Doing Ethics in Media

Companion to "Doing Ethics in Media: Theories and Practical Applications"

Doing Ethics in Media - Companion to "Doing Ethics in Media: Theories and Practical Applications"

Aristotle and Persuasion: Are Gossip Magazines Doing This Right?

By Anna Van Der Like

According to AristotleMagazinethe New World Encyclopedia, “celebrity” journalism is less reputable than other types of journalism. Some would argue that these gossip columns are not journalistic at all. Yet they are incredibly successful and continue to sell even in a time when print media is slowly fading away.

Aristotle taught us that persuasion required ethos, pathos and logos. It would be hard to argue that celebrity journalism utilizes the logos aspect, but is there an argument that this type of journalism uses ethos and pathos? Gossip magazines have managed to not only capture an audience, but to hold onto them.

Ethos correlates with attractiveness. In a journalistic sense, it seems that the sources used by gossip columnists are not the most credible. Yet the topic of conversation within the articles usually is an incredibly attractive celebrity. They may not be using the ethos in the journalistic sense, but they are still taking Aristotle’s advice.

Us Weekly has an entire section of their website dedicated to beauty. Just by scrolling through the front page of the website, anyone can see the amount of attractive people that Us Weekly is using to bring in readers. Is this what Aristotle was talking about? It certainly seems to be persuading the readers.

Pathos is an emotional appeal. Journalists and psychologists alike have questioned whether or not positive or negative headlines bring in readers. A quick scroll down Radar Online will show which they think works best. Today’s titles consist of: ‘MOMAGER MELTDOWN’ ‘HOUSE FROM HELL’ and ‘BLOODY CRIME SCENE PHOTOS’.

The emotions that these magazines are looking for are shock, anger, disbelief and intrigue. These overdramatic headlines certainly achieve their goal: they grab people’s attention. It is not certain whether or not this area of journalism is crossing an ethical line.

Gossip news has always brought forward ethical questions: what is the reasonable expectation for a celebrity’s privacy, are the ‘facts’ are actually checked, are these headlines appropriate for journalism, etc. The issue at this point is that everyone has come to expect this from gossip journalists.

Nobody cares as much when gossip magazines get their facts wrong because they are expected to be wrong. We expect paparazzi to be hated by all, but they are technically photojournalists. Cliché headlines are expected from gossip magazines, but in other areas of media they are unprofessional.

So how and why does “celebrity” journalism still exist? My theory is that their use of Aristotle’s advice about persuasion has worked in their advantage. Now it is too late, the public is hooked on this information and they do not care about ethics, professionalism or even the truth. They just want more of it.

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Charleston Post and Courier vs. Battery: Reporter does the right thing and a soccer team owner overreacts

UPDATE: That didn’t take long. The United Soccer League stepped in a few hours after this happened (on April 8, 2016), and the Post & Courier has its credentials again. League president Jake Edwards’ statement spanked the club owner:  “We will be taking the appropriate steps to prevent instances like this from happening again.”

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A Charleston Post & Courier reporter this week did exactly what quality journalists do: He sought comment from a party in a lawsuit before publication.

The subject is Eric Bowman, the multimillionaire owner of the Charleston Battery, a minor-league soccer team. His response was even more minor league: He removed the press credentials of the P&C’s sports staff.

The Pulitzer Prize-winning paper responded by announcing that it will not cover the the team, with editor Mitch Pugh saying “our news coverage cannot and will not be swayed by the withholding of media credentials.”

Some quick thoughts on why banning journalists for doing their job is foolish:

* If the paper had published the story without seeking comment, Bowman would rightfully howl. It’s right there in the SPJ code of ethics, under the “Seek Truth and Report it” section that says journalists should “diligently seek subjects of news coverage to allow them to respond to criticism or allegations of wrongdoing.

Trying to punish someone for doing right is a rarely good strategy in business, PR or life.

* It’s a legitimate news story, because the team owner was part of a major Charleston business. And in civil lawsuits – where a plaintiff can pretty much claim anything against a defendant – it’s particularly important to seek a defendant’s response to allegations.

