Thursday, April 28, 2011

Keeping something secret? You’re probably doing something wrong.

Courtney Kessler

Maybe it isn’t so obvious of what constitutes as a conflict of interest for a reporter, but an overarching theme in every article I’ve glanced over regarding the topic is secrecy. Full disclosure is something a reporter should do to avoid tainting his or her credibility, as well as the medium he or she works for. 

An Already Tainted Profession
It’s no secret that journalists have a bad reputation. Years of lying or being subjective in an objective field has put journalists so far down on the list of credibility right out of the gate. We have to build from the ground up to establish individual credibility as journalists and once we are revered, we’re scrutinized so closely to make sure we keep it that way. The minute we keep a secret from the public, the minute we go back to square one. How do we avoid this? DON’T KEEP IT A SECRET!

Beat Them to the Punch
Secrets are meant to be found out, and they will be. Hiding something means you’re deceiving someone, and once you’re seen as deceitful, say goodbye to respect. So, if you truly believe you are not doing something wrong—there is no conflict of interest—then why not fully disclose it? The Jerusalem bureau chief of The Times, Ethan Bronner, was under fire last year by his readers because his son enlisted in the Israeli military. Bronner, who had fully disclosed this to his editors (who gave him the OK to keep writing) had been publicly criticized for writing about a topic with such a conflict of interest. Bronner had followed The Times ethics code and fired back with an incredible quote.

“Either you are the kind of person whose intellectual independence and journalistic integrity can be trusted to do the work we do at The Times, or you are not.”

Too Scrutinizing?
Some may say that there will be some sort of conflict of interest in almost any journalists’ career, and the public will be the first one to slam you down because of it. Are we, as readers/viewers, too scrutinizing when it comes to calling journalists out? I don’t think so. Not only are we deserving of the full truth, but we demand it. John Morton, American Journal Review writer describes why such scrutiny is a good thing.
“Our sensitivity about such things [scrutiny] is one of the reasons our newspapers do a better job, in my opinion, than newspapers elsewhere in informing the citizenry…”.
Moral of the Story
If doing something you don’t want the public to know about, it’s probably a conflict of interest. If not, beat them to the punch and tell your readers what’s up. Nobody likes a secret.

Conflict of Interest or Necessity of the Business?

By Natalie Knoth

The "Maybe It's Not So Obvious" story raises some tough questions. Though journalists might like to think of themselves as unbiased crusaders for timely and crucial information, the fact is that journalists are routinely swayed by advertisers, public-relations firms, and other organizations – if not out of a profit motive, certainly for convenience.

For example, from my experience working for magazines and newspapers, I've come to realize that the companies that really "put themselves out there" tend to get the most space in print simply because they send the press releases that pique writers' interests, they send the products for writers to try, and they submit story ideas about upcoming events. What's particularly troubling about this story is that a highly respected journalist like Walter Cronkite agreed to do a review that clearly presented a conflict of interest. If Cronkite blurred the line between editorial and advertising, it makes you ponder who else has. (Image courtesy

Are conflicts of interest a common occurrence?
I suspect that conflicts of interest occur all the time – even blatant incidents that could easily be revealed. For example, while this may be a bit of a tangent, but one renown fashion magazine printed a letter written by one of its own interns, a girl I know. She wrote about the magazine's coverage of a celebrity, I recall. It was inconceivable to me that such a well-established magazine would publish a letter from one of its own interns. I'm not sure if the girl offered to write the letter, or if the magazine approached her about writing one. Nonetheless, it's just sloppy to rely on a staffer's own thoughts for the letters section. You'd think that a magazine with such a large circulation would have no problem finding positive letters to fill it's feedback section, but maybe not.

OK to Pay?
Prior to reading "Checkbook Journalism Revisited," I had no idea that sometimes interview subjects, such as Lt. William Calley, are paid for interviews. I'm curious how often this practice occurs. On the surface, it appears to make sense because high-profile subjects tend to be busy, and thus to persuade them to appear in the pages of a magazine, they must be enticed with a paycheck. When a movie star, for example, is offered payment, I don't think this is a major cause for concern. Yet for a controversial government or public official, it certainly is because the subject will likely be motivated to respond according to the expectations of the publication.

I was particularly intrigued by this information in the reading: "In particular, I fear my students are less concerned with great stories than maintaining their journalistic virtue" (2). I wish Robert Boynton had provided examples to back this statement. While I know I definitely have not been 100 percent transparent with subjects, I can't recall any time I've outright lied to them.

Avoiding favoritism when testing products
I was more familiar with the issues raised in the "Bottled Prose" story. When working for a magazine, I was asked to sample everything from lipstick to bacon-filled chocolates to toothpaste. I recall the beauty and food departments making cold calls to companies requesting that they send products to be considered for upcoming issues. This helped ensure fairness, because some companies already sent products, while others do not. When the industry is struggling, I would expect that news outlets are especially likely to cross the editorial line into advertising or to publish news that has a conflict of interest.

Once You Pop, You Can't Stop...

Katelyn Liff

Okay, that sounds a little excessive. However, it seems to be a recurring theme. In the article, “A Journalist Breaks the Golden Rule,” it was emphasized, “Cross one ethical line and it’s that much easier to cross another” (Rosenberg 3). Anna Song, the journalist in that article, gave a eulogy for two young girls who had been murdered. However, because she was working on the story of the murders, it was considered a conflict of interest for her to give a eulogy at the memorial service.

In the article, it stated that reporters are not paid to be columnists, and therefore their opinions should excluded from their stories. That is in the ideal journalist world. Now, let’s move over to the realistic world of journalism. One of the ugly truths about journalism is that journalists are biased. Everyone is biased. It is human nature. In the case of Song, she obviously had strong opinions about the story, and felt a connection to the families. Two little girls were murdered. Song was asked to give a eulogy. “Thou shalt be unbiased” should not translate into “Thou shalt be cold hearted.” Just because her actions were biased does not mean her story was going to be biased. Just because she crossed that line does not mean she is going to fabricate sources or make up quotes.

Again, in the ideal journalistic world, it is unethical to accept wine when completing a story on it, according to the article, “Bottled Prose: The Ethical Paradox of the Wine Press.” In the UK, in order to be a good wine journalist, it is actually recommended that you taste the wine so that you understand what you’re writing about. The UK seems like they have a little firmer grasp on the realistic world of journalism.

