To me one of these options sounds very unethical.
What is more important, reporting the truth or losing money because you missed a deadline? To me, the truth is ALWAYS the most important part of a story. But Glenn Close's character chose to run the story knowing it was false. Luckily she came to her senses and stopped the presses and allowed the true story to be printed. She even said, "We'll get it wrong today and get it right tomorrow."
Like I said before, I know The Paper is just a movie. But deep down I know journalists have done whatever they could to meet a deadline. I just could not believe that someone would actually publish something that they knew was false. Getting it wrong today and not tomorrow is not acceptable. Getting it wrong should never even be an option. Is that not a reckless disregard for the truth? In this time of a great demand for news, we as journalists have to make sure we don't make these mistakes. I know I won't, and I hope my fellow journalists won't either.
By the way, WHAT A CAST!
Trailer for The Paper
Wednesday, May 20, 2009
This arguably overused concept is relayed in a variety of situations and contexts. One area in which it should be of central concern is public relations.
David Martinson, in “‘Truthfulness’ in Communication Is Both a Reasonable and Achievable Goal for Public Relations Professionals,” writes about reversibility, which conveys the question: “if the practitioner were the receiver of the particular communication rather than the transmitter, would he or she still believe it was substantially complete?”
This inquiry must be kept in mind not only by PR professionals but also by journalists of all types. While one cannot let the idea of hurting someone’s feelings or garnering criticism affect his or her coverage, the way that he or she portrays events, ideas and people can be altered to ensure that the communication is honest, factual and comprehensible. PR practitioners have an opportunity to build trust with the public (often for free!), which will ultimately help them with future campaigns and awareness endeavors. The PRSA’s Code of Ethics even lists HONESTY as one of its core values.
Additionally, as Martinson points out, untrustworthy communication by PR professionals directly impacts print news media, which have a responsibility to produce unbiased and truthful content for readers. I remember how, during my first internship at a small suburban news outlet, my editor would hand me a stack of press releases each day that I would rework and rewrite to better fit the publication. Looking back, I paid little attention to the source and seldom questioned the accuracy/honesty of the content, figuring it was "just PR." I now know that the source and content of press releases are just as important as adjusting them to fit journalistic standards.
Lastly, I agree with Martinson that not all persuasion is bad and that a certain amount of strategic communication is expected and actually welcomed in our social and product-oriented society. However, I do feel that the importance and credibility of the source of communication must be analyzed by both public relations practitioners and those receiving the message. The same exact press release or video news release can be interpreted and should be received much differently depending on the source.
With a mission “to promote transparency and an informed debate by exposing corporate spin and government propaganda and by engaging the public in collaborative, fair and accurate reporting,” the Center for Media and Democracy has an interesting Web site devoted to blogs about and reports of unethical PR practices.
Tuesday, May 19, 2009
Our readings for today center around the idea of truth. They encourage us to examine our industry more closely, especially in the area of advertising, in order to ensure that images and messages communicated through advertising adhere to the same standards of truth and ethics to which we hold other forms of journalism.
While it is easy to jump into a heated discussion about what is ethical in journalism and what isn't, I don't think this is where the conversation should begin. Rather, we must address a bigger issue before we can assess the nature of the messages communicated through advertising. As journalists, the bigger question is this: WHO is responsible for monitoring what the public sees on TV or in magazines?
Some may argue that as a result of the freedom of speech and expression that we enjoy in this country, advertisers should be allowed to produce all types of ads, even those that may not promote messages that are healthy for our society. For example, fashion designers Dolce & Gabbana have been known for their oftentimes scandalous ads that objectify women and place them in submissive and sexually vulnerable positions. While many speak out against such representations in the media, their are others who firmly believe these sorts of portrayals should be allowed - after all, Dolce & Gabbana is one of the most succesful high-end designers in the world, so clearly these images are selling the product.
However, others see it as the responsibility of advertisers to monitor what the public sees in the media. As journalists, we are encouraged to contribute to society in a positive, truthful way, and some argue that ads such as the Dolce & Gabbana ads, which communicate messages of violence and oppression, cannot be the work of ethical journalists.
Regardless of which camp you're in, the point here is that we cannot begin to address HOW to communicate more positive, truthful images and messages in the media until we identify WHO is responsible for making such decisions. Until that point comes, the media will continue to be saturated with less than ethical messages. However, if we can find a way to identify the responsible party, our industry will be one step closer to producing truly ethical and responsible journalistic work.