* The sports section has nothing to do with the business section. (If you’re mad at a spouse, do you kick the dog?) Grownups who deal with media know that business, sports, news and opinion are separate parts of a news organization, and the advertising side is separate from the news operation.

* It doesn’t help the United Soccer League, of which the Battery is a member. SB Nation explained a few reasons why, but it missed one: Often, news organizations make deals with each other to swap stories so they don’t have to travel to away games, particularly for smaller-time sports such as soccer.

* It doesn’t work. Florida International University learned this the hard way in 2014, when it tried to ban a Miami Herald reporter who was writing tough stories about the hapless program. It led to lots of stories nationwide about FIU’s shenanigans, and FIU quickly backed down.

* The business story doesn’t go away.

* Major league sports don’t do this. While reporter access (at least to those working outside of the networks that pay billions of dollars for rights) is tightening, major leaguers know that scrutiny and criticism is part of the definition of being a major leaguer.

* If other media in Charleston do the right thing, they will ask the same question about the lawsuit so they can be banned, too. Or they may simply choose not to cover the team out of solidarity. While news organizations revel in their independence, a fact that PR practitioners use to their advantage, media occasionally join together when one is slighted. This seems like a good time for that.

 

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A Call to Arms: Using ethics in digital media

By Judah Martin

I would hesitate to call myself a practicing journalist. In fact, I think such a claim would be patently wrong.

In the years that I have worked as a student writer for The University of Alabama’s engineering college, I have written news releases, research articles, award announcements and “In Memorium” obituaries for engineering alumni who were generous enough to donate to the college. On more than one occasion, I have flipped open one of our now tabloid-sized editions of the Crimson White to see one of my news releases copied nearly word-for-word by an up-and-coming reporter. In the world of public relations, this is precisely the coverage we want. It means that whatever entity we are representing is depicted to the public exactly as we had intended.

In the low-stakes world of UA inter-university communications, little consequence arises from a reporter copying and pasting a description of this or that professor’s research interests. However, this tendency hints at what I think is a larger issue among professional journalists. Various politicians, celebrities and corporations can pedal their agendas across media platforms and I worry that, aside from in an occasional Atlantic or Jezebel think-piece, many reporters seldom challenge the narratives that are fed to them.

I would wager that the chief catalyst driving this disturbing trend is the advent of online journalism and social media. Such powerhouses demand content, sometimes daily, sometimes nearly constantly. The unfortunate reality is that journalists come to rely more and more on public relations professionals to satisfy that need for content and, arguably, the quality of their journalism is suffering.

There is no evidence that journalism’s enabling relationship with the world of public relations will be ending any time soon. According to data from the Pew Research Center, the public relations job market is growing at a substantially higher rate than the market for journalists. The United States Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts a 22.5 percent growth in PR jobs, as traditional journalism jobs continue shrinking. More and more, journalists are relying on PR professionals for story ideas.

In these precarious times, journalists should cling more closely to their codes of ethics than ever. Take, for example, the TARES test, which calls for:

Truthfulness of the claims made by the persuader.

Authenticity of the persuader- integrity, virtue, sincerity, loyalty, independence.

Respect for the ‘persuadee’s’ dignity/rights/interests/autonomy.

Equity of the persuasive appeal- fairness/justice/parity of the persuasion ‘playing field.’

Social responsibility for the wider public interest or public good rather than self-interest.

Ironically, this is a model popular among advertisers and PR professionals, but the values represented in the model can also be useful for the journalists who are relying on them for stories. Specifically, journalists should be always striving to uphold the dignity of the reader in their reporting process, because the quotes and the information that they include in their stories will ultimately determine their credibility. When reporters rely on news releases and official quotes to shape their stories they risk insulting the intelligence of their readers and, ultimately, they allow journalism to take a backseat to the expanding PR field.

Sources:

Alderman, Eric, “How P.R. is Killing Journalism” http://www.takepart.com/feature/2015/02/13/pr-jobs-journalism-jobs

Baker, S., & Martinson, D. L. (2001). The TARES test: Five principles for ethical persuasion. Journal of Mass Media Ethics, 16(2-3), 148-175.

