Monday, August 29, 2016

Ethical Entertainment

Julia Brown

Why do ethics matter today?

In the time of the 24 hour news cycle, why are ethics important?  Isn't it more important to get a story out to your readers before anyone else instead of stopping to think about the ethical implications a story may have?

But ethics are still important. They create a sense of credibility and authenticity for the publication, building a deep-rooted bond between author and reader.

According to “Moral Reasoning for Journalists,” the press wields a lot of power and has many constitutional rights, and “abuse of that power can have disastrous consequences for their governments, their societies, and their major institutions.”

But what happens as it gets more and more difficult to maintain a reader’s attention? What happens when the lines between journalism and entertainment become blurred?

Entertainment Journalism

In order to keep readers’ attention in this world of ever-changing media, news outlets have had to adapt to the constant transformation of broadcast, print, and web-based journalism, which is dictated by what people are interested in right now.

An easy and obvious way to adapt is to look at what types of media people consume outside of the typical journalism outlets of, say, a newspaper.

As MP3 players and smart phones have reason to popularity, so have podcasts. According to the Associated Press Style Guide, a podcast is a  “digital media program, in audio or video form, that can be downloaded or streamed to a computer, smartphone or portable media device.”

One of the more popular podcasts, “Serial,” is blurring the line between news and entertainment. The podcast examines the 1999 murder of high school senior Hae Min Lee, and the later conviction of her ex-boyfriend Adnan Syed.

An article from The New Yorker claimed the podcast combined “the drama of prestige-television-style episodic storytelling [with the] the portability of podcasts…”

Photo from:
But is that what we want?  Do we want our news presented to us as an episode of reality television, no different from the new episode of “Keeping Up With the Kardashians”?  Or is there a way to maintain listener interest while still adhering to basic journalistic ethics?

The Ethical Issues Within “Serial”

“Think Progress” examinedthe ethical dilemmas that are posed by a podcast like “Serial”. For example, the podcast uses several storytelling tactics that are rarely seen in typical journalism, like cliffhangers and personal asides.

The podcast has become as much about the way it's being told as it is about the actual story that's taking place. 

“Serial” is also a story that has yet to have a true conclusion. Throughout the first season of the podcast, reporter Sarah Koenig would release information to the listeners sporadically as she uncovered it, without putting the whole puzzle together first.

From left, Dana Chivvis, Emily Condon, Sarah Koenig, Ira Glass and Julie Snyder of "Serial." Photo from:
This has the potential to create ideas or doubts that turn out to be baseless and false. “You don’t want to be giving voice to things because they’re plausible, or they’re possible, if they turn out to be false,” said Edward Wasserman, dean of the University of California Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism.

Wasserman also cited the problem of reverb: “the problem of the reporting she’s doing now interacting with the reporting she’s going to do tomorrow.”

What Now?

So why do so many people cry out that journalism has lost its way, yet they continue to lap up this story with many obvious ethical oversights?

Perhaps that’s because it addresses the other issues people have with the media: “it’s shallow; it’s boring; it panders.” 

The future of journalism lies in finding a way to promote the story that needs to be told in an entertaining way while preserving the ethical values that have given journalists the important reputation of being the watchdog for the average person.

No comments:

Post a Comment