Thursday, April 30, 2009

Reporting Race: Is It a Beat?

Sierra Williams

In “Rethinking the Race Beat” by Barry Yeoman, the question of whether or not a specialist is needed in the newsroom to cover ethnic minorities is critically examined throughout the piece.

In a newsroom, is it better to have one person focus on ethnic or racial stories or have every reporter cover racial angles in his or her own stories? It is a hard question to answer because, in the end, the newsroom wants to do whatever produces the best stories. However, which one is better?

I think a quote by Rod Prince, executive producer for the weekend editions of NBC Nightly News, answers the questions stated above. In the article, he says, “Doing stories about racial issues doesn’t require that you have the race beat. It’s an awareness that should find its way into all reporting.”

If a newsroom has a race beat, then the reporters are forced to find stories that deal with racial or ethnic issues even if they are not newsworthy. It is their job to fill a quota in order to make the news seem more diverse, which could hurt the credibility of the news outlet if the stories are not worth publishing.

To ensure better ethnic and racial reporting, it is important that news agencies hire a diverse group of journalists. If the journalists represent a wide range of races and ethnicities, then there will be resources in the newsroom that understand the beliefs, values, customs and trends of the different ethnic groups, which will help prevent journalists shying away from racial issues because they feel uncomfortable.

However, minorities in newsrooms are hard to recruit and retain. According to an article called “Investigating Newsroom Diversity-decline of minority journalists” by Ronald Roach, the newspaper industry hired 600 journalists of color in 2000 and lost 698 journalists. A study found that 67 percent of black journalists felt that their managers did not try to promote or retain the black journalists.

If having a diverse newsroom is so crucial to the quality of news produced, then the managers and editors of news companies need to find ways to accommodate the needs and wants of ethnic journalists in order to recruit and retain them.

Below is a video that features interviews with participants at the Media Management Center’s Advanced Executive Program in 2008 about diversity in the newsroom.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Invisible Advantages

Holly Woodruff

Is it true that race is a dynamic part of our everyday lives? Does race intersect our daily routine as often as some believe? My initial reaction was, “No way.” I was skeptical of the amount of content that could be generated for a race-relations beat in an Atlanta newspaper, The Journal-Constitution. It seemed like a stretch until I considered an ulterior perspective: The absenceof racial cognizance is its own entity within race-relations. Allow me to elaborate…

As children, particularly white children, we are taught to close our eyes to race. Teachers and parents encourage us to see others as our equals. The idea that “everyone is equal and unique” is preached time and time again, yet there is something elusive and ironic in their teachings. By closing our eyes to race, we are inherently perpetuating the problem of race relations. We become immune and unaware of the struggles that those around us face on a daily basis. We become susceptible to what has been called “white privilege,” a term best defined by sociologist Peggy McIntosh.

A few elements of white privilege:

  • If a traffic cop pulls me over or the IRS audits my tax returns, I can be pretty sure that I was not singled out because of my race.
  • Whether I use cash, checks, or credit cards, I can count on the color of skin to not discredit my financial reliability
  • I can easily buy toys, dolls, and magazines that depict and represent the people of my race.

I rarely give these benefits a second thought, as I’m sure is the case for many others. The great majority of the majority is not taught to recognize these issues, despite the fact that they prevail in nearly every facet of life. More and more newspapers are encouraging the inclusion of race into all reporting, and I wholeheartedly agree. Awareness is key to understanding and understanding is key to change. While specialized reporters can utilize their expertise for cultural nuances, every reporter has a duty to bring the aforementioned issues to light.

The Not-So-Big (?) Problem of Race in the Media

Mallory Wiggins

Being a white female who has lived in a small, predominately, (in fact, almost completely) white community my entire life, I never saw very much ‘diversity’ in anything in which I was involved. I was never a victim of, or saw first-hand, others being victims of discrimination against their gender, race or class.

Some would say that I am lucky to not have really had to witness the difficulties that often times result from differences in race and class within an organization or community. I, however, believe that it has made my job as a journalist that much harder. I know that I do not see race in the media the same way many others see it; I have been sort of ‘sheltered’ and tend to be an optimist on the issue. Compared to many others, I know I don’t see race as being as big of a problem as others believe it to be.

Is the issue of race an issue when it comes to the news?
Of course it is. I think everyone can agree that often times minorities are not portrayed in the best light. However, I believe the media, at one time or another, portray every race in a negative light, even the majority of that community. This is just one issue that we, for some reason, like to give a lot of attention to.

Will the issue of race ever go away?
Unfortunately, at least in my opinion, no. There will always be those few ignorant people (of all races and classes) who will hate and discriminate or at least attach a certain stigma with certain people who are ‘different’ than they are. However, being optimistic, it is an area that we have improved upon.

Sure, certain representations of certain races in the media are a problem, but I definitely think we, in the U.S., are moving in the right direction. I’d like to believe that it is because people are truly becoming better people. That they’re really starting to care about each other and not the color of each other’s skin.

However, I think the fact that the minorities are becoming less of a minority and closer to outnumbering the majority has something to do with it. We are seeing the minorities grow and become more predominant and acknowledged in society, hence the presence of more minorities in the media and the election of President Obama.

Covering Race in the News: Not A Black and White Issue

Kevin Zukerman

Race issues are not easy to talk about in an open discussion, much less report about for a media outlet. A main issue in the debate is this: How can one objectively cover issues of race?

There are basically two schools of thought on the subject.

  1. Race issues should be covered by specialized journalists because they are complex issues that require first-hand knowledge and experience with the subject. OR
  2. Race issues can be covered by anyone, because it's something that reporters should always be aware of; something that should be incorporated in all reporting.
Personally, I think there should be no formula set in stone about how race issues should be covered.

Market demographics play a big role in how media outlets cover race-related issues. In Atlanta, for example, it makes perfect sense to have a reporter's beat concerned entirely on the issue. It comes up so often that it's probably difficult NOT to have at least ONE reporter who focuses solely on race-related issues.

But, would you cover it the same in Salt Lake City? Probably not.

I think a reporter should be self-aware of potential issues involving race and be proactive to try to avoid them.
  • Check yourself before publishing a story. Is there another side to this story that you're missing because you didn't get input from people of other races? If so, get it!

  • Ask your interviewees how they want to be identified. They're the only ones who can tell you how they see themselves.

  • Don't be uncomfortable with the topic of race. In fact, think about it with every story and make yourself learn as much as you can about the topic. Embrace the fact that it will consistently be a part of stories, probably more often than not. That way, you'll be prepared to cover any story with accuracy and total objectivity.
Race should not require a beat-reporter, but for right now it does. Until every reporter starts to consider race in each story they do, it will continue to require a reporter with special attention to cover race.

Culture Shock

By Stefanie Toth

When is reporting on race appropriate in journalism? Essentially, everything boils down to race and/or culture. But, when is it OK to mention a subject’s race, nationality or culture in a story?

Is it newsworthy to chastise Michael Jackson for his personal problems because his appearance has changed?

How important is a detailed description of a bank robbery suspect?

Where does reporting on the KKK or other racial groups fall? Is it better to report their protests or is it fueling racial tensions?

I am confident that many journalists think either too much or too little about culture and race relations in this society. Culture does not only mean music but nationality and pride for one’s ancestry. It also involves a deep understanding of so many different facets of the world.

As a journalist, one is supposed to research a story before producing it. So, making sure one knows the demographics of the area and the background of all sources for the project is important. Journalists often ignore these things and just try to report the facts, but in the end it’s far deeper than getting a statistic.

A good news story will show an understanding of history and a penchant for finding the one angle that will bring an accurate, balanced and fair story to the masses, not just the facts.