Black, J., & Roberts, C. (2011). Doing Ethics In Media: Theories and Practical Applications. New York: Routledge.

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What Cam Newton could learn about public relations from Satchel Paige

There are some things you cannot control, as Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton learned during Super Bowl 50 on February 7, 2016.

The ’50’ in Super Bowl 50 may stand for the number of words a frustrated Cam Newton spoke to reporters before walking away from a press conference on Feb. 7, 2016.

The only thing you can control is how you respond. And Newton showed little control in one of the few things he could control – how he dealt with journalists after the 24-10 loss to the Broncos.

Newton was roundly criticized for his post-game behavior, including jabs from former pros.

It’s OK to not talk to reporters, or to be consistently terse.1 But it’s not OK to clam up only when things go bad. When hubris is followed by nemesis, critics pile on when you duck during difficult times the very thing you embrace when times are good.

Reporters deal with Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde-when-times-are-bad sources all the time. Nearly all reporters can tell you of people, politicians and organizations that purr and make life easy when they want something, but consistently erect roadblocks and/or refuse comment when it’s a topic they don’t want to talk about.

Ethical journalists don’t sulk when dealing with two-faced organizations, but they do their best to be transparent when explaining to the public that the organization erected roadblocks. (A thought for journalists: Find a consistent phrase for “refused to comment” to make Google searches easier.)

Meanwhile, solid PR practitioners know that the two-way symmetrical model of ethical PR means being consistently available when times are difficult.

The great Satchel Paige had the best advice for Newton and others who play this sort of PR game: “You win a few, you lose a few. Some get rained out. But you got to dress for all of them.”

***

1The lone exception might be public organizations and politicians that use taxpayer dollars, who usually have an obligation to explain themselves.)

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Journalism has a duty to provide in-depth information

By Laura D. Testino

The news never stops. Twitter never stops. And Joe Weisenthal never stops.

Weisenthal, known online as @TheStalwart, left his position as executive editor of Business Insider a year ago today for a television position with Bloomberg Media. While with Business Insider, New York Magazine published an article about Weisenthal’s media consumption and production habits, reporting that they began after a good night’s sleep of 5-6 hours at the early morning hour of 4a.m. Weisenthal would wake up, send a tweet to his followers asking what he missed while asleep, then spend an additional two hours before work sleuthing the internet and emails of financial reports.

“He is like the host of a daylong radio show, except no one speaks out loud,” Binyamin Appelbaum reported for New York Magazine. “He rarely makes phone calls. His phone almost never rings.”

But this intense dedication to financial news produced a 150-tweet, 15-story, 16-hour day. The content produced ranged from short and snarky to several hundred words, New York Magazine reported. And @TheStalwart often was first to report new data, without getting an early media advance.

While Stalwart-like swiftness in reporting has become increasingly popular online, the media needs to continue to provide in-depth coverage of events, assessing the consequences rather than just reporting a single event. Weisenthal has been able to do both, but often, news outlets stop at quick bursts and updates, and don’t write a later analysis of a news story. These in-depth stories should be more noticeable and just a viral on digital media.

“There’s nothing stopping a news site from publishing a longer-form story online,” Kira Goldenberg reported in her Columbia Journalism Review article, “Journalism Ethics in a Digital Age.” “But [Monica] Guzman is right that, when it comes to the digital space, slow journalism is usually an afterthought. Rather, we continue trying to break news as fast as possible. Too often, online coverage becomes an absurd dash for clicks on incremental scoops.”

Goldenberg is referring to an anecdote Guzman told at a Poynter Conference on the topic – after continually reporting online about an escaped bear in the area, Guzman’s media outlet never ran a print piece. A competing newspaper ran an entire narrative of the bear.

“For the first time in a long time I thought, ‘Oh man, there’s a reason the print product’s kind of nice,’” Guzman said.

The trend toward posting more short and to-the-point digital news stories could be linked to ethical practices in the media, focusing either on consequences or duties. Teleological practices focus on the outcome, where deontological practices focus on the process. For this reason, the digital sector of media generally follows teleological ethics – desiring clicks or being the first to break a story, for example.