Even though my views on the previous topics are probably considered radical, paying for interviews opens up an unnecessary can of worms. In “Checkbook Journalism Revisited,” it suggests that paying for interviews may be beneficial. Interview subjects usually get stories written about them. It should be considered a privilege, even for celebrities, to voice the truth or their opinions to the public. You shouldn’t have to bribe someone with thousands of dollars. Regardless, all sorts of well-known news outlets are reverting to this method. ABC and Esquire shouldn’t have to, but they are guilty of this too. Of course Lt. Calley is going to be smiling if he was paid $20,000 for an interview. That might have made him embellish the “truth” 20,000 times more than he would have if it had been an unpaid interview.

Image from

Covering Diversity Starts from the Beginning

Amanda Reece

Practice What You Preach

As I have always believed diversity starts from the very beginning. Though extremely cliche but perfectly fitting people should "practice what you preach." The same holds true for journalists and the diversity of their coverage in the media. As journalists or people in the media producing field we should hold ourselves to a higher responsibility to create and cover important news stories for everyone. You cant exactly cover a diverse range of news stories unless you are truly diverse yourself. The perfect example of a media outlet that practices diversity was discussed in some of today's readings. The Seattle Times is ranked as one of the top two newspapers in the country for representing diversity. They excel above others in creating and covering stories of interest to all people in Seattle and are deserving of the recognition they receive. They believe that practicing diversity starts from diversifying the news room where the news is created. To see their commitment to diversity visit their web page.

Less Focus more Depth

Although there are instances of exceptional diversity in news coverage we still find some room for improvement. What I think should be more importantly understood is not that we make sure to represent different races in the media, but how we represent different races in the media. In today's article "Why the race debate is far from over" by Yumi Wilson we read and consider multiple aspects of racial and diverse coverage in the media. As the article discussed we need to stop narrowly focusing on certain aspects of race and covering them. Instead we need to incorporate diverse coverage in new and different ways. The best example of turning the focus of a news story from purely racial to something deeper and more meaningful is the coverage of hurricane Katrina. In the aftermath of Katrina the potential for moving and important news stories were numerous. However, the coverage that resulted from this seemed slightly one-sided and too focused on racial aspects. In a Time magazine article about the press, race, and hurricane Katrina the overwhelming uniformity of articles and images were centered around African Americans. Even though they were being represented in the media coverage of Katrina the focus was still too strongly on race and lacked perspective on the amazing stories that could have been told.

It's Not What You Do, but How You Do It

The most important thing I think I took away from today's readings is that it's not just what you do to recognize diversity in the media, but how you do it. You can publish stories and pictures of people from different racial backgrounds and call it diversity or you can actually cover stories with depth and meaning about and for people of all different races and truly accomplish diversity. Essentially we all turn to media outlets for coverage of issues important to us. To really start diversifying the media we must diversify the way we think of the world around us and accept that our country has a need for multiple perspectives. When we can focus on diverse issues without focusing solely on the color of someones skin we will achieve a diverse media outlet.

I want to leave you all with a little clip from an interview between Morgan Freeman and Mike Wallace from 60 minutes. Mike Wallace asks Freeman to voice his opinion about black history month. I think his response is perfect for this weeks topic of covering diversity. Wallace tried to focus the interview on Freeman's racial identity as an African American and Freeman provides the perfect response leaving Wallace looking rather frazzled. Freeman basically states that he doesn't want a black history month because black history is American history. It's representative of my point that we shouldn't just focus on one certain aspect of a story because of someones race. Anyway, here is the interview gem:

Is Objectivity Dead?

Daniella Limoli

Bias, It's What's For Dinner
As the lines between advertisers and the magazines who publish them become continually blurred, it poses the question: Is objectivity dead?

That fact that there are no cops policing bias or formal laws on ethics can leave much to the imagination for some reporters. While many news agencies such as the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times have their own handbooks on ethics, this can neither a) prevent lapses of judgment/outright bias or b) ensure that reporters aren't looking out for their own wallets in the end.

What Were They Thinking?
Bottled Prose: The Ethical Paradox of the Wine Press by Robert D. Richards is an excellent example of the conflicts of interest plaguing journalism. In the booming wine industry where one California winery sold for $1.36 billion, it's no wonder that companies can afford to schmooze food journalists into favorable reviews. So what we should be wondering is why these so-called reporters are willing to risk both their reputation and their integrity for a high class bottle of booze and some breakfast in bed.

My favorite line may be, "...but can these stories be trusted if the reporters attend a well-lubricated recent sleepover in the vineyard?"


What's even more disturbing than lubrication is that the story states that some food critics don't consider themselves journalists, and as such don't believe themselves to be held to the same (if any) ethical standards.

Tenets of Journalism
Several of the readings touch on the tenets of journalism (or lack thereof). Among these are honesty and objectivity. In "A Journalist Breaks the Golden Rule," Howard Rosenberg asserts that Oregon reporter Anna Song (right) broke another tenet of journalism by participating in a story that she was supposed to be an observer in. I believe Rosenberg is right in saying that while the young reporter may not have realized her misjudgment, her news director certainly should have.

Living by a Code
As journalists, we should also make every effort to avoid a conflict of interest in reporting. In some cases, like when journalists report on companies in which the hold a share, it's as if they are seeking out such a conflict. This is where a professional's personal code of ethics should be at the forefront of their mind--because once you cross that first line, you could toss the whole book before you know it.

Never Write a Check Your Career Can't Cash

Cotrell Loftin

We all like to be ahead in life. We want to be the first kid picked to play dodgeball, the person at the head of the line, and the one who wins the race leaving the person in second place with an eyeful of dust. This is also true of the very competitive field of journalism. But will we do anything to be on top including pay our way there?

Checkbook journalism is the practice of paying someone for a news story and especially for granting an interview (Merriam-Webster). It is a sure-fire way to lose all credibility of the story and, in a broader focus, one's entire career. Paying sources presents the impression that instead of accurate facts and truthful re-tellings of events as they actually happened, sources simply say what they think the reporter wants to hear in order to receive compensation in the form of money or favors. In a sense, one can say it is bribery of sources to fabricate an even more compelling story than the one being reported even if it was unintentional.

