Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Journalists in the Media

Sheldon Good

Journalists in the Media

One of the great things about journalism is its ability to inform and change public opinion. Educating the public well necessitates a certain level of involvement by members of the media that at times can cause the journalist to become part of the story. Generally this is not good. A story’s credibility can become tainted if it becomes a reporter’s personal anecdote. Members of the media need to get close enough to tell a story well, but not so close that they affect the story or cause harm by their news-gathering. As the SPJ code of ethics states, “Pursuit of the news is not a license for arrogance or undue intrusiveness."

Ferguson in the News

With the racial tension and riots in Ferguson, MO resulting from the police shooting death of Michael Brown, there were instances of the media sharing personal opinions about the events. Don Lemon of CNN, during an interview with Brown’s parents told them they could contact him personally if they needed anything. Other reporters went beyond reporting to decry the manner in which police where dealing with events in Ferguson. One of the other problems in Ferguson and other similar events is the fact that pseudo-journalists, people with a large social media following, are also reporting on events and updating their followers. With social media users used to up to the minute updates of news, real and faux reporters compete for attention, going to greater and greater lengths to get the scoop. While the non-journalists may not care about personal interaction with subjects or law enforcement, neither the public nor the police are likely to make much distinction in how they treat whomever is reporting the news. This will end up making it harder on the those journalists who are trying to do their job well.

The line between reporting and opinion is blurring in Ferguson. | Madeline Marshall/POLITICO

Positive Impact

There are ways for journalists to bring positive change with their involvement. Diversity in the newsroom is one example. This is something that requires deliberate action. Wishing for a more diverse staff won’t make it happen. This article from Neiman Reports tells how the Atlanta Journal-Constitution deliberately increased the diversity of their editorial team. The AJC editor states it makes for better stories for readers and thus also makes good business sense. In a Huffington Post blog, the editorial director of Slant News says audiences are going to demand more diversity and that a diverse staff will enable better news coverage.

Another positive impact can be seen in how photos are used with news stories. While journalists are very good at ensuring the accuracy of their reporting and text articles, that hasn’t always been the case with images. Poverty is something that hasn’t always been properly visually represented. Martin Gilens, a political professor at Princeton did a study on photos accompanying news articles on American poverty to demonstrate the over-representation of blacks as poor. In his study he noticed the Seattle Times began auditing photos to see how minorities were represented. After seeing that minorities were more negatively portrayed than whites, the Times consciously changed how they represented minorities in photos.

This, I believe, is the best side of journalism. Journalists have a great opportunity to effect change and it is a responsibility that should be taken seriously.  

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