Seriously, non-alcoholic beer for kids? I was so appalled when I read about this. I don’t know who should really be blamed for the growing industry of “kid version” adult products. I mean in order to have a successful business, you have to have customers so I think the root of the problem is really with the parents who are buying these products.
I don’t think it is necessarily right for companies to manufacture the items and advertise them to children but if they get a positive response from consumers then of course they are going to keep coming up with them. Its not up to advertisers to parent the children of the world, it is their job to help create a successful company.
Kids are going to see things in the media and in the world that is sexually provocative, violent and meant for adults but that doesn’t mean that parents just have to sit back and accept it. Advertisements should not be making the decisions about how a child is going to be raised and what they are going to be exposed to, the parents should be filtering what their child reads, sees, hears and plays with.
I agree with the psychologist in the article that many parents are trying to be “cool” (I mean look at the trend of young celebrity moms) and they are not differentiating their young children from young adults. I think parents are so worried about not being “cool” that they allow the media to guide them about what is “in” but ultimately I think it should be up to the parents on whether or not to accept the advertisements.
Monday, May 18, 2009
Sunday, May 17, 2009
The bulk of the article “Warning: Advertising May be Hazardous to Your Health” isn’t news to me. Advertising is a powerful cultural force that shapes our attitudes, beliefs, values and lifestyles? It has a particularly strong effect on the perceptions of children and young people? It encourages materialism and promotes unrealistic and potentially unhealthy ideas about body image, relationships and sexuality? No kidding.
But what I did find particularly stirring in the article was the Channel One case study. It’s so interesting to me because I was myself a Channel One student, years ago at Park Street Middle School. At the time the idea that we would take a time-out in the middle of the day to watch a news program made sense. The educational merit of such an exercise is sound—shouldn’t students be informed about current affairs? Shouldn’t the education system do what it can to foster an interest and curiosity in the world around us? The idea sounds like a great one on paper so I have no trouble believing that teachers would comply with the program, and willingly so.
Of course the idea that the program was (and presumably still is) a vessel through which corporations might sneak their ads before the eyes of thousands of children hadn’t occurred to me until now. The article refers to these children as a “captive audience,” and of course this is exactly what they are. Even children who do not typically consume television advertisements don’t stand a chance with Channel One. It sounds like a nefarious scheme to me and it’d take an awful lot of convincing at this point to persuade me to believe otherwise. At 13 years old, the fact that a large portion of the daily program consisted of commercials seemed natural and inevitable. This is TV, and TV means ads. The real problem is that children are so susceptible (and vulnerable) to them.
I’m especially struck by the brief content-analysis the article provides, which notes that less than 20% of the program actually consists of news. I’m not surprised. The fact has bolstered one of my beliefs as a journalist—that as long as a program or package appears to be news then it is practically indistinguishable from it for the average viewer. I can construct an equally nefarious rationale for why Channel One might be structured in this way, and it might go like this: children don’t want to hear the news. The news is boring. Filling the program with cultural fluff pieces yields engaged, entertained viewers who are perfectly primed for imminent ad spots.
Fortunately, my younger sister has confirmed to me that schools in my district dropped the program a few years ago. Kids in Grove City, Ohio, at least, are spared.
Finally I want to point out how thankful I am for YouTube, through which you can still view some of the ad spots of the Pringles product described at length in the article. Though that particular ad is sadly not available, these are still worth watching. They are, of course, as hilariously bizarre as you would expect from a 90’s television commercial. Watching them I can’t help but think how much advertising has changed in the past two decades.
This sort of ad, where a potato chip company explicitly states the health merits of its product, simply would not fly. Our culture is too health conscious; we’d see right through it. More to the point, we’d probably laugh and roll our eyes—at least that was my immediate reaction to the Pringle spot. Ironically, this very fact might make us more vulnerable than ever, as advertisers resort to tactics that are much sneakier and more subversive.
Thursday, May 14, 2009
No one likes a liar. However, no matter how many times the media cries "wolf," the American public cannot help but come crawling back to mainstream news sources. That is, until the Internet allowed blogs to appear and begin stealing to limelight.