An NBC story was compromised because of checkbook journalism. They had the main subject for their story flown in on a private jet in order to interview him.

Another form of checkbook journalism can also be compensating a journalist to write a positive story. Many food journalists and critics are faced with this dilemma. Restaurants attempt to "wine and dine" journalists hoping to get good reviews. How would they be able to write about the food if they do not taste it? The accepted practice is to buy one's own food and then report about what was eaten. How can there possibly be objectivity in this field of journalism when there are restaurants willing to buy good reviews? The most delicious food and the finest, sweetest wine to ever be sipped all at your beck and call. Tempting isn't it?

Many journalists and professionals in the field are opposed to the practice of checkbook journalism. Yet, many news organizations do not have explicit codes of ethics against it. Why not have codes against what is not generally accepted? Perhaps it is assumed that no one would do what is unacceptable. Yet, this same logic does not explain why people lie, steal, kill, commit fraud or any of the countless other crimes people think are unacceptable. Maybe it is another mystery for all you future journalists to solve.

Defining and Identifying a Conflict of Interest: Can it be two different things?

Renee Kovalcheck

When a question of a conflict of interest comes into play, everyone seems to have a slightly different opinion given the exact situation. Webster defines “conflict of interest” as “a conflict between the private interests and the official responsibilities of a person in a position of trust.” If only every situation was as simply as Webster’s definition.

In the article “A Journalist Breaks the Golden Rule,” the lawyer in me can easily argue both sides of the issue of Ms. Song speaking at the memorial. But if I had to make a clear judgment, I would have to say that if Ms. Song planned on continuing her report or being involved with that particular news story than she should have not spoken at the memorial.

Referring to Webster, her private or personal sentiments that were shared publicly, undoubtedly had some influence over her fulfilling her official responsibilities without bias or personal antidotes on the matter.

Doctors have a particular code of ethics in which they are not to operate on family members or close friends because of the influence of such bias may have on their performance. (See AMA Opinion 8.19.)

In Ms. Song’s case the conflict of interest is not one of life or death but it has the same risk of influence on the final/professional performance.

The conflict of interest line that Ms. Song crossed in this particular case may have been more blurred than the ethical line of doctors. But, by crossing it, it may bring her and other professionals to more likely make similar small jumps across the line for the next story.

In most cases, people have different opinions on what is to be considered conflicts of interests or most importantly what is considered ethical or unethical. I guess personally, the best any of us can do is try to make the best decision we think is right and be ready to defend that decision when others disagree or be willing to accept the consequences of our beliefs.

Will diversifing sources help to diversify opinion?

Kate Sierzputowski

Journalists have a responsibility to report news that’s pertinent, informing, and fair to their audience. They also have a huge pressure on their shoulders from competing media outlets and their readership to make this news as unbiased as possible. When choosing quotes from the sources included in their stories, how should journalists make sure to live up to both standards?

Yumi Wilson's article in the Online Quill suggests that journalists often "ignore complex or politically charged aspects of a story, usually in the interest of space, clarity, and trying to appear neutral or objective in their reporting" (2). One of the solutions supplied by the writer is that journalists should seek out quotes and developing stories from Facebook, Twitter, and Youtube to ensure more "accurate and honest reporting on the debate over racial identity" (2). Social media has taken businesses, journalism, and our minds by storm, and producing quotes from these new age sources is the next developing step in the journalism field.

A few television programs and news articles are already integrating Twitter quotes from the web, but an increasing number of more respected news organizations are also joining the trend. The Washington Post is one example, and as seen by this article outlining the protocols Washington Post writers must obey while writing posts on Twitter, there are still some kinks to work out when dealing with these forums. Another article on Read Write Web explains just how far Twitter has been integrated into our future careers, as the discovery of breaking stories, and interviews more frequently happen on this constantly developing forum.

Although using social media outlets would supply a more diverse and easily accessible pool for quotes and perspectives, wouldn’t it be subject to the same processes of selecting quotes that we use with story contacts in person? Online information is masked as easily accessible, but in reality may cause more sifting through quotes to find the ones that are most reliable. Yumi Wilson’s suggestion to include more online perspectives has a good basis, but can the sources we find through the web be as accurate as those in person? It is difficult to know the true identity of a person online, and a quote that comes from a seemingly trustworthy source may be someone with hidden agendas. I believe social networking sites are still risky places to pull sources, but with rapidly developing technological advancements it will continue to rise in legitimacy.

This video, "Mulatto Diaries #62" by "Biracial Tiffany," as mentioned in Wilson's article shows an opinionated source. Would you use her testimony in a related story?

Diversity reporting; it is our responsibility

Sara Rice

On the very first day of class, our Journalism 412: Media Ethics class kicked off the quarter with a discussion on the very basics of ethics. After evaluating a couple of moral codes from classic philosophers, the class was challenged to apply the theories to our profession today. Whether the student practices utilitarianism advocated by John Stewart Mill, or teleology advocated by both Aristotle and Socrates, the ideas are the same. In the United States, we have the responsibility of freedom and regardless of the writer's moral code and background, this responsibility still holds true when it comes to reporting issues of diversity and varying suffrage issues.

The first reading assigned for today's class was about the push to change the termination of residents of the United States that are not legally documented. The article discussed the terms "illegal immigrant" and "illegal alien." In this argument, the writer states that these terms are commonly related to the Hispanic population. Despite the fact that the AP Style book entry recommends the term "illegal immigrant," many writers and representatives argue that this entry is contradictory. However, the argument that struck a cord with me was the idea that 100 years ago every immigrant was "illegal" or "undocumented." In journalism, it is our responsibility to be sensitive to the interpretation of the terminology we chose to use. In a profession where the AP Style book is that of a reference "Bible," it is difficult to decide what is fair.

From the Society of Professional Journalists to a variety of other journalist groups, writers everywhere are deeming the term "illegal immigrant," irresponsible for reporting use. SPJ released their reasoning behind this decision in late December stating the term to be unconstitutional. If I were to come across this situation in reporting about the current events issue, I would use the accepted and sensitive term, "undocumented immigrant." If you ask me, sometimes it is better to be safe than sorry.