This video is part one of a National Press Club panel discussing race and the media.

The Race is On

Amanda Wilcosky

How can media outlets best cover race, diversity and ethnic minorities?

Barry Yeoman's "Rethinking the Race Beat", included in the July/August 1999 Columbia Journalism Review addresses this very question.

Yeoman comments that while there are still problems at many newspapers and broadcasting organizations, efforts are being made toward improved coverage of racial issues and ethnic minorities. He identifies two journalistic routes that many outlets are either following or considering.

First, some feel that the best way to cover ethnic minorities and the issues they face is to hire specialized beat reporters who are extremely knowledgeable in areas of diversity and race relations. In contrast, other outlets have done away with specialized diversity beats, instead urging all reporters to consider racial implications in the stories that they write.

In my opinion, there are pros and cons of each decision, and what works for one media outlet in one location might not be as successful for a different outlet covering a different area. On one hand, hiring a special reporter to cover race and diversity would likely result in more in-depth coverage and stories that could otherwise be overlooked.

Having spent several quarters as the religion beat reporter for The Post, I had the chance to write stories that might not have been covered by other staffs or other beats, such as the struggles and triumphs of being a Mormon student on campus or local Muslim women’s different views on wearing the headscarf. After attempting to include a variety of religions and beliefs in my pieces, I was able to build a rapport with many individuals who later contacted me about upcoming events and current issues, helping me to develop new story ideas. In the same way, I feel that this relationship and establishment of source-reporter trust would be a major benefit of having a specialized race and diversity beat reporter.

A (Possible) Solution?
On the other hand, while I support the idea of having a diversity beat, I do agree with Yeoman when he writes that “the real solution is to devote more energy to the issue—by hiring additional race reporters and creating a sense of collective responsibility in the newsroom.” One reporter will not change a media outlet; instead, all reporters need to adopt a sensitivity toward race and carefully assess how any issue can affect different ethnic minorities and cultures.

I believe that one way to improve how journalists handle race and diversity is to start early—in the J-schools. For example, here at Ohio University, students in The E.W. Scripps School of Journalism can take Jour 413, Gender, Race and Class in Journalism and Mass Media. Even if other programs do not offer such courses, all journalism professors in all areas should push their students to consider facets of race and diversity in every story they write or every broadcast they produce. If we can begin “diversity-training” for young student journalists, who knows what improvements and strives can be made when they emerge as working professionals.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009


Molly Smith

Ever since the 4th grade I have been filling out the same box in all of my standardized testing. Caucasian. Because the color of my skin is white I fit in that box.

This past presidential election will be one of the most powerful probably in my life time. THE FIRST BLACK PRESIDENT. Yes, his skin color is not white, but he isn’t only black. The man has a white mother from Kansas and a father from Kenya. He is a combo platter most easily put in our fast food nation. He has more than one racial background and I think that needs to be said more often.

He is the first black president for all intents and purposes in that his skin is black, but he is biracial. Our first biracial president. I was really glad to see that written in the Quill article. My mother is of Scottish decent and my father is a European mutt (Polish, English and Welsh). I have not picked one of those and stood for it alone. I have adopted the fact that I am of a multi-cultural background. Not just one who plays bagpipes and wears kilts. I think it is time that we stop staying firsts black president and start saying first biracial president.

None of us want to be in the box, we want to be out of the box and think out of the box. Stop putting our president in a box. Now I have the theme song for the show Weeds stuck in my head. I think everyone should listen to it after reading this and they will understand.

The new movement in the world right now is consolidating. Why have 3 people get paid for doing 3 different jobs when 1 person can do it for half the price? That’s why I found the article "Rethinking the Race Beat" so interesting. I do agree with the idea that covering these racial topics on a daily basis cannot be left for one person. In the article the author said that there is a potential racial issue in almost every story, especially in places like Atlanta where the racial mix is more diverse, than lets say Burlington, Vt. It cannot just be dumped on the race reporter’s desk because another demographic other than white is mentioned.

But I also agree with what was said about uneducated racial reporters doing more harm than hurt. Race is something people in this world can become very educated on. Multicultural studies are prevalent in universities across the United States. If you don’t know how to approach a racial story you are trying to report on it could ruin you in the end. The race beat needs to be occupied by writers who are educated in the ideas and issues, but the responsibilities do not need to be restricted to one person. Can’t more than one beat reporter on a staff be of another racial background or have a strong understanding while also being knowledgable on another beat topic.

We are journalists. Multitasking is the name of the game.

Subconscious Racism: Spying on Yourself

by Meryl Swiatek

Martin Gilens article “Poor People in the News: Images from the Journalistic Subconscious” addresses how coverage of those living in poverty is distorted along racial lines. Gilens argues that reporters have subconscious stereotypes (and are basically subconsciously racist) about black people, especially when it comes to covering stories about poverty, welfare, crime, etc.

Subconscious racism in the news is something I think about a lot, as is subconscious racism in my own life. Gilens gave the example that white Americans are more likely to assume that black people make up the bulk of welfare recipients, and are more likely to attribute being on welfare to a lack of effort on the recipients’ part. Gilens attributes this to a disproportionate number of black people being portrayed as “poor” in the news media, but I think it goes far beyond media coverage, and far beyond the issue of poverty.

I feel race affecting me in a huge percentage of my daily interactions, and I often try to figure out why that is—often I don’t like the answer. For example, last week I walked home from work after dark and passed a college-aged black guy walking the opposite way down the sidewalk. I saw him coming toward me and immediately tensed up. Then I thought to myself, “Would I be scared if this same guy walking toward me right now was white?” The answer was no, and I hated that I felt that way. By no means was this the first time I’ve examined my reaction toward someone of a different race and discovered an ugly truth about myself lurking in the back of my mind.

But where do these feelings come from? I was raised to believe that all races and people are equal, and if you asked me today I would say that I still believe that completely. I’ve read the statistics about racial breakdowns of criminals and welfare recipients. I’ve taken sociology and political science classes and learned about distorted portrayals of black people in news and entertainment (like the examples Martin Gilens uses). I actively try to eradicate racist tendencies in my thoughts, and yet I find myself being a racist.

So is it because I see more black people than white being arrested on episodes of COPS? Or is it the Newsweek cover story about the economic downturn that includes more pictures of black families than white? Or is it the Disney movies I watched as a kid that split the world down the middle between “good” white heroes and “bad” ethnic villains?

As Gilens writes, “Even people who consciously reject a particular stereotype may nevertheless use that stereotype subconsciously to evaluate social groups.” And while I’m glad I’m not a conscious racist, being a subconscious one doesn’t feel much better.

RadioLab, one of my favorite radio programs, did an episode last fall examining the neurological and biological constructions of race. I thought it was fantastic, especially the honesty they brought to the discussion of such a touchy issue. In this clip, they talk about how students categorize pictures of people into different races, and get most of them wrong.

Radio Lab did another episode on the constructs of Choice, and discussed "priming,"-- a concept Gilens also touches on in his article. RadioLab hosts Jad and Robert acknowledged that the entire conversation was making them feel depressed and a little sick when they started to talk about how the brain can be primed for race. They found that racism is an incredibly difficult issue that doesn’t just lie in what your parents told you when you were a kid, or the TV shows you watch, or the magazines you read. It's part of a deep, complicated neurological process as well, and maybe it's not something you can control.

Gilens concludes in his article, “Both psychology experiment and new organizations’ real-world experience show that with sufficient effort the influence of journalists’ subconscious biases on news images can be eliminated.” As a journalist, the same way I know I’ll never be able to eradicate my personal political and social views to be a completely objective reporter, I don’t think I’ll ever be able to completely eradicate this subconscious racism as Gilens writes. However, by examining my thought processes, acknowledging my biases and trying to make personal progress, I can work against racial stereotypes in news coverage and daily life.