More than 60 million Americans, or 30 percent of all American Internet users, visited a blog in the first quarter of 2008. This is according to a new report from Comscore and sponsored in part by SixApart and Gawker Media. These numbers have placed considerable pressure upon mainstream media to compete with citizen journalists and has opened a new debate on the accuracy and credibility of information provided online.
With tens of millions of people reading blogs covering virtually every conceivable topic and industry, it did not take long for advertisers and entrepreneurs to notice. To capitalize on such exposure, many companies have begun to sponsor select bloggers that they believe will positively appeal to their target demographic(s).
Like any new promotional tactic, sponsored blogging has had it's share of faux pas and mishaps. Most notable is the Walmart blog controversy where a couple was found to have been paid to travel across America promoting Walmart and the stores' hospitality. The scheme ultimately backfired sending the company into a PR tailspin. This, of course, raises the question of who audiences should trust when reading independently managed media sources.
One must be careful not to forget that blogs are no different than print propaganda distributed by special interest groups and political candidates. This practice has been going on for centuries. Regardless of the venue utilized, the information is only as credible as its source and must be ruthlessly cross-referenced. The same goes for mainstream media. While it is unrealistic to say that web users will catch on to phony information 100% of the time, a credible web site ProBlogger offers the following advice (original article found here).
Advertising pays the bills. While this may be common knowledge to some, not everyone really can grasp the amount of money that advertising generates. It generates money for the product and company that executed it, for the agency that creates it and for every television station, magazine, internet website, etc. that airs, or prints it. And at the end of the day, most people are motivated by money.
With this being said, it is understandable as to why Tom Grant is frustrated. As a newscaster for 15 years, it would be very disappointing to know that he was prohibited from reporting a certain type of story by an advertiser. It would be frustrating to know that ad money was more important than the general public's right to know something going on in their community
How could we ever fix this problem though? We are a society of consumers who are continually buying. Even in the recession we are still buying (which is good). How can we blame news stations for trying to make a profit while this is all going on? Is there a balance we can reach? How do we reach this balance when the story we want to run directly contradicts the advertising that’s coming on after the first three minute spot on the 6 pm news?
As irritating as it is to not be able to present a story, the station needs that cash to be able to produce the evening news sans “controversial” story. As a matter of fact, whether it's a news station, a magazine publication, a multimillion dollar corporation or whatever, there is always someone or “something” (advertising) that is paying the bills. This will ultimately create conflicts of interest and the only thing we can do is try and find a balance between what we’re willing to sacrifice in order to continue producing, reporting, printing, planning, etc. Is the fight against “the 800 lb gorilla really worth it?
All I can say is "Wow". I've never thought about advertising and how it may or may not affect journalism. I always think the two (editorial content and sales) are seperate. I read magazines a lot and I have noticed that a lot of the magazines will have advertisements that can almost be mistaken as another article. I have a pretty good eye for that type of thing.
I get duped by online advertisements all the time. There have been many times when I have clicked on an advertisement by accident because I thought it was a link to another article. Normally ads will be banners at the top of the website, but lately, I've noticed that the ads are on the sides and those are the ones I click on.
I don't mind that though. What I do mind is the media allowing their content to be censored by the people who they advertise for. I was appalled by the story of Cosmo Girl in the CJR article. I am still confused as to why Cosmo allowed a Detroit auto company to censor the "How to Be Very Good in Bed" article. (I'm also confused as to why Cosmo Girl even had an article like that because the magazine is supposedly geared toward high schoolers, but I digress).
Just before writing this blog, I went to CNN's website and it had this across the top of the front page:
It is an advertisment for an upcoming special on CNN about how economic headlines are affecting viewers. However, it is presented by Bank of America. Now, after reading the articles, I am not so sure I am convinced that CNN made production decisions without the potential rewards and consequences of Bank of America in mind. I don't like that at all.
I think that the media definitely needs money; however, these stations, papers and magazines should stand up to the advertisers and not allow their need of money to cloud their ethical judgment.
In the Wall Street Journal article titled “Paid to Pitch: Product Reviews by Bloggers Draw Scrutiny,” Rita Arens suggests that reputable blogs display a seal akin to the Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval. The idea of utilizing a seal to ensure fairness and honesty in the blogosphere is admirable but unlikely. The major problem with trying to create a GH Seal of Approval is that the seal didn’t develop creditability overnight; it took years to develop the reputation of excellence.