"Research has shown that people are more likely to remember the pictures in a news story than the words," a passage from the Gilens reading for class. The idea is that many journalists do not mean to intentionally perpetuate stereotypes in imagery, but do. This subject can get heated. If there is an image to accompany a story about poverty, many times the reader will internalize the message the image sends more than that of the article itself.

When looking at this image, what would the common consumer of news gather? Is this the portrait of American poverty? Or, is this the portrait of the classic portrayal of American poverty? The only conclusion that I can come to is one of compassion and movement for change. It is not fair to perpetuate racial stereotypes in the news whether it be conscious or subconscious. It is the responsibility of the writer, photographer, and editor to be aware of the suffrage issues in the United States and be sure that reporting is done wholly and truthfully.

In other words, take the picture and write the story. However, be sure that what you are writing and what you are choosing to photograph will resinate with the consumer in a way that tells the story but doesn't portray and opinion or judgement. Being aware and cautious of the consumer's interpretation and today's issues will create a more "melting pot minded" form of reporting. Let's all get back to the mindset we had in the 5th grade.

The Dangers of Language

By Pete Shooner

I would like to explore an interesting topic that the article "Undocumented or Illegal?" brought up. Certainly, language can be powerful. Certain words and speech are deemed hateful or racial slurs and should be avoided. But sometimes speech that seems harmless can have negative consequences beyond imagination.

In the example from the article, the choice to use "illegal alien" instead of "illegal immigrant" or "undocumented immigrant" can and, some argue, does have serious consequences that manifest in peoples attitudes towards those entering our country.

I immediately thought of another language issue that has been around since 2001. The press will, without hesitation, use the term "jihad" and "jihadists" when covering aggressions from insurgents in the Middle East. Now, I must admit I have dug into this issue and the problems that arise out of it. An article I wrote explores the topic.

The main concern is that when we, as journalists, use the term jihad, we give credibility to the insurgents. Sounds backwards, doesn't it?

It's not, and our misunderstanding of the language comes from a serious ignorance about Islam. This religion is a major part of the lives of those we are reporting on, so we must learn about it to be able to report accurately. Within Islam, jihad is a fight for good and for god. It is a fight to defend Islam and its peoples. However (and this is a big however), only certain officials within the faith can call a jihad. Heads of state cannot; Osama bin Laden cannot; certainly, your average Joe the insurgent cannot. So why do we use this language when there has been no official jihad called?

It comes back to ignorance. We do not take the time to learn all there is to know about those who are different from us, those who are separated from us by time, geography, race, age, class or language. As a result, we make mistakes. Some are more harmless than others, but if you consider that using a certain word can make young, impressionable Muslims believe that those men who are trying to recruit them to fight are doing god's work, then it is clear how serious the consequences can be.

When covering any topic or person we're not familiar with, our best course of action will always be to learn as much as possible. Unfortunately, with deadlines and lack of money, most news organizations simply don't have the resources to cover issues the way they should.
But that shouldn't stop journalists from learning in their free time. If we never take off our journalist hat, and if we're always listening and looking for new story ideas, then we should also be learning, in depth, about the world around us. Only then, when the time comes to write that story on race, or poverty, or Islamic fundamentalism, will we be fully prepared to tackle these serious issues.

Breaking the news through diversity and sensitivity

Lane Robbins

It is important that media be sensitive to issues of race, class, gender and sexual orientation when reporting the news, so reporters and editors do not let their unconscious biases get in the way of professional reporting. We are reporting the news for all kinds of people and as media specialists we must strive to bring independence and objectivity to our stories.

What's in an immigration status?
The debate is still raging about the rights of new immigrants to this country, especially immigrants from Mexico and Latin America. Words like "alien," "illegal" and "undocumented" fill media reports. Some people find the words "alien" and "illegal" offensive and dehumanizing, while others feel like they are the most appropriate linguistic signifiers for non-citizen immigrants to the United States. The term "illegal immigrant" is preferred by the Associated Press Stylebook.

Personally, I don't believe any human being is "illegal" or "alien;" we are all immigrants to this country. Immigrants deserve open and easy pathways to citizenship, if that is their desire. If governments and corporations are so intent on the free-flow of global capital, they should also allow the free movement of people across borders.

Less blacks on welfare than Americans believe
Poverty and race in America is also something media has struggled to cover accurately and without prejudice. African-Americans have traditionally been overrepresented in photographs depicting poverty, especially as members of the "underclass:" "those associated with crime, drugs, out-of-wedlock births, and 'welfare as a way of life,'" according to academic Martin Gilens, in his article Poor People in the News.

Maybe that is why so many white Americans do not believe in welfare for the poor, yet do not question corporate welfare.

The prejudicial trend has improved as news outlets have become more aware of their publishing patterns. In 1988 the Seattle Times began to count photographs of minorities appearing in positive, neutral and negative contexts to offer a more accurate societal representation.

The president is black and white
Race is a complicated issue into which media does not often delve. An article in Quill Magazine discusses President Obama's biracialism -- Obama is half-white and half-black. Yumi Wilson, author of the article, "Why the race debate is far from over," is half-black and half-Japanese. She feels that reporters should avoid giving people one-word labels and instead ask subjects how they want to be identified.

The nuances of race should not be relegated from the front page to the op-ed page, Wilson said. I agree: let's stop ignoring the proverbial elephant in the room. News media must be conscious of race and class and examine the lingering unconscious stereotyping and prejudice in news reporting. Newsroom should be diverse and cover diverse communities. This also includes the voices of women and the LGBTQ community.

"Diversity only gets represented in a diverse newsroom," Bob Ferrante, executive producer of the syndicated radio show The World, said.

Would you really want to read this if I title it "Racism"?

Photo taken from a fellow blogger.

Lauren Stauffenger

Choosing our words wisely is something that we must master as journalists. As we discussed in class on Tuesday, the difference between the words "looting" and "finding" is enormous - especially when paired with photographs depicting subjects of varying cultural backgrounds. I say "cultural backgrounds" instead of "races" for a good reason.

Currently, I am taking a sociology course in which we learned that the concept of race is the real OR imagined physical differences between and amongst people. My point, here, is that race is oftentimes in our heads. People are all the same race; we are all just people. Yet, our imagined perceptions are sometimes enhanced, not deterred, by media portrayals, language, references and labels.