Money Costs Too Much

Carrie Scherach

Paying a source and/or receiving money for a story makes a direct conflict of interest in any circumstance. Money has a strange manipulative power that has a pull many cannot even feel. If a person is to receive pay to provide information for a story, that person is going to say what the reporter wants to hear, ultimately taking away the the reporter's objectivity.

It works the other way too. If a reporter accepts money or any other type of freebies when reporting a story, they could have a bias towards their source. Any journalist who could write under these circumstances, did not take up a journalism career for its chief importance: seeking the truth and reporting it to the public.

In the article from the American Journalism Review "Checkbook Journalism Revisited", it was reported that a journalist paid $20,000 to a woman that was "dirt poor." It's a nice thought that he wanted to help her out, but this money probably changed the way the woman talked to the journalist about her story. The circumstances do make a situation difficult; however, remaining as unbiased as an individual can possibly be is a chief goal in journalism.

In the same article, for McGinnis, his story meant influencing the verdict in a murder trial. The justice system works the way it does for many reasons. That's why there are laws and rules about those that can and cannot serve on the jury, some due to conflicts of interest. After agreeing to share his proceeds, bringing his opinions into the courtroom, and publishing his opinions claiming the defendant was guilty, the trial came to a hung jury.

Although no one can say for sure, the jury probably would have reached a guilty/not guilty verdict without McGinnis's interference in the case. The whole incident was a travesty. The man on trial was up for a life-altering decision, the community's safety and rights were at risk, and the justice system was compromised.

In short, allowing money to influence a journalist's work is never acceptable, regardless of the circumstances. Money changes the journalist's reporting and the way the source presents the information, thus compromising any piece. When it comes down to unbiased reporting and publishing the truth, money costs too much.

Check, Please!

By: Susannah Sachdeva

To Pay, or Not to Pay: That is the question journalists need to answer.

"Checkbook journalism" is a fiercely debated subject in the media world today. Many journalists frown upon its use but understand that sometimes it is necessary in order to get the story. Others completely eschew the idea and have their own blacklists for those who take part in this kind of journalism.

The Columbia Journalism Review printed an article last year, titled "Checkbook Journalism Revisited" by Robert Boynton, that began discussing Esquire's use of payment to get interviews with Muhammad Ali and Lt. Calley (of the Vietnam war) in the '60s and '70s, under the Harold Hayes regime. Many journalists associate Esquire with good journalistic integrity and commendable, in-depth articles. Yet, evidently, some of these remarkable articles were made possible by paying the subject of the story.

Most people associate "checkbook journalism" with tabloid magazines and celebrity television, not with high-class publications like Esquire. But, as Boynton points out, many illustrious magazines resort to this tactic from time to time. The problem is that paying for information usually creates an incentive for subjects to lie or embellish the truth. This doesn't happen in every instance of "checkbook journalism" but it is a common side-effect.

One of the most famous cases of "checkbook journalism" was that of the President Nixon interviews by Robert Frost. A series of interviews were conducted by Frost and broadcast on TV in four, separate programs in 1977. Frost televised one of Nixon's most infamous quotes (see video below) and the first of the four television programs brought in 45 million viewers, the largest TV audience for a political interview in history.

All this glory cost Frost dearly, though... it cost him $600,000 to be exact. So we must think: Would Frost have gotten this ground-breaking, record-breaking story if he did not offer financial incentive? I think not.

I'm not legitimizing "checkbook journalism" but I do understand that, in some cases, it may be necessary. Frost enlightened the country, and the world for that matter, on what Nixon truly was thinking during presidency. He conducted interviews of such importance that it was essential for him to pay Nixon, otherwise Nixon was sure to decline the idea altogether.

As Boynton points out in his article, all subjects of articles have their own reasons for agreeing to be interviewed by a journalist, whether it be for fame, revenge, or a multitude of other incentives. Nixon's reasons were probably financial and to gain some support back from the American public. It is my belief that no one puts themselves in the public eye without good reasoning and solid belief that they will benefit from the endeavor in the end. As Boynton wrote, "Regardless of the 'currency' -- whether emotional, ideological, or financial -- journalism always involves a transaction of some kind."

For some, the transaction tends to be financial and while the fact that the subject has been paid may undermine the journalist's reputation on one hand, it may also lead to a story of great importance that was waiting to be uncovered.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Diversifying Reporting

Lauren Yusko

An Ongoing Process
It is sad to think that many biracial people feel they must declare themselves one race or another. It is a time in which America has elected its first biracial president, but still, the debate over race continues…and it is as sticky of a subject as ever. Race is an integral part of our everyday lives, an intertwining thread in a vibrant patchwork. Learning how to deal with race, however, continues to be a work in progress and it is critical that journalists handle it with grace.

A Multiracial Stance
I found Barry Yeoman’s article “Rethinking the Race Beat” truly intriguing, especially in regards to the contention over whether or not specialized journalists, who have developed a mature expertise in the subject matter, should cover race. I then thought back to my summer internship, where I wrote music and movie reviews for an entertainment weekly. Film has always been a love of mine, so I felt comfortable and knowledgeable when writing movie reviews. Music, on the other hand, I can hardly say I held a specialization in. Even though I had a basic knowledge of the subject, I was too inexperienced to criticize musicians accordingly. Who’s to say my opinions were fair? I feel everyone should be aware of racial issues and take them into account, especially when reporting on matters that affect the community. However, I also believe that specialized journalists with multiracial views are necessary when capturing less biased and more in-depth, accurate depictions.

Image Credit: SGEntrepreneurs

Journalists Are Humans, Too!
Martin Gilens brings to attention startling research in his article “Poor People in the News: Images from the Journalistic Subconscious.” Research shows that we, as humans, can develop stereotypes subconsciously, which ultimately affect our behavior…sad, but true. This is why it is increasingly important to recognize and overcome preconceptions. According to Gilens, "Jounalists are professional observers and chroniclers of our social world. But they are also residents of that world and are exposed to the same biases and stereotypes that characterize society." Time pressure and adhering to deadlines also raise the risk of creating stereotypes. This is why specialized journalists are essential when covering race and other issues (such as poverty or religion), because they bring stories to us that would not normally be covered and do so with compassion, despite deadlines.

An Example to Live By
Photojournalist William Albert Allard is an outstanding example of what I think a specialized journalist should be like. When taking photographs of the Amish and the Hutterites for National Geographic, Allard really took the time to earn the trust of the community. For the first time, the Hutterites were brought to the public’s attention with adoration and sincerity. Religion, like race, deserves careful attention…and passionate journalists who actually have respect for the people they are reporting on.

Does Crossing One Line Bleed Across Another?

Danielle Sills

In the LA Times article “A Journalist Breaks the Golden Rule,” Howard Rosenberg makes a bold statement. He says if you “cross one ethical line… it’s that much easier to cross another.” The article refers to Anna Song, an investigative reporter for Oregon City's KATU, who gave a eulogy at the funeral for two local girls whose story she had been investigating.

Promo for KATU's Investigative Journalism with Anna Song

I Beg to Differ
I agree with Rosenberg that Song may have crossed an ethical line in this situation. However, I question that making one choice that blurs ethical boundaries will necessarily lead to another. Song made one decision in a specific situation. Will this trigger her to make more and more “unethical decisions”? I doubt it.