The seal was developed as a result of the efforts from the GH Research Institute. The research institute individually tests every single product that the magazine receives and the magazine only features products it deems legitimate. The seal is reserved for the cream of the crop and since it’s creation in 1909, only 5,000 products have been worthy of the seal. The point is, the magazine was a beacon for decades before ever developing the the seal and has an immense research institute to mediate it.
If that isn’t a solid case for creditability, since 1941 GH has backed their product reviews with the GH Consumer’s Refund or Replacement Policy. Meaning if you purchase any product that had the GH seal or is advertised in their book and that product is defective, GH will replace it or pay the consumer the purchase price out of its own pocket. What will the blogosphere receive as a consequence for a misleading review?
To me, the suggestion that the blogosphere might be able to create something like the GH Seal of Approval is unlikely. When bloggers can set the standard for product review and hold some degree of accountability for their actions, I just might learn to trust them. Until then, I’ll be my own judge.
Branding. This is a concept that applies to practically everyone and everything. According to Brandchannel.com, branding involves using attributes and characteristics in order to differentiate yourself or your company in a meaningful way. Beyond the general term there is brand identity, where you express your brand to others, and brand image, the way that others see you. As mentioned, nearly everything is branded, whether or not it is realized. For example, dogs have a brand image of “man’s best friend.” Of course, not all dogs fit this view, but I’m sure that most people associate dogs with friendly pets.
Continually, every college student has a brand. As we grow and experience we develop a sense of self and an identity for ourselves. Our character, our brand identity, is presented to others and we form relationships based on that. Now, just as we have individual brands, all companies have distinct brands. Each news organization, newspaper and magazine has a different identity. The New York Times has a different brand identity than The Wall Street Journal or The Onion. Maxim has a different brand identity than Cosmopolitan or the New Yorker. All of these media organizations present a different image, and they attract consumers who relate to that image.
The article, “The Squeeze,” by Russ Baker, talks about how the advertising industry, while representing their clients, influences the content of our news and editorials in some of these media outlets. Like the news organizations, clients such as P&G are trying to reach a specific target audience, and they brand their company or product in order to appeal to that consumer. So the client and agency find the best media to reach their target audience.
Media choices are not selected at random, they are strategic. From here the media team at the agency and the media organization work together to decide when ads will run, how long, how much, etc. Here is where each side must understand each other’s brand. If a client decided to advertise with The New York Times he must realize that it will run hard-hitting stories. And the sales representative for The New York Times must also represent her new client, the agency, and understand that brand.
There is good communication and relationships when the news organization gives a heads up to the agency about unfavorable stories that might be running. Most likely, the advertisers will not pull the ad; they might move it to a different issue, but they would not pull all of their ads. If that is where the consumer is, that is where the ad needs to be.
In the end, a newspaper or magazine should not waiver and change its brand image simply to meet the requests of advertisers and to bring in that money. Everyone needs to realize their brand image and stick to it.
I thought the Columbia Journalism Review article, “The Squeeze,” by Russ Baker was very interesting and outlined a catch-22 between media outlets and advertisers. The article detailed editors’ ethical dilemma between unbiased editorial content and the ever-growing financial need to stay in their advertisers’ good graces in this time of economic hardship.
The problem with censoring editorial content to please advertisers is that the output of the media outlet is compromised by the advertisers’ guidelines for their sponsorship; however without substantial advertising dollars media outlets struggle to stay afloat. So, where do we, as journalists, draw the line
As a journalist hoping to have a future in advertising, specifically media planning and buying, this question perplexes me. I believe that a courtesy call to an advertiser about content they could potentially object to is ethical IF the content is not changed under any circumstances,. The advertiser simply has the option to pull their advertising space if they so wish. Advertisers pay a lot of money to place their ads, so I understand their weariness of being placed next to unfavorable content.
I don’t think the courtesy call should be a question to the advertiser of permission to run the story, instead simply a heads up about the content in case they decide to withdraw insertions for that issue. Where I draw the line on this subject is when advertisers and their products influence editorials and the range of topics covered in a publication. I think the American Society of Magazine Editors’ effort to keep content unbiased by refusing to submit story summaries to advertisers is admirable – I’m just not sure how feasible and promising this strategy will prove if some editors bend to pressure OR advertisers withhold large sums of advertising dollars as boycott.
