An Already Tainted Profession
Thursday, April 28, 2011
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 bookbyte.com.)
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
“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.
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.
“Look at the community in which you live,” she said, “Covering diversity is no different than covering our neighborhood.”
Wednesday, April 27, 2011
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.
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):
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.
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.
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.