Throughout their careers, journalists fight to adhere to both personal and official ethical codes. Each decision gives reporters yet another chance to make the right choice. It almost seems as if Rosenberg’s claim is a blanket statement similar to something like “marijuana is a gateway drug.” Can we assume that crossing one ethical line predicates crossing another?

A Conscious Stream of Choices
The great thing about journalism is that we practice making decisions like these every day. It is a constant exercise in deep reflection. In working on the Athens MidDay noon newscast over the past few quarters, I dealt with new dilemmas every day. Could I interview a person a friend had once introduced me to without having a bias? Was it ok to use video of open lap swimming in a story about the women’s swim team?

With each opportunity, I made a new decision based on the situation. Anna Song may have made a questionable ethical decision. But I don’t think that will necessarily make it easier for her to do the same in the future.

Too Involved?

by Ryan Scarpino

I've got a confession to make. I am a very opinionated person; I say what's on my mind. Here's one, there's no such thing as being too involved. But as a journalist, I cannot and should not put my opinions into my story.

And by no means should I get too involved with one of my sources. I always tried to follow those guidelines; I've tried not to become attached to sources, but then I met the Tyler family.

This is going to be hard
Last quarter, Natalie Jovonovich, Danielle Sills and I were in Journalism 464 together. We had an idea for our in-depth story, the biggest story of our young journalistic careers. We focused on the effects of the recession on local families. And with the help of Big Brothers, Big Sisters of Athens County, we found a family struggling to get by from day to day. Over the next two months, we made frequent visits to Chauncey to interview the Tyler Family, all NINE of them.

It would have been impossible for me not to get involved with the Tyler family. From the moment I first spoke with the Lonnie Tyler Sr., all my objectivity went out the window. I saw a poor family. And for the first time, I saw people struggling during an economic crisis.
I am a middle class kid from Pittsburgh, and I have seen some pretty bad neighborhoods. None of those compared to Chauncey.

The more I saw the Tylers, the more involved I became. I told everyone about them: my friends, my family, even random people I met.

We owe them everything
If it weren't for the Tyler family and the help of Big Brothers, Big Sisters of Athens County, we wouldn't have had a story. We owe our sources everything. To this day, I still see some of those people who helped us with our story. And I make sure to take the time to thank them for all they did for our story.

Click on the links below to watch our stories about the Tyler family.
Tough Times Pt 1
Tough Times Pt 2

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Where does the J go in life?

Sara Shookman

It’s an issue that has recently been plaguing me as I transition into the role of working journalist. Where does the J go in life? How can I be a great journalist, but first a great person?

Conflicting interests
Conflicts of interest in journalism start with that inability to be a journalist free from being a person. Being a person is messy and complicated. We have wants, needs, feelings and innate preferences. Journalists shouldn’t have those ties. Journalists should be objective.

But conflicts of interest are not a question of objectivity. The notion of objectivity is skewed. It is not the journalist who is objective. We can’t be journalists without being people. Objectivity is in the method.

Truth in transparency
As a person who aspires to be a journalist, I see conflicts of interest as a lesson in transparency.

While it might be impossible to be objective, it is responsible to say what we are. In broadcast journalism, we are inviting ourselves into the homes of our viewers daily. We are asking for their trust. As people, how can we trust those we do not know? Being transparent allows us humanity while still reaching for that higher goal of fairness.

Buying the news
News is not only a service. It’s a business. It is easy to see the wrongs of “checkbook journalism,” but not every issue is so clear. As media companies are increasingly owned by public companies, investors have a right to know an objective truth about what they are buying.

In a business world, there is no free lunch. Nothing is gained without expectation. Although that exchange should rarely be monetary, what do we owe our sources? What do we owe our viewers? What do we owe ourselves?

One answer is transparency. The other is truth.

In the most difficult stories, I try my best to help those involved to realize the benefits of truth in the open. Sharing that goal with others starts with me.

A transparent truth won’t make me a great journalist. But I can’t to be a great journalist without being truthful about my intentions and my affiliations.

Related Links:
The New York Times Company has an entire section of their ethics code devoted to "On Our Own Time."

Friday, April 24, 2009

The ethical editor in "Shattered Glass"

By: April Prior

“Shattered Glass” is one of the most widely watched journalism movies of our generation. I remember watching this movie back in my high school journalism class and just being completely shocked that someone would fabricate any or all aspects of their stories in which they report as the truth.

Watching this movie for a second time as a senior in college currently enrolled in a Media Ethics class, it was interesting to see how aspects of the movie had more meaning this time around. First, I understood HOW everyone in the office believed Stephen Glass in the first place, he was the king of being passive-aggressive. He would be all hyped up about his story or have a really great defense to editor’s asking him for notes, and then he would fall back on the phrase “it’s stupid, I don’t think I’m going to run with it” or “you’re not mad at me are you?” This made it difficult for people to question him or really look deeper into his stories because they all related to him and felt for him as a reporter. This bias is part of the reason he was able to get away with fabricating so many stories while at the New Republic.

Another aspect of the movie that doesn’t get discussed as frequently as the main storyline is the role of Chuck Lane, the newly hired editor. He was in a tough position from the beginning, being the favorite of upper management and replacing the well-liked editor. He could have stepped into the role, tried to win-over the reporters to like him instead of pushing on the questionable reporting of Stephen Glass. Instead, he decided to take the ethical route and “seek the truth and report it” as well as understand the obligation to “act independently” as described in the SPJ Code of Ethics.

This movie was made in 2003 about what happened in 1998. Stephen Glass felt the pressure of the need to succeed to make him fabricate his stories. In our current state of the news media we have a 24/7 news monster that needs to be constantly fed more and more food. It is not surprising we have so many journalists struggling to make the ethical decision and simply report the truth.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Shattered Glass

By: Shana O'Malley

Shattered Glass is a film about a young, smart and seemingly talented journalist named Stephen Glass. However, throughout the movie Glass is revealed as a fake who makes up his stories and falsifies his sources. I think the main point of the film was to bring to attention this particular journalist who broke the rule of being an honest journalist. I think in the end, Glass got what he deserved by being fired from his job.

Throughout my journalism career I have been taught over and over about how to find sources, use sources and document sources. During the whole movie I just kept wondering why Glass would make up things when real life and real people are just as interesting. I think a lot of journalists do get caught up in wanting to be perfect or wanting to break a big story, so I see how the urge to gain a big name could impair judgment but, I don’t ever think stretching the truth or making something up, is a good way to make a name for your self (as Glass proved).

As a journalist, our job is to state facts, not write fiction. We DO need to be good story tellers, but we need to tell the truth and not something sensationalized or flat out wrong. I think that if you chose journalism as your career and you made it through journalism school, then you should know better. I agree with the editor in the movie who fired Glass, and I think all forms of journalism should have a zero tolerance policy on falsifying stories.

Shattered Glass- What Would You Do?

By Layne Palmer

Shattered Glass, a 2003 film starring Hayden Christensen based on a true story, tells the story of the very likeable, seemingly ambitious journalist, Stephen Glass, who ruins his career at the New Republic by fabricating over half of his stories.

The movie brings the subject of media ethics into focus for viewers, as we watch how Stephen's lies negatively influence the entire newsroom. We watch as his co-workers struggle with whether or not to stand by him, we watch the pain in his editor's face as he slowly learns the truth about Stephen's story, and we watch Stephen's slow demise as his secrets leak out.

Sadly, as journalists, it is not unlikely that we will experience a situation like this where our values are tested. But the question is, how will we respond?

Let's say you work for a large newspaper and you find out that one of your co-workers, who is also your best friend, is accused of fabricating stories. Would you be able to look at the situation objectively? Would you feel the need to defend him and stand by him, or would you break your loyalty to him in favor of saving the paper and the image of the news profession in general?