I also thought an interesting aspect of this story was the critique of ads that look similar to editorials. I actually think these ads are completely ethical, especially because they are required to state “ADVERTISEMENT” in capital letters at the top of the advertisement. I think that creating ads that look similar to editorials is an extremely clever way to create ads that stand out in the clutter.
Wednesday, May 13, 2009
In a story for “Good Morning America” Andrea Canning discussed the ways in which advertisers are targeting younger and younger audiences. One of the products touted in her article was a beverage popular with kids in Japan. Dubbed “Kidsbeer,” the guarana-based soda is colored brown to look like real beer. Of course the product is non-alcoholic and not really a beer at all.
My question is this: is marketing a product that simulates an adult product to children really forcing kids to grow up faster?
On New Years’ Eve my family would sometimes give all the younger kids sparkling grape juice instead of champagne. In a fancy flute it looks the same. The bottles even look similar. Is this the same thing?
"If you get this drink ready on such occasions as events and celebrations attended by kids, it would make the occasions even more entertaining." Satoshi Tomoda, president of the company that makes Kidsbeer, said in a story for The Japan Times.
Some products are meant to be fun. Children will always mimic what adults do. It makes sense that a company chooses to market a product meant for children to children. However, in this case, the slogan of “even kids cannot stand life unless they have a drink” seems a bit extreme. Perhaps in the context of the culture it exists in the slogan is more acceptable.
Advertisers need to consider what impact their ads will have on children, of course, but it is also important to have a sense of humor.
This video (taken from eBaum's World) is an advertisement for Kidsbeer. It's in Japanese, but still funny. Everyone seems to be having a good time, not reinforcing dangerous alcohol habits in children.
News media need advertisements.
It should not come as a surprise to anyone that newspapers, in particular, are losing public interest and therefore seeing a decrease in the amount of money coming in. The money advertisers provide is something we cannot afford to lose right now.
But it is not right that newspapers and magazines often have to alter the content of their writing and design in order to appease those advertisers. The examples of the demands by certain advertisers given in the article “The Squeeze” in Columbia Journalism Review are enough to frustrate any journalist.
And it is frustrating because there is not much we can do about it if we want to keep our advertisers satisfied enough to want to continue working with us.
Each advertisement brings with it a conflict of interest. If a local business were to be accused and involved in some kind of legal trouble, would a newspaper be able to write an honest and factual article about it if that company had been regularly purchasing advertisement space? Could the paper afford to lose that business today?
It is an issue that needs to be thought over in the media industry, for sure. Advertising is a necessary staple in media incomes, and we all need to be sure that it does not interfere with our desire to remain as ethical as possible.
Here's a great example of product placement, from the movie Wayne's World:
I was astonished when I read the quote from Josh Schroeter, printed in the article "Wooly Times on the Web" by Robin Goldwyn Blumenthal, where he says that the media in the digital age will be "a marketing vehicle with the editorial content inserted into that." I was not astonished that someone could suggest that the media fall sway to advertisers and big business; I was astonished that anyone still believed that this has not been the situation for the last century (for a radical, left-wing perspective on corporate control of media, check out "Our Un-Free Press" by McChesney and Scott. I found it online, mint condition, for three bucks--I guess their perspective is not very popular in the United States of Disney).
Corporate interests have applied a free-market ideology to the media with disastrous consequences, mainly because these corporations have done everything they can to remove the one aspect of capitalism they enjoy the least--competition. They want, as Ben Bagdikian puts it, a "media monopoly," so corporations buy up ABC and CBS, but they also buy as many different media outlets as they can, such as book publishers, magazines, newspapers, recording companies, movie studios, web portals, etc. That way you can watch a piece of fluff morning news show on ABC, and their guests will be authors with books coming out from a Disney-owned publisher, or actors in a Disney-owned film, or singers on Disney-owned labels, and so on until you can no longer hold back the vomit.
Click here to see what Jay Leno will do to suck up every advertising dollar that he can.
The result of such conglomeration is media that is largely homogenous from medium to medium. Alternative voices, voices of dissent, are not heard because they do not have the resources to reach a wide audience (Robert McChesney, in his article "U.S. Media at the Dawn of the Twenty-first Century," points out that most "indie" movie studios are actually subsidiaries of major film studios to give the illusion the independent studios can "challenge the existing giants"--they can't).