As the article from American Journalism Review points out, referring to a foreign citizen in America without papers as an "illegal immigrant" already labels him/her as a criminal. In contrast, calling him/her an "undocumented immigrant" carries less of a negative connotation. Through the use of certain labels, the media is segmenting people.

In a recent blog post by CNN's Jack Cafferty, the question is posted: Will the 2012 presidential race be the 'ugliest' and most 'racist' one in history? Cafferty says that there is a "general nastiness in the tone of our dialogue in this country that didn't used to be there" and goes on to back up this statement.

The issue of media accuracy becomes the focal point of stories regarding diversity. For instance, researchers in the UK reported that there was a lack of diversity in mainstream television advertisements. It is my opinion that although advertisers should be sure not to blatantly disregard any ethnic or cultural group, they should also not strive so hard to meet quotas that they are being overtly cheesy or insincere about their efforts.

I really think that the issue of racial depiction in media can be summed up by a quote from Kirk Johnson, an assistant sociology professor. Johnson says, "I think if people use the media, they rely on what the media tell them, particularly about race." I agree with Johnson and I truly believe that if cultural perceptions about "race" are going to change, it should start and end with the media's choice of language and portrayals.

The importance of covering diversity

Matt Schuldt
As journalists, it is important for all of us to seek the truth and report in an unbiased manner. Covering diversity is so important, especially today, because covering all angles and obtaining all perspectives of a story is so essential to getting the bigger picture.
In the article, Covering Diversity by Sharon O’Malley, she brings up a very good point on why broadcasters sometimes lack coverage of diversity.

“Sometimes broadcasters need to take the extra step, drive the 15 miles, stay a little while longer in order to hear all the voices and show all the faces of the news,” she writes. “But too often, [Richard] Harris notes, deadline pressures and habit lead them to point their cameras at the most convenient targets—the white male lawyers, doctors, professors, bookstore owners—who can serve as expert sources for their sources.”

I agree with O’Malley and Harris in the sense that I do believe that sometimes journalists shy away from covering diversity as a matter of convenience. But if we, as journalists, report on topics and issues as a matter of convenience, we aren’t doing our jobs and we are also doing a disservice to our readers who deserve to hear all sides to a story.

The School of Journalism and Public Relations (SJPR) released a “Diversity Reporting” handbook just last month.  The author of the handbook, Marina Tuneva, a lecturer at SJPR, says that the intentions of the handbook are “not to offer a comprehensive review of professional and ethical standards on reporting diversity, but to provide a general framework of rules that are accepted in professional journalism.”

In my opinion, it’s a great idea to have a handbook or set of guidelines for covering diversity. Furthermore, I believe that all Ethics Codes should include areas on covering diversity. By putting guidelines in place for ethical reporting on diversity, hopefully it will allow reporters to move out of their comfort zones and begin to cover different groups of people.
As mentioned earlier, a huge reason why some reporters don’t cover diversity is because of convenience. Maybe they don’t want to step on anybody’s toes or feel uncomfortable doing so, but a set of guidelines could erase that mentality and allow more widespread coverage of other groups.
(Photo credit:
Covering all different groups of people is a key to unbiased reporting. Rather than skewing the news by only reporting on a select, “convenient” few, it is important that we cover those different from us because we interact with different groups of people everyday. It also will help society in erasing negative perceptions of certain groups of people because unfortunately, negative perceptions and stereotypes are often caused by a lack of diversity coverage and unbiased reporting.
This is very evident in schools, and many high school newspapers are emphasizing diversity coverage in an effort to prepare not only their writers, but to encourage differences among the student community.
In Covering Diversity, O’Malley gets a great quote from Stacy Owen, the acting news director and managing editor at KRON-TV in San Francisco, which pretty much sums it up.

“Look at the community in which you live,” she said, “Covering diversity is no different than covering our neighborhood.”

Terminology in the Newsroom: Undocumented vs. Illegal

Katie Smith

When a student makes the decision to dedicate their life to the journalism profession they are bombarded by the rules and suggestions that have been passed on by others before them. Helpful hints of what to do, and wary warnings plague the journalist in their first few years on the job. While this is incredibly beneficial to a beginner in the field it can also be counterproductive. Journalism is one of the few careers that is constantly changing and refocusing on its mission: to truthfully and unbiasedly relay the news. So then, why is it that we hold on so tightly to the standard procedures that were used in newsrooms 50 years ago?

It is important to evaluate journalistic procedures, especially terminology, as often as possible. With the rapid social, technological and economic change our country faces today it is feasible that some of the things we did and said yesterday are offensive to our consumers today.

The terminology surrounding people who come to America without properly documenting their entrance is one of the most popular discussions we currently face. Are these people to be described as "illegal" or "undocumented?" Should they be called "immigrants" or "aliens?" Does it even matter what we, as journalists, call them?

In the article, Illegal Aliens Vs. Undocumented Workers it is argued that "the term illegal alien is not meant in a disparaging or dehumanizing way. The definition and use of the term 'illegal' is completely appropriate, since it is illegal for a person to enter or remain in the US without permission, as it is illegal for them to hold a job."

However the video below, presented by ColorLines and the Applied Research Center, shows that the use of the word "illegal" is spreading hate that targets specific groups of people. Their campaign to 'Drop the I-word' explains this side of the argument:

But does it even matter what journalists call people that come into our country in a way that we have decided is illegal? The Society of Professional Journalists' Code of Ethics says it does. The ethics code, that almost all journalists choose to follow, says that we should "avoid stereotyping by race, gender, age, religion, ethnicity, geography, sexual orientation, disability, physical appearance or social status." So, what do we do?

According to an American Journalist Review article, linguist, Otto Santa Ana, urges that both terms, illegal and undocumented, are one-sided. Santa Ana supports the use of the term"unauthorized immigrant" because it doesn't mask a very serious issue behind a polite facade, but it also does not characterize these people as hard criminals.

So, I guess it's up to us, the bright future of journalism, to decide. Illegal? Undocumented? Unauthorized? What is the future of this terminology? While we all appreciate and respect the advice of those that have been in the business for years, it is our turn to make some decisions. It is my hope that we hold ourselves to the ethical standards set by those before us, but that we don't turn into coddling parents of the public by trying to please everyone.