Or, consider this. Let's say you're the editor at this particular paper. As editor, you're supposed to stand by your staff and support them, guide them. But what if you find out someone on your staff is fabricating his work. Would you take the easy way out and ignore it to save your employee's career and hopefully maintain the integrity of the paper (after all, what the public doesn't know won't hurt them, right?), or would you make the harder choice of firing the employee and admitting publically the mistakes that have gone unnoticed by the paper.

While this movie may be enjoyed simply as a form of entertainment, or even as a historical work given that it is based on a true story, I would argue that the real value in Shattered Glass lies in the fact that it forces us to consider how we would handle the many challenging moral and ethical situations in which we may be placed in the newsroom.

What ethical values are important to you? For ideas, follow this link to find out how the tride-and-true lessons we learned back in kindergarten may still provide us with a framework in which to make ethical decisions as adults.

"Journalism is about Pursuing the Truth"

Megan Ruetsch

Shattered Glass is a movie based on the journalistic career of Stephen Glass, who was a charismatic journalist at The New Republic in the 1990s. Glass was known for creating brilliant stories that always seemed a little too good to be true, and in fact many of them were not.

Glass was finally caught in his own web of lies when a reporter for Forbes Digital Tool decided to do a little fact checking of his own on the story that Glass wrote about computer hackers. He quickly determined that the piece was in fact entirely made up when he couldn't find a single bit of truth in the piece. After he confronted The New Republic, Glass continued to spin his web of lies until he couldn't find a way out of them.

Eventually The New Republic determined that Glass had made up 27 of the 41 articles he wrote for the magazine.

This story managed to capture one of the biggest holes in journalism: fact checking. The copy staff uses the notes of the reporter in order to verify that the story is true, however, what if the notes are doctored, as was the case of Glass? He managed to make up his notes so that when the story was fact checked against them, the story seemed to be true. Fact checkers need to use other resources so that this doesn't happen, use the notes as a starting place and then work out from there in order to make sure that the story is in fact true.

Another way that this problem could have been averted in The New Republic would have been to use photos. The magazine didn't print photos, if they had then it would have been harder for Glass to make up people because he would need faces to photograph in addition to his made-up quotes.

The moral that we as journalists can learn from this story and movie is that journalism is all about pursuing the truth. Make sure that your notes are indeed facts and that when adding color to the story, make sure that you are staying true to what actually happened.

*movie poster photo courtesy of
*photo of Stephen Glass courtesy of

Fearless Journalism vs. Arbitrary Reporting

Paul J. Matson

With the advent of new media and citizen journalism, there is code of ethical reporting that must be rigorously refined and adhered to. Citing the 2005 film "Good Night and Good Luck," CBS broadcaster Edward Murrow fearlessly challenges Senator Joseph McCarthy in his campaign to call out other public officials' alleged communist affiliation. In sync with the era of The Red Scare, Murrow's confrontational tactics against Sen. McCarthy distinctly proves the power of broadcast journalism. Consequences considered, there is a multitude to be learned from the actions of CBS and Mr. Murrow.

Ninety percent of communication is persuasive
From soap box speeches, to television, to blogs, every news report is founded upon the inspiration and character of its source. Unbiased reporting does not exist, and it is foolish to believe that any given news source is 100% reliable 100% of the time. However, there is a clear advantage to reporting that is done passionately and that can be easily verified. Broadcasters with a rare form of charisma (i.e. Bill O'Reilly, John Stewart, Walter Cronkite) are those who command attention, own influence and possess longevity.

Big dog, little bite
When one argues that the media is biased, they are absolutely correct. It is not a matter of whether you trust one source in particular, but rather how often a news audience takes measures to cross-reference news. Educated news absorption is part of being a responsible citizen, just as reporters must accumulate as many credible sources as possible. If a perspective on an issue or event must be discussed, it should be made known that the information may be based solely on the views of the reporter.

Ultimately, we must acknowledge the inevitability of human error and embrace constructive criticisms made in public forums. There are countless ways to make one's voice heard. If this practice is not utilized, one dismisses their right to argue that media is intellectually corruptive.

"Are You Mad At Me?"

Brittany Perrine

Shattered Glass is a movie based on a true story that questions the ethics and fact-checking practices used in professional journalism. After watching it today, I am left thinking about the importance of morals and judgment, about character and integrity, and about truth and responsibility in journalism. It reminded me a lot of another movie called All the President's Men, with Dustin Hoffman and Robert Redford as the Washington Post reporters who broke the Watergate scandal.

However, one aspect of the whole situation that the movie didn’t address at all was the reasoning behind Stephen Glass' actions. What initially compelled him to start lying and falsifying his work? What prompted him to continually skirt the fact-checking department? And why were some of his stories based entirely on fact? The film would have you believe that it was Stephen's lack of self-esteem or confidence that possessed him to create fiction and that he lied only because he wanted to be liked, shown by Glass repeatedly asking his colleagues “are you mad at me?”

But something tells me that there is a deeper reason, one that may involve journalism pressures. One that compels journalists to continually produce the next best thing and oftentimes to cross the boundaries between uneventful true stories and sensationalized interest stories. Little by little the white lies snowball into something bigger. And before you know it, you've created a piece where the only definitive fact is the state in the Union called Nevada.

The Pressure to be Perfect

Blair Powell

After watching movies such as “Shattered Glass,” the biopic of Stephen Glass, one can only begin to wonder why it is that journalist such as Stephen Glass and Jayson Blair do what they do. Why do journalists make up the facts, create stories, or plagiarize? Is it the pressure to be perfect? Is it the success of journalism that leads people to strive to win awards and have their name known by all?

In a world of Walter Cronkites and Tom Brokaws, pressure mounts for young journalists. Is the pressure to succeed and be a famous journalist what pushes seemingly good professionals to cheat, lie and steal? It is, obviously, unethical, to make up facts or to plagiarize. No one doubts that fact. But in a world where we demand the news now and in multiple forms, how can we expect good journalism to take place?

Today's society demands more than good journalism. We want perfection, but we do not give the journalists the time to ensure accuracy. But it is more than that. Young journalists are entering a world where competition is key. It is not enough to be good. We must be great. We must be known by all. We must win awards. This is where people like Stephen Glass and Jayson Blair can succeed. They crave the attention and they need to succeed.

So who is really at fault? Is it the papers and magazines that let countless cases of sloppy journalism slip through the cracks? Is it the journalism schools? Or is it society. Do we push people to succeed and to be the best, at any cost? Stephen Glass was successful, until he was caught. As was Jayson Blair.

Success is one thing, but when ethics are thrown out the window in pursuit of awards and accolades, failure is not just an option, it becomes the only option.

The following video is an interview of Stephen Glass on CNN.

"I Didn't Do Anything Wrong"

Taylor Randall
"Journalism is the art of capturing behavior"
Today we watched the movie "Shattered Glass," based on a true story. For readers unfamiliar with the film, "Shattered Glass" follows the rise and fall of respected Washington, D.C. journalist Stephen Glass. The movie, made in 2003, was prompted by an article with the same title in a September 1998 article in Vanity Fair.

H.G. Bissinger explored Glass' aspiring career than was destroyed when his fraudulent practices were exposed. Glass' stories, which were often thought-provoking and compelling, were riddled with inaccuracies and elaborations. Some stories were entirely fictional, an elaborate lie developed in Glass' mind. According to Internet Movie Database, 27 of his 41 published stories were partially or entirely fabricated. While he was undoubtedly a talented writer, his flawed morals marred his career and tarnished the journalism profession.