I'm not at all surprised by the "Taking Care of Business" article by Sharyn Vane where the wall between advertising and editorial is rapidly eroding. The fact that one Atlanta Journal-Constitution is the "director of innovations" and is in charge of coordinating the newsroom and the advertising section of the paper is enough to make me laugh and cry.
Check out the advertising campaign to sell advertising.
Clashes between the broadcast stations’ advertising and sales departments on stories covering important advertisers are as old as the history of commercial broadcasting. I have heard about incidents in which pressure was applied to assignment editors or news directors to pull or temper stories about major clients that took place decades ago. However, it seems that reports of these events have grown more frequent in recent years.
It has to be recognized that conflicts between a station’s desire to cover news in its local community well and its effort to look after the interests of its advertisers are bound to occur. Inevitably, embarrassing or potentially harmful stories will arise that concern a broadcaster’s advertising clients and the decision to run such stories can either affect its bottom line or its standing in the community, or if mishandled, both.
The solution is most often reporting on the story in a nuanced way that maintains the essential elements of its details, but presents the story in a way that sheds as little negative light as possible on the client. This allows the news department to maintain its fundamental integrity while offering some help to its advertiser. Of course, this is not a complete solution as an approach like this involves framing the story in a way that is distorted by the client’s wish to be protected.
What makes these incidents more common today? Perhaps there are several factors at play. First, we are in dire economic times and advertising revenues in the past six months have declined precipitously nearly everywhere in the US. This makes station management doubly nervous about stories that might affect their advertisers, and so more than usual pressure might be applied to managers in the news department.
Secondly, and more importantly, the nature of news on radio and television has experienced a fundamental change within the past decade. While the public still lists local television as the number one source of news, people also use multiple sources, and use all sources less than they used to. This has led broadcasting stations to see their news programs as less of a civic responsibility and more of yet another opportunity to deliver entertainment to audiences. Thus, local newscasts tend to be constructed around stories that have high excitement value but may have little substance. In this environment, omission of stories that might affect advertisers hardly matters because the obligation to serve public information needs has been greatly diminished.
I found a report on a very interesting study of the influence of media ownership and advertisers on network television news correspondents. The findings reported that about 20% of the correspondents felt some ownership pressure to report or censor stories and 7% reported some advertiser pressure.*
* Price, C. J. (2003). Interfering owners or meddling advertisers: How network television news correspondents feel about ownership and advertiser influence on news stories. Journal of Media Economics, 16 (3), 175-188.
During my time in various capacities at The Post I have come to understand the divide between advertising and editorial. At The Post the divide probably has more to do with total ignorance of, and indifference toward, the business end of journalism than a principled rejection of any tampering in news content from the advertising wing. When I was running The Summer Post, our advertising man handed me page proofs with ads and I filled those pages with news. That was it.
I personally have always been highly critical of advertising in any shape and form, writing it off as a necessary evil at best and a vile distraction that creates artificial need at worst (I think it was Kafka who said “I do not read advertisements—I would spend all my time wanting things”). But I’m a bit more cynical and, well, crazy than many of my colleagues (probably a good thing they’re not all so impulsive and directed by any arising passion).
But despite my deeply held convictions, I do see the need for at least some cooperation between advertising and editorial. I can be pragmatic and drown my beliefs when necessary. Try as I might to ignore the unpleasant truth that journalism is a business and newspapermen are shelling out a product, my grand illusions often cave to good sense and necessity.
As one source said in the article “Taking Care of Business,” which appeared in the American Journalism Review, "It's worse than idealistic to think that any other kind of company could succeed in a business and not have the parts of the business talk to each other. The basic principle still stands: Advertising should not affect coverage." This editor-turned-marketing man has the right idea.
Communication is never a bad thing, and in a business environment it’s downright essential. I don’t see a lot of harm in simply letting advertising know what you’ve got coming down the pipeline, cooperating and including representatives from the department in some meetings. You just don’t let them have any say in what you’re covering or how you cover it. You drive the content, but you let them know what that content is so they can plan accordingly. If they have questions about the angle of a story, you should answer them completely and honestly. If they ask you to tone something down or change that angle, you tell them 'hell no.'
I also don’t see a huge danger in some cooperation between entertainment/travel sections and the advertising department. They’re already essentially promotional anyway and you’re not putting your hard-hitting, corruption-exposing stories in these sections. These are your money-making sections in large part and you should milk them for all their worth. Once again though, if advertising tells you not to include some nasty little truth about some high-end luggage manufacturer or something, you tell them ‘too bad because the story won’t be filtered by marketers.’