Covering Diversity

Alex Stuckey

In a newsroom, diversity issues come up a significant amount because the United States is a melting pot. Unless you are in an extremely small town, there will, without a doubt, be people of different races, ethnicities and sexual orientations. Because of this, covering diversity in a neutral way is extremely important.

Like it or not, most media outlets are run by white males so diversity problems can easily slip through the cracks because the white males aren't looking for issues with unbiased wording. Unbiased wording is one of the most important aspects of journalism, especially when writing about people who are different from you. In the article called, "Undocumented or illegal," the issue of unbiased wording is discussed.

In the article, the use of the phrases "illegal immigrant" or "illegal alien" are addressed. The author is basically saying that the lose of those phrases connotes negative feelings toward the people in question because, in our society, we equate the word illegal with immoral and wrong. Because of this, associations like the National Association of Hispanic Journalists calls the AP Stylebook to change the style to "undocumented immigrant." Even of word alien has a negative connotation that should be curtailed.

Although I had never thought about it before, I now see that this phrasing can immediate put bias into a story without the reporter even realizing it.

To be completely honest, I think that, while the article does have a lot of good points, it doesn't address an even bigger issue — most people in America believe that "illegal immigrant/alien" is synonymous with Mexicans, even though there are plenty of illegal immigrants from other countries.

According to a MSNBC article, make up 58 percent of the illegal immigrant population. While that is more than half, other races and ethnicities make up 42 percent, which is nothing to dismiss. Because of this statistic, I think that the AP Stylebook should make it so that the ethnicity of the illegal immigrant is talked about in the story so that snap judgments are not made.

Overall, I do think the wording needs to change to help media outlets become less biased because of the negative connotation associated with the words. But I also think that is not enough and that the ethnicity of the people should be included — that is something that needs to be talked about.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Covering the Complexities of Racial Identities

Arushi Sharma
The 2008 election brought focus on Obama’s racial identity. From Chris Matthews, host of MSNBC’s, “Hardball with Chris Matthews” making comments such as, “I forgot he was black for an hour,” in reference to Obama’s State of the Union address to Fox News' Glenn Beck calling him a racist; comments such as these reflect the obvious ignorance of journalists when it comes to covering issues involving people of more than one race.
We need to realize that it doesn’t have to be one or the other. It’s not a choice, but rather understanding that Obama’s election marks America’s first multiracial decade.

In the article, Why the Race Debate is Far from Over, Yumi Wilson discusses the failure of news agencies to cover the challenges citizens face when trying to define their racial identity. For instance she points out that news organizations such as CNN need to cover such topics as news stories rather than as op-eds. As she articulates, “Reporters too often simplify or ignore complex or politically-charged aspects of a story usually in the interest of space, clarity and trying to appear neutral or objective in their story. The result is a story that only scratches the surface, sending readers and viewers to alternative sources for information, such as YouTube.”
As a result, I think reporters need to first and foremost, stop giving people one-word labels such as black or white or others based solely on appearance; rather ask them how they would like to identified. In addition, I agree with Wilson when she states that publications should explore the contradictory aspects of having multiple racial identities in the news section, rather than as op-eds. This will ensure that we perform our most basic role: reporting honestly and accurately about issues that most people aren’t comfortable talking about.
We have our first black —and biracial—president. When’s a better time to talk about it than now?

WikiLeaks: Whistleblowing in the Digital Age

Ben Carter
popozao_panther on Twitter

Rarely in history can one find a justifiable reason to call a technological advancement so radical that it dramatically changed the nature of human interaction. However, those of us lucky enough to have lived through the '90s have a legitimate innovation to call just that-- the internet. The world wide web has thoroughly transformed the title world it ensnared in almost every facet: and as every person who would read this blog should know, journalism is no exception. In fact, the journalism industry probably has one of the more drastically morphing definitions.

As a couple of the articles for May 5th were keen to remind us, the military did a lot of the work in developing the internet and making it an extremely decentralized system, laying the groundwork for the open marketplace of ideas that anyone can utilize we know today. Also as the articles suggested, perhaps no one has put the power of the new medium in perspective quite like Julian Assange with WikiLeaks. Clearly the situation holds momentous implications for the future of the love/hate triangle between the government, the media, and sources, and ethical issues are no small part of this fact. Therefore, in the spirit of Professor Rogus' enthusiasm for case studies I though it would be interesting to to do a brief version of a case study on WikiLeaks from the view of a traditional media outlet.

WikiLeaks can potentially can deal serious damage to the security and authority.

Don't expect all discussions of race online to be worth coverage

I wanted to explore something expressed by Yumi Wilson in her article published by SPJ's Quill online. In it she argues that the mainstream media is delegating racial coverage to the op-ed page only and that, "[r]eporters should turn to Facebook, Twitter, Google Alerts and other online sources for ideas and tips on the latest developments in stories related to race and racial identity."

This struck me as odd immediately. If anything racial discussions are the last thing I'd turn to the Internet for discussion. In a web dominated by two sentence tweets and quick comments, the web encourages people to speak quickly. Strong statements get noticed, and this can lead to polarization. A study released by the Pew Internet and American Life project found that "55 percent of all Web users feel that the Internet increases the influence of those with extreme political views" (thanks to Social Times).
This is certainly true in the halls of Social Media, but things can be even worse in anonymous communities. I'll have the gall to point the finger at 4Chan, the anonymous image sharing community. I think the point is best summarized by Phil Yu of the Angry Asian Man Blog, speaking at a SXSWi panel on race and social media (transcription):

"When you give people a voice anonymously, it empowers them to spread hate."
It's not that 4Chan is a meeting ground for racial e-terrorists, it's more that anonymity allows immature people to bring out their subtle racist tendencies for
misguided humor. Obviously, you don't want to mistake this as a racial discussion.

There is one thing about the Internet that is refreshing when it comes to discussions of race. The most revolting content often rises to the top, uniting the people of the web to openly turn against it in a large ritual shaming. Take for example this racist rant on Asians in the UCLA library by Patty Push-Up-Bra (not her real name) with several million views and dozens of parodies:

If it's our job to call people out on being racist, then the web might be a good place for us. You'll have to dive deep to find substantive discussions though.

-Niklos Salontay

What's the Minority Report in the Newsroom?