While he sounds like a bad guy, the first thing I was struck by was how amicable Glass was. He was kind, thoughtful, a little nerdy and a bit insecure. He believed in the power of journalism and of writing. He viewed the agenda-setting power of journalism as an “amazing privilege and huge responsibility.”

It began by elaborating – a detail about a hotel mini fridge turned out to be a rented mini fridge at a young Republicans conference. Glass humbly admitted the error and swiftly apologized. But throughout the story, his story ideas were always so good that they seem suspicious. His sincerity wins them over.

Slowly his story unravels as the details and sources of his story “Hack Heaven” don’t exist. He’s smart but not smart enough to cover all of his tracks. Rather than seem like a villain, he comes across as more pathetic. Glass yearns for acceptance and strives for approval. It is this desire to be great that pushes him.

His motivation shows through his monologue at the beginning and end. Glass says that he simply captures the things that motivate, inspire or scare people and tell those things “so that they are the ones telling the story.” He cares more about what his stories do for people than whether they are true. That sort of passion belongs in authors, not journalists.

“This concerns the very field we cover.”

The other main problem raised by this episode is the risks of “trust me” reporting. Glass explains to a classroom of students that there are holes in the fact-checking system. Despite the lengthy editing process each piece undergoes before it is published, there is still room for information to slip through that cannot be verified by an independent source. Glass chose stories whose characters had reason to shy away from the media. The only verification of his story was his notebook.

When we trust a reporter to cover a sensitive, dangerous or undercover topic, we allow them to slip through the loophole in the fact-checking system. While most of these reports are probably credible and this sort of reporting is at times necessary, occasionally a Stephen Glass slips through and stains journalism with storytelling.

“He gave us fiction after fiction and we printed them all as fact.”
Chuck Lane, Glass’ editor

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

We Need the Luck, Mr. Murrow

By Erin Rose Pfeifer

Good Night and Good Luck portrays an interesting confrontation between newsman Edward R. Murrow and Sen. Joseph McCarthy. Although the events depicted are not entirely factual and are more than half a century old, the conflict is just as, if not more applicable to today's journalists as it was in the mid 1950s.

To print or not to print? To air or not to air? To expose or not to expose? The major differences in implications between the Communist witch hunt of the 1950's and today's era is the rate at which rumors, lies and facts can be spread. Back then, it began with an outlandish accusation, was propelled with hearsay and then finalized if a legitimate new media outlet found it newsworthy. Today, all one needs is access to the internet to get someone's reputation questioned, tainted or completely ruined.

The idealistic and optimistic among us like to believe that this has worked in our favor and that, due to the ease of getting tainted information, internet users have become especially cautious about where they are getting their information, the biases the source may have and the original sources used to get the story. They like to think that if McCarthy tried to pull that bologna today, he would be laughed off the internet and told to go back to the loony bin.

But let's face it. Americans are gullible and for the most part, uneducated. And if we are educated, we sure aren't acting like it. How often are you checking out your eggs and milk at the supermarket and look over to the magazine rack to see that the hottest actor in Hollywood is gay? And then a few days later, you realize you forgot the cheese, so you go back, and suddenly he is getting married (to a woman, probably either Angelina Jolie or Jennifer Aniston).

The media will eat up anything they can get their hands on. Some blame the declining economy, closing newspapers and magazines and lack of real news, but whoever or whatever you blame, it's hard not to be a little embarrassed, especially if you are spending $20,000+ a year to learn to become one of them (a journalist). Well, I am.
And watching movies like Goodnight and Good Luck inspire me to attempt to bring about change to our distracted, A.D.D., click-and-go, immediate-gratification-driven youth and the crappy events they call "news."

Here is to working to show people what real news is and how to deliver it with integrity. To establishing a standard of excellence that Murrow and his newscast would be proud of. To having a good night, and not needing the luck.

Check out CNN anchor Jack Cafferty refusing to read a "story" he considered less than newsworthy:

Well done, Mr. Cafferty. Well done.

Journalism Ethics Meet The Big Screen

By Alex Mazer

Good Night and Good Luck is a story of a television newsman of the 1950s who is bringing to light the unethical practices of Sen. Joseph McCarthy during the communist scare. This ethical issue took center stage, but there were many other issues highlighted throughout the film.

When Edward R. Murrow first decides to go with the story, the CEO of the network brings him into his office to pressure him not to run with the story. This is a situation where a journalist must "stick to their guns" and move forward if they feel it is a factual story that can be proven and the public should know about. We as journalists should not allow higher figures in the network to pressure us against going with a story.

Other issues include the situation where a reporter received a classified folder from a source. Is it ethical to use the information in that folder if the source got it illegally? Would you accept the folder if it were you in that situation? Another ethical issue was brought to my attention with the quote "Get out there and make some news."

I should say that it is surprising to hear from a news director such a statement. However, I'm sure it's not the first, nor will it be the last time a news director utters such words. We should be reporting on what is happening; no matter how exciting or bland the news of that day is. It is not okay to go out and make something happen just to have an entertaining story. This is highly unethical.

After watching the movie I really began to realize all the ethical issues a journalist deals with on a day to day basis. I have always known that there are certain times a journalist will always have to make tough decisons with their work, but seeing it on the big screen really made it realistic for me.

There are always going to be issues that we have to face day to day in the newsroom. I feel as a journalist I need to have my own set of morals and values and no matter what i have to face I need to stay true to what I believe in. I don't believe we should allow others to compromise our individual values.

Good Night and Good Luck brings to life one of the greatest of all ethical issues a journalist will have to face. I think it is a great film that really makes you stop and think about what your own personal decisions would be should such an issue cross your path in your future career.

Good Night and Good Luck: Deconstructing Journalistic Objectivity

Brett Nuckles

Any journalist worth his salt will tell you that objectivity is one of the major guiding principles of his craft. In the sphere of journalism, objective reporting typically boils down to a need for fairness, getting the facts and non-partisanship.
But what does it mean to be objective?

The 2005 film Good Night and Good Luck depicts former CBS news anchor Edward R. Murrow as he used his broadcast news platform to criticize and ultimately lead to the censure of Joseph McCarthy--the senator who helped to fuel widespread fears of Communist subversion in the 1950s. In the film, Murrow and his CBS team grapple with some major ethical issues. The reporters are clear in their personal convictions—they do not support McCarthy nor his fear mongering ways. But can they present these views to the public in a newscast? Would they not be editorializing the issue? What about objectivity?

Good Night and Good Luck brilliantly demonstrates the dilemma facing every journalist—he or she is bound by numerous obligations, many of which often conflict with the standards of their profession. These include obligations to his employer, viewers, advertisers, and the public at large.

Murrow’s obligations to his employer are demonstrated throughout the film. One CBS executive is especially critical of the focus of Murrow’s newscasts, constantly reminding him that his actions could potentially put the network in dire straits.

These concerns are easily understood. Given the political and social context of the time period, it is very likely CBS’s criticism of McCarthy might have been highly unpopular among a large sector of the population. Murrow reported his criticism to a vulnerable and fearful audience, a large portion of which must have agreed with the sentiments of Senator McCarthy.

It is easy to guess why network executives might have been nervous. These controversial newscasts had the potential to alienate countless viewers. Such scenario would have far-reaching ramifications, as a drop in viewership could lead to a drop in advertising revenue. It is an unfortunate reality that a journalistic enterprise can only operate under a sound business model—the model that is most lucrative is often a far-reach from superlative journalism.

Despite these uncertainties, Murrow and the CBS team go forward with their criticisms of McCarthyism. To ask whether or not they have violated the precept of objectivity is an interesting question. Critics of “true neutrality” in journalism might point out that its inadequacies—namely, that it does not really attempt to get at the truth of a situation. Many would claim that true objectivity is impossibility.