I CAN RELATE...
After reading the article, "Paid to Pitch: Reviews By Bloggers Draw Scrutiny," not only did I realize I was being fooled, but also realized, I was not alone. Like many people, I frequently resort to checking out products online before going out to a retail store. I can relate to Salwa Mbarouk, who purchased a book, basing her purchase on information from a sponsored post, and then realized that the blogger in fact never read the book.
I have actually researched on several occasions, which professor to take for a certain course and have resorted to looking at several websites that are all "biased opinions." I had no idea that I had to look for a seal, which is supposed to alert readers to whether the writer is expressing an unbiased opinion. Every review I got was obviously based on the particular student, how often they went to class, how much effort they put into the class, and also, their final grade.
Because many people who post comments are anonymous, I often have found the comments to be misleading once I have actually taken the class... or maybe my opinion too is biased, just like the rest of the comments?
I thought Rita Arens made a great point, that many famous people can be huge opinion leaders, like Oprah, for example. I admit that I have often watched her show and based my purchase of a book, on her personal opinion, without even researching online first.
THE DIET OBSESSED INDUSTRY
While I was reading this article, and read that many mommy bloggers were given gift cards in exchange for product mentions, I kept thinking of one thing, the diet industry. How many commercials have you seen that promote diet pills and have a before and after picture, that reads, "How to lose 30 pounds in 30 days?" And then show a person claiming, that he or she has done it, so we can too! Then it shows a before and after picture, in the before picture the person is very depressed with no make-up in an unflattering pose, and then in the after picture they are glowing, make-up and for all we know have been altered through computer modification? Then, what gets me the most, is that at the end of the commercial, a line in very small print lies on the bottom of the screen says "Results Not Typical." It's completely ridiculous!
There is always a continuous ethical dilemma involving the boundary between sponsors and advertisers, and the world of journalism. A lot of the assigned articles talked about the unethical practices of some media sources and provide reasoning behind the use of sponsor money.
Many times, media sources lose sight of their true purpose; to present the news to the public in a neutral way. Not only are reporters fighting against editors, they are also fighting against advertisers and sponsors. They have to think about the stories they choose to write based on who they are going to offend. If there is a story that may deal with a sponsor in a poor light, a lot of times they will overlook the story just to protect the sponsor and the money they give to the paper or station. I don’t think the news should have to suffer based on who writes the biggest check or any check for that matter. Give all the facts to the public regardless.
It can, however, be argued that journalists need to play by the rules sometimes. Journalism is now more than ever a business, and one that is extremely cutthroat in today’s business world. You have to have sponsors writing checks to the stations or newspaper or they will eventually go bankrupt. Without the sponsors, a news company can’t remain competitive. It’s like the article “Taking Care of Business” says “You’ve got to make money in order to produce good journalism.” That is true more than ever before in society today.
Though credibility will always be in question as long as newspapers and news stations have sponsors, it has become the way of survival and as long as the separation can remain apparent to the readers and viewers credibility is attainable.
Tuesday, May 12, 2009
By: Kristin Heinichen
Right To Know vs. Right To Privacy
At the very least, a journalist should make an effort to serve the best interests of the reader, all the while doing little harm in the capturing of content and ultimate portrayal of a story. This code of ethics ain't no stumper - it appears as a component in the Journalist's Creed: "...the journalism which succeeds the best-and best deserves success... is journalism of humanity." The media should be regarded as an outlet for respectful news coverage, not a source for sensationalized stories which broadcast the details of an individual's privacy. In the case of Privacy vs. the Public's Right to Know, revealed names and graphic imagery had little importance other than it attempted to make for an entertaining story. What it did was humiliate loved ones and mortify those directly impacted by these printed stories.
A 'for instance' is the case of an attempted suicide on the campus of Ohio University. The local media covered the event where a man threatened to take his life in a public space. The Athens Messenger - your neighborly neighborhood newspaper - chose not to run the photo of the man dangling from a high height. The area's bi-weekly newspaper, The Athens News, ran a photo of the man in the middle of the his second, and unsuccessful, suicide attempt. Ultimately and unfortunately, the man ended his life. What The Athens Messenger considered was the man's shaky grip on his life. In attempts to tell the truth, the journalists at the Athens Messenger considered the welfare of this man and society.