Amber Skorpenske
Diversity in the Newsroom
I believe it is important to be diverse as possible in the newsroom. Firstly, by adding Latino's, African-Americans and Asians into the newsroom we would offering our audiences different perspectives as our reporters and anchors would all come from different backgrounds. By having all these different ethnicities, we would have access to more diverse sources and be able to produce interesting and compelling pieces. We would be improving our work and at the same time gaining a larger and more assorted audience. By also placing these minorities on camera, other minorities who already watch our station would feel more comfortable and trusting of their local reporters/anchors. Working with different people in the fast paced news environment one would have to learn to rely and work with people of different backgrounds. Through this collaboration the news station would discover new strengths within each other and be able to produce new material that showcases these strengths.

Covering Minorities
It takes a very sensitive person to cover minorities that one does not belong in. As the NAHJ discussed, using words like "Illegal Alien" may be promoting negative connotations about certain members of a group. NABJ also advocates for the increase in sensitivity when dealing with ethnic issues and the fact we must be playing into or encouraging stereotypes. Producers and editors must be sensitive as to how the are portraying minorities, whether that means showing them mainly being arrested, or sneaking across the border. When covering minorities I think it is important to take into account how we achieve the specific angle or how we find these sources. In the readings it was discussed that reporters (especially broadcasters) must learn to travel farther and to go outside of their comfort zone to find a story that contains minorities. While the story might be relatable to all, it is nice to some "color" on our tv - through different people who we interview or different characters we choose to follow. As journalists it should be apart of our ethics system cover all aspects of our community, through all angles - and this includes minorities and the attentiveness to diversity.

Being multi-cultural myself I feel like it is very important to cover all aspects. I am a Latina and I know firsthand that people of my culture might want to see different stories on air. Having this insight and being able to share it with my future bosses would make me and asset in the growing and changing media. If we care about our audience so much, I would only assume that we would cater to each sect of our diverse public. It should not be viewed as "more work" or a "weakness" in the news room's repertoire of stories. It should be viewed as a strength that each reporter as the talent and conviction to constantly cover the different cultural stories and to present them in a way that relates to all minorities/ethnicities and at the same time paying special attention to the different needs of all minorities/ethnicities. This well-rounded news room is what will be the norm of the future and instead of fighting it, all upcoming journalists should approach it head on with excitement and conviction.

The Impact of Racial Identity on Journalsim

By: Chris Roling

Diversity is a major challenge journalists are currently facing. Racial identity is one facet of diversity our country is struggling to comprehend. The election of President Barack Obama has only brought the issue to the forefront of our nation’s collective mind.

Besides the fact Obama has recently had to provide an official birth certificate to the media, he is under constant scrutiny because our society has trouble dealing with the fact he is biracial. Our society is ill-equipped to deal with any racial labels outside of the narrow-minded black or white. Additionally, stereotypes unintentionally slip into a news story because most newsrooms are ignorant to stereotypes because of lack of diversity in the newsroom itself.

Credit to Matt Wuerker and Politico

Yumi Wilson, in her article entitled Why the race debate is far from over, addresses the issue of racial identity only being explored by news organizations in the op-ed sections of their publications.

“Reporters too often simplify or ignore complex or politically charged aspects of a story, usually in the interest of space, clarity and trying to appear neutral or objective in their reporting.”

The definition of news is a major issue here. How can journalists differentiate between a simplistic news story, or a story with multiple racial perspectives that could potentially alienate a reader? Each race has to be fairly represented on any given issue, but the attempt at gaining multiple racial perspectives can’t come off as forced.

The short answer to this issue is to have a diverse staff. Organizations have to attempt to have multiple viewpoints represented on a story before it is ever published. What one reporter considers to be a great caption could be something another reporter finds slightly offensive.

In the end, individual journalists have to form their own code. While using something like SPJ’s Code of Ethics is a great place to start, individual experiences will help to fully shape a personal code. As soon as we can all open our eyes to the diverse cultures that surround us, the sooner we can better ourselves as journalists. Bettering ourselves as journalists inherently progresses our society down the path of understanding each other, and the world we inhabit.

Diversity in Journalism: A Conscious Effort

Lindsay Shirk
Diversity in Journalism: A Conscious Effort

Diversity and specifically the issue of race has and still is a controversial issue. We are constantly encouraged to embrace diversity in our workplaces, news stories, personal lives and more. We are also constantly reminded not to fall into the habit of racial and ethnic stereotypes that tend to come along with the conversation of diversity.

In the basic principles of journalism and spelled out clearly in the SPJ's Codes of Ethics, we are told to tell the stories of all the diverse and varying people in our world. SPJ says journalists should "Tell the story of the diversity and magnitude of the human experience boldly." Of course many think this is an easy task. But realistically, journalists fall into the habit of using sources, interviewees, and subjects that are "safe" and maybe less controversial. Some may not make an effort to use people of other races, cultures and ethnicities because they feel those people may not be as "appealing" to a wider audience. These practices are examples of falling into the negative habits that set foundation for race issues, prejudice and believing racial/ethnic stereotypes. I would like to address to two points on diversity after recognizing the importance of of this issue in journalism.

Diversity in the Subjects of our News Stories
It's very important to diversify the subjects of the news stories we are producing in the newsrooms, PR office or advertising agency we are working for. Subjects could be topics, featured people, interviewees and much more. Stacy Owen of KCRN-TV in San Francisco says "Covering diversity is like covering your neighborhood." We should strive to make the news representative of all the people living in our neighborhood, city or world.

Writing about other cultures, ethnicities and races not your own can broaden not only your own viewpoint, but can influence and broaden that of your readers. This may in turn make your story all the more appealing, interesting and creative. In Tim Porter's blog, he shines light on this point and says:

"Race is an uncomfortable subject and at times I, as a editor and as a person, felt discomfort being reminded of my own limited perceptions, but it challenged me and forced my way of thinking, that of my peers and that of those minority journalists to undergo scrutiny and debate. From that consideration came better decisions and, at times, better journalism."

Sharon O'Malley, in the reading "Covering Diversity," explains that we should look to people of minorities or diverse backgrounds more than when the topic at hand is specified towards their background. I agree that in making an effort to represent the diverse people that we live with, we should make a conscious effort to include all types of people in the everyday conversations and stories we are producing.