Or have they simply misinterpreted what it means to be an objective journalist?

In the film, Murrow is accused by a network executive of taking sides in the story. “I’ve searched my conscience,” Murrow replies. “I can’t for the life of me find any justification for this. I simply cannot accept that there are, on every story,
two equal and logical sides to an argument. Call it editorializing, if you like.”

Is Murrow truly editorializing—or has he come upon some deeper understanding of the role and duty of a responsible journalist?

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Good Night...and Good Luck?

Laura Marczika

The 2005 film Good Night and Good Luck has several relevant examples where ethics are questioned from a journalist’s perspective.

The Search for Truth
One of the key ethical dilemmas to consider in the film is the instance in which the “head honcho” of CBS advises Edward R. Murrow not to publicize information exposing Senator McCarthy’s role in a smear campaign, because it could potentially mean a loss of advertising dollars. I thought this was a great illustration of Murrow acting independently of the Columbia Broadcasting System in his choice to pursue the story. I also thought it was a example of Murrow’s journey for truth, and his responsibility to seek truth and report it to the citizens it affects.

Acting Independently
Another example where there is an external pressure on the journalist concerning a story is when the military officials approach the CBS producer with the intention of intimidating him, in hopes that he will cease investigation into a story. This is another instance in which a member of the media, in this case the producer, acts independently of CBS in the quest for truth.

I admire that the journalists portrayed in this film are not intimidated by the movers and shakers in the government when going after an important story.

Conflict of Interest
Finally, a lesser ethical issue portrayed in this film was that co-workers at CBS are forbidden from sharing a romantic relationship, and two of the characters in the film are secretly married. To me, this is seems to be a ridiculous rule for a company to have, although I know many companies today have similar policies. I think it is admirable that the characters in the movie did not compromise their relationship for their careers.

In one of my internship experiences I met a couple who met on the job, and one of the partners switched companies in order to keep pursuing the relationship. I think that this is unfortunate seeing as though they were both successful and enjoying their careers at the same company; yet I also understand the potential conflict of interest presented.

Ethical Dilemmas in "Good Night, and Good Luck"

by Ashlee Monroe

In the movie "Goodnight, and Good Luck" Edward R. Murrow faces ethical challenges that most journalists will face in everyday life on the job, but on a much larger scale. He plays watchdog for the public in his endeavor to expose Senator Joseph McCarthy for unfairly punishing people he suspects to be Communists.

This movie takes place during the heyday of the "Red Scare" and McCarthyism in the United States. In the portion of the movie shown in class, Murrow must first decide whether to go with a story that implicates the U.S. Air Force in unfairly dismissing an airman because McCarthy's committee presented confidential evidence that the man's father had Communist sympathies. Murrow and the Columbia Broadcasting System could have decided not to run the story with the pressure put on them from the Air Force. Murrow went with the story, deciding not to give into external pressures. This shows that his first ethical responsibility was to his viewers.

We then see CBS running another story about McCarthy himself, using only footage of his speeches and testimony. After this story, Murrow and others at CBS were presented with charges that they were suspected to be Communist. Where the movie left off, Murrow still did not give into the bullying tactics he was subjected to by McCarthy and his committee. He chose to keep presenting the most objective truth he could in his pieces about McCarthy, despite the legal danger he could face.

In this movie we can identify stakeholders in Murrow's ethical decisions as himself and his coworkers at CBS, the U.S. government and Joseph McCarthy. The viewers taking in Murrow's account of what is going on within McCarthy's endeavors to expose Communists in the U.S. are also major stakeholders in these ethical decisions. His main ethical dilemma, as I see it, is whether to go ahead with stories about what he perceives as corrupt activity, or to give in and save his coworkers from trouble with the government.

He would also be allowing the government to save face and continue with what they were doing. His decision to keep running stories about McCarthy's investigation into Communism shows that his most important ethical responsibility was to the public.

We Still Need the Same Luck in the 21st Century

Alivia Nuzzo

Good Night and Good Luck
ultimately portrays one of the most chilling ethical dilemmas between journalists’ responsibility and duty to report the truth to his or her public and the potential threat to a journalist’s (or in this case, a CBS television host) reputation, leading viewers to question journalistic integrity and truth.

However, like the movie portrays, the journalist’s crucial role as the government’s watchdog requires constant investigation of the truth, intellect and morality of the representatives of this nation’s citizens. Without journalists, the threat of “branding” certain issues by government officials to work in their favor becomes increasingly threatening and potentially has the power to sway the nation’s people to believe falsity over truth.

Today, we live in a world where these same ethical dilemmas are faced by journalists every day. In Keith Olbermann’s (MSNBC) response to Donald Rumsfeld’s speech before the American Legion a few years ago in 2006, the broadcast journalist describes and analyzes the same sorts of ethical dilemmas, alluding to the words of Edward R. Murrow, the CBS broadcast host portrayed in Good Night, and Good Luck. “We must not confuse dissent with disloyalty,” he said in 1954. “We must remember always that accusation is not proof and that conviction depends on evidence and due process of law.”

Murrow vs. McCarthy vs. CBS

By Lisa Merklin

The public struggle between newsman Edward R. Murrow and Senator Joseph McCarthy as showcased in "Good Night, And Good Luck" combines ethical dilemmas with a real life historical situation. The film’s almost seamless blend of archival news footage with acting gives the impression of historical accuracy. The events in the film are true to life.

Senator McCarthy’s Communist witch-hunts in the early 1950s provided fodder for Murrow’s ethically aware arguments that claimed McCarthy was overstepping his authority. Despite network pressure and the risk of losing advertising revenue, Murrow persisted. He felt he had an ethical obligation not only to report the news, but also to challenge it.

Did Murrow have a “beef” with McCarthy? Did he editorialize in his criticism of McCarthy’s tactics? The government already was well represented in the media, Murrow argued, but fear of retribution suppressed the other side of the argument. One of the main functions of the press is to act as the watchdog of the government.

The most striking element of Murrow’s broadcasts was Murrow’s ability to explain the methods and justifications for what he was presenting on CBS. Transparency became one of the factors that boosted Murrow’s credibility over Senator McCarthy, who attempted to smear Murrow with claims of Communist involvement. Murrow’s reputation as the respected “See It Now” anchor allowed viewers to trust him and producers to support him. Few other newsman less established than Murrow had the means to openly express such sentiments.

One newspaper called Murrow’s report “journalism of responsibility and courage” while another wrote it off as “explosively one-sided propaganda.”

I found it interesting that Murrow compromised by signing the loyalty oath to remain employed with CBS, and that he had to make sure his reporters were “clean,” with no Communist connections.

What Would Murrow Do?

Alex Moning

While watching the film "Good Night, and Good Luck" in class today, I couldn't help but marvel at all of the incredibly difficult decisions that come with being a journalist. Every action has a serious consequence, and it takes courage and conviction to pull it off.

The film follows broadcaster Edward R. Murrow during the 1950’s “witch-hunts” that Senator McCarthy was inspiring by invoking a fear of communism taking over America. In that time there were few who would stand up to Sen. McCarthy in fear that they too would be accused of involving themselves in communist activities.

The risks that Murrow and CBS took in investigating Sen. McCarthy’s accusations and fear tactics were phenomenal. Edward Murrow was a model journalist. He had no interest in reporting lies to attract a bigger audience; his prime concern was getting the facts out to the public.

From what I could tell in the movie, he thought it was impossible not to editorialize when reporting, but he did try to refrain from it. He never claimed anything without proof. He made his points clear by showing clips of McCarthy’s actual speeches so no one could deny what was going on. He never backed down from his story even when McCarthy fought back with claims that Murrow showed interest in the communist party.