Diversity & Stereotypes
As we try to include diversity into our news stories, we need to be aware of stereotypes. Going off of what Martin Gilens wrote about in "Poor People in the News," the following could be topics of stereotyped stories:
Blacks--criminal, the poor
Whites-- govt officials, businessman
Hispanic--immigration, poverty
We need to keep ourselves aware of stereotypes because our audiences are typically broad and include varying people. We wouldn't be representing our diverse audience if all of our stories fell victim to racial or ethnic stereotypes.

This is true not only in news stories but in advertising as well. Duncan Hines found themselves using racial stereotypes in their advertising for one of their products. They depicted cupcakes in blackface and deemed them "hip hop cupcakes." This offended many viewers and Duncan Hines pulled the video.

Keep Creative, Carry On

Gretchen Raque

As journalists, objectivity is one of the most important ethical values necessary. Especially in modern times, when reverse discrimination is just as prominent as discrimination itself. It’s human nature to be uncomfortable around something one isn’t used to. However, as humans, being uncomfortable around each other simply because of difference in skin color is wrong. Granted, historically many were taught to think that way as children; but it’s the same concept as, say, a granola bar. Each brand of granola bar is different, consisting of various calories, proteins, vitamins and minerals. However, each also fulfills the same purpose—to sustain and fill ones stomach. Regardless of taste, texture, smell or size, each is the same on the inside.

Although it is less common from our generation, prejudice is still prevalent in society. Wander the streets of any poor city across the nation and one will find people dressed in rags that may have not bathed in weeks. White or black, poverty is an issue that will not simply disappear. Honestly, there will always be people poorer than you. That is the way our society is set up. With a free market economy, some will succeed and some will fail, but there is always the option to strive for better. I believe this is what makes our nation so great. However, the diverse ‘melting-pot’ of the United States has its flaws as well.

Diversity should be a stepping-stone to better our nation and increase the utility of its inhabitants. It should not be a way to separate us. Sometimes as journalists, in our efforts to increase equality by including minorities in each story, we may be excluding those most important in the story. Each piece of news has a different angle and different stakeholders to take into account. It is important to analyze each as its own body of information and cater to its dynamics as such.

With so many factors to look out for, it’s easy to become overwhelmed. But don’t freak out. Whatever initially attracted you to the profession—curiosity, ambition, information—it’s still there. Just be creative in your approach. Think on top of the box. Don’t be just—standard.

A 'Race' for the Headlines

Lexi Sweet

To be honest, the idea of discussing diversity in an ethics class was something I would not have considered prior to this week. However, after the variety of readings we have had, I believe I have a whole new perspective on the topic. The reading I found most interesting was an article that came from the Society of Professional Journalists Online Quill Magazine entitled "Why the race is far from over."

The article began with some interesting anecdotes regarding President Obama, as reporting his race during the election was some of the most controversial in history. Obviously, the big story revolves around the fact that Obama is the first black president. Before I get too far into addressing the comments in the article, I would like to point out something interesting. There was a media frenzy over the fact that our president is black, as noted in this article in reference to a Jan. 21 CNN article entitled, "Black first family 'changes everything,'" however this article also addresses the fact the Obama is actually biracial. That being said, why is he so proud of his black heritage yet forgetting completely about his white heritage? That seems a little unfair to his mother's side of the family.. Is this not somewhat reverse racism? The media made no mention of this part of his family either. Why was it that we were all so focused on Obama being black, rather than focusing more on his politics, which to me seems like the important thing?
But I digress, and now move on to one of the biggest racial issues in the media with regards to Obama: his birth certificate. I believe that this topic in our class is very timely, as just today Obama released his birth certificate for the world to see. For some reason, the world, due to the media based on the agenda-setting theory, became obsessed with the idea that Obama was not actually born in the United States, thus could not be president, and there was a huge demand to see his birth certificate. As far as I know, this is the first time in history that this has happened, clearly it was not a problem for Bush or Clinton, and that can only lead to one conclusion; we question him because he is black. Even as a conservative, someone who does not support most of Obama's policies and did not vote for him, I think this argument is ridiculous and has gotten out of hand. Months later, it is finally over.
An interesting side story to this, though, regards the man who was the main emphasis behind the birth certificate debacle: Donald Trump. Specifically, with regards to response to the release of the certificate. In this video, you will see as Trump praises himself for doing such a great job getting Obama to release the certificate, but he then proceeds to blame the media for all the hype. He says he is excited this whole issue is finally resolved, so he can now do interviews on things that are important to him rather than always talk about the birth certificate. So I ask, was the media causing the obsession, or were they just covering what Trump kept giving them as controversial news?

The article mentions a few suggestions that I think all media outlets should follow to better cover race.
1. Reporters should stop trying to give people one-word labels such as black, white or others based on appearance, and simply ask their subjects how they want to be identified.
This is similar to the point that I was making about Obama's race, why was it so important he be identified as black (other than the obvious that it was a historic moment for the presidency). But for others not in the public eye, it is still an issue. For example, in the video "Mulatto Diaries #62" discussed in this article, "Biracial Tiffany" addresses what a strange concept it is that she is proud to be both black and white; but why should it be? And why does she have to identify as just one, based solely on the fact that she looks black?

2. Reporters should turn to Facebook, Twitter, Google Alerts, YouTube and other online sources for story ideas and tips on the latest developments in stories related to race and racial identity.
Stories are not always going to fall into our laps, most of the time we will have to seek out the best, controversial and most interesting stories. What better place to find them than all of the social media available today? Take the "Mulatto Diaries" video for example, "Biracial Tiffany" has a whole series of these videos making excellent points regarding race, but she is not going to send them into the newsroom.

3. Traditional news outlets should keep stories that explore the confusing and contradictory aspects of racial identity on the front page, not just the op-ed pages.
If you read the CNN article that I referenced previously, there was an op-ed piece posted in response in which Jennifer Brea expressed some very complex views regarding her biracial identity. In reading this article, I feel that it is something that could be fit for more hard news sections of the media, and why shouldn't it be? Reporters must be aware that where stories regarding race are placed is just as important as covering race to begin with.

As journalists, it is our duty to make sure we cover diverse news stories. It is my hope that others, like myself, will learn from the past mistakes made by the media and employ these simple tricks to help improve our own reporting.