I don’t think that there was anything unethical about the way Murrow reported this news. He did so with professionalism, and fully aware of the personal risks involved in the story. The public needed to know this information, and Murrow delivered it with style.

Movie Brings into Focus a Clash: Power vs Truth

Chalisa Magpanthong

Edward R. Murrow

In the 1950s, Edward R. Murrow emerged as the United States’ most prominent and respected broadcast journalist. His closing signature line “Good night, and good luck” serves as the title of this film that chronicles the confrontation between demagogic politician Joseph McCarthy and the investigative reporting of Murrow’s news team. McCarthy’s tactic was to allege that various persons—government staff members, military officers, Hollywood movie workers, among many others—were Communists and were thus responsible for undermining American democratic values.

Despite advertiser pressure to drop the story of McCarthy’s reckless and false accusations of public figures, and despite the timidity of CBS executives, Murrow steadfastly carried on.

The film more-or-less accurately portrays what actually occurred in this historic confrontation between an ill-motivated politician and a crusading journalist, and the film incorporates clips of news footage of Senate hearings that McCarthy used to attack his opponents. In these hearings, McCarthy makes wild accusations of officials using these public events as a grandstand to project himself into headlines. This caused a tremendous furor and public attention became riveted on the live televised hearings.

The key ethical issue in the movie, one that serves as the principal dramatic motif, is whether journalists should maintain their efforts to expose wrongdoing even when commercial interests in the media want to downplay stories. The movie shows that CBS is persuaded by Murrow to air his pivotal broadcast exposing McCarthy’s errors and falsehoods, even though network executives feared reprisals by advertisers and McCarthy’s political allies.

In the end, CBS won much acclaim for its courage in presenting an accurate account of McCarthy’s failings. The film ends with Murrow’s address at an RTNDA conference in which he sharply criticizes the media for their failure to achieve their potential for social good, a message one supposes the filmmakers wanted to underscore in this movie.

Another important ethical issue recalled by the film is the practice of blacklisting. This is the weapon wielded by McCarthy—to threaten media companies with financial harm and public attack if they refuse to dismiss staff members identified by McCarthy and his subordinates as “subversive elements.” These were not idle threats as many were labeled in this way, mostly without justification. The movie recounts the suicide of one of Murrow’s journalists whose “Communist connections” were about to be exposed by McCarthy. Murrow was portrayed as torn by his wish to protect his staff but unwilling to yield to the senator’s bullying.

It is interesting that the Edward R. Murrow story still captures the public’s imagination, because events the movie portrays occurred long before most of the film viewers were born. I am sure to many in the audience, the days of the Communist scare seemed as distant in history as the American Civil War.

For me, as a Thai citizen, it is difficult to grasp the mentality of the time when being identified as a Communist, falsely or not, would be the end of one’s career and would surely lead to social and political ostracism.

The photo shown above is an image I borrowed from Walker Art Center.

"We don't make the news. We report the news."

Lauren Miller

"Good Night, and Good Luck", a film directed and co-written by George Clooney, is set in the early 1950s, when everyone was at high alert for communists. A Wisconsin Senator, Joe McCarthy, was exploiting these fears in order to rid the government of Communists. However, his tactics were faulty and unethical. Edward R. Murrow, a prominent broadcaster for CBS, and his friend and co-worker, Fred Friendly decided to shed lights on his actions.

In any industry, there will always be an abundance of pressures that influence and alter our decisions. "Good Night, and Good Luck" depicts how much pressure a journalist experiences, especially since this is in the very early days of broadcast television. Murrow and Friendly must decide whether the public’s right to know outweighs the needs and demands of CBS.

Within the film, the chief executive of CBS, William Paley, tells Murrow, “We don’t make the news. We report the news.” Murrow and Friendly were cautioned about running this story and about the implications it would cause the company. Instead of being passive, these two, and their team, decided to be proactive and investigate a story that the public must hear. The pressures were difficult to handle, and Murrow was even accused of Communist affiliations, but the public’s need was greater than any other stakeholders’.

When writing any story it is important to take all of our stakeholders and influences into consideration, but I firmly believe that we all have a moral responsibility to inform the public and to keep watch over society. No, we should not make the news, but we shouldn’t simply report it, either. We must investigate and dig beneath the surface to make the truth known.

Monday, April 20, 2009

You Want Me to Work with THEM?!?

Mary T. Rogus

February 16, 2009, CLEVELAND -- WKYC and WOIO have announced a video-sharing arrangement designed to pool resources and allow both stations to cover more stories, while keeping the focus on content unique for their stations and their brands.

That's how a small item on WKYC-TV's website in Cleveland started. Now, two months later, the quotes from the two news directors found in the news release seem to be holding up. Rita Andolsen is WKYC-TV's News Director and one of the panelists on a RTNDA@NAB session on The New Journalism Networks Monday morning. She echoed her comments from the web news release, saying that the pooling partnerhsip with cross-town rival WOIO-TV only dealt with content that previously both stations would have covered and both would have basically gotten the same video and sound. The idea is to free up crews at both stations to cover other, enterprise stories. But she was the first to admitt, her newsroom wasn't exactly thrilled at working together with a fierce competitor.

News sharing partnerships in a community are nothing new. Greg Dawson, News Director for KNSD-TV in San Diego, talked about multiple partners including newspapers, magazines and websites. Also on the panel, Ed Kelley, Editor of The Daily Oklahoman, discussed a relationship with a local television station that helped the newspaper get video for its website started. News content sharing agreements among former competitors from different media platforms have been working for more than 15 years. But creating a pool video and/or information agreements among rival TV stations, or newspapers statewide, is relatively new.

So What's the Problem?
One of the points all the panelists made was it was certainly better to have one camera or reporter at a story than none, and in the current climate of diminishing resources that could become the case. But these agreements do raise questions about the number of distinct voices covering the news in a community. Competition in any business is usually a good thing for consumers. It means better quality products at a more reasonable price.

The same holds true for news media. Mass media, such as newspapers and local television, have to work harder then ever before to get and keep news consumers in the current online news environment, which provides highly segmented news for specific audiences. But if, as in the case of Cleveland, there are a major metro newspaper, four television stations, radio news stations, and various smaller community daily/weekly newspapers covering a story, isn't it more likely that all angles of that story and distinctive perspectives will make it to the public? That's the diversity of voices.

Competition has it's downside too, though. When the battle for viewers or readers to satisfy advertisers leads to rushing stories to air/print to be first, sameness across news media, and pandering to desires for sensational or entertaining news, the public loses. As we have seen in multiple sessions the first two days of RTNDA@NAB, most newsrooms are forced to do more news with fewer resources across more platforms. In a competitive environment, if a news manager is faced with the choice of giving a reporter an extra day to work an enterprise that otherwise wouldn't be uncovered, or cover the mayor's news conference that all news media in town will have, and will fill 1:30 of today's newscast plus provide extra video and sound for the web, there is no choice. If these news sharing agreements make it possible for that news manager to do both then I think they are a good thing, as long as all partners use the pooled video or informaion to produce their own stories.

So called "mainstream media" are under greater scrutiny than ever before from the instaneous blogosphere, so no television station or newspaper or radio station partnership is going to get away with monopolizing information or news perspectives. These partnerships are an economic reality for news media whose consumers make greater demands for more information, right now. As long as the end result is not fewer journalist boots on the ground, the diversity of voices heard from could increase. More resources could be available again for more enterprise and investigative reporting that had been the hallmark of mainstream local news, and could be its savior in the growing information overload.