Focusing on this outcome leads to a concentration on items in the media that are trending or viral. While these in-depth stories are sometimes written, they are not often presented as urgently as breaking news when published online.

“And journalists must recognize, to paraphrase researcher Danah Boyd, that we are only using tiny portions of social networks and that relevant sources exist beyond them,” Goldberg said. “We journalists may lose relevance unless we learn to work within rules we don’t always get to make.”

Understanding how digital platforms work, and striving for vast dissemination of all media types (while still finding time for sleep) is where journalists can learn from Weisenthal’s mixed-use of digital media.

This can be directly applied to current media situations, particularly with video coverage. Often, the video becomes the news rather than the narrative surrounding the video. Specifically, one could compare the number of shares on the recent video of a police officer using a Taser on University of Alabama student with the number of shares and popularity of more in-depth coverage. Although the video article contains updates, separate stories could be more beneficial and are not being added to the constancy of the news cycle.

A teleological ethical perspective can be beneficial, but should be paired with some focus on duty, or deontology. Rather than only focusing on clicks and initial coverage for a news issue, journalists, like Weisenthal, should remember the duties they have to their audiences to provide more than just a stream of quick facts.

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Does Charlie Hebdo’s Syrian satire go too far?

By Leila Beem Núñez

Charlie Hebdo is no stranger to controversy. In 2006, the French satirical magazine enraged many in the Muslim world when it republished cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad. In 2011, its offices were firebombed and damaged after publishing content of a similar nature. In January of this year, the consequences for its irreverence were fatal, when two Al-Qaeda affiliated gunmen stormed the office during a weekly editorial meeting and killed 12. Eight of the publication’s journalists were left dead. One of these was editor-in-chief Stéphane Charbonnier.

But Charlie Hebdo continues in its mission of free speech quite undeterred.

Two cartoons from Charlie Hebdo. On the left, the caption says Christians can walk on water but Muslim infants drown. On the right, the words “Welcome to migrants!” and “So near his goal…” are above Aylan’s body, with a McDonald’s-like sign offering two kids’ meals for the price of one. (We show these because it’s difficult to talk about the ethics of content without seeing it.)

Today it is under fire and scrutiny for its recent publication of cartoons satirizing Europe’s current handling of the migrant crisis. One of the cartoons in particular has drawn perhaps the most public ire, depicting the body of Aylan Kurdi, the 3-year-old Syrian refugee who drowned off the coast of the Greek island of Kos earlier this month. Stark photographs of the child’s lifeless body in the sand circulated through the world’s media outlets, raising questions as to the ethics of publishing such a graphic and disturbing image.

In Charlie Hebdo’s recent cartoon, a lifeless baby – presumably that of Kurdi – lies facedown in front of a McDonald’s-style billboard that promotes “two children for the price of one.” The caption of the cartoon read, “So close to his goal.” Outrage ensued, especially evident on social media. In one response, Peter Herbert, chair of the Society of Black Lawyers, tweeted that the publications constituted “an incitement to hate crime and persecution before the International Criminal Court,” as reported by Al Jazeera.

“Charlie Hebdo is a racist, xenophobic and ideologically bankrupt publication that represents the moral decay of France,” Herbert continued.

Anger stemmed from the depiction of the tragedy. Questions arose: Was Charlie Hebdo mocking the child and migrants with similar plights? How could the publication publish something so insensitive and distasteful? How could it possibly be considered ethical to use the drowning of this child in a cartoon?

But not all who have spoken out have done so against Charlie Hebdo and its recent actions. Corinne Rey, one of the illustrators of the cartoons who was spared in the January attack, responded to accusations that the intention of the drawings was to mock, according to a New York Times report.

“We are not mocking the child,” Rey said in a Tweet. “Instead we are criticizing the consumerist society that is being sold to them like a dream.”

Indeed, many have defended Charlie Hebdo’s actions as an ultimate display of free speech, and furthermore, as a scathing criticism of the handling of the current migrant crisis by European nations. With an unprecedented influx of migrants seeking asylum in these countries, governments are struggling with what to do. Some have been more lenient than others. While Germany is still welcoming migrants, Denmark has vowed to crack down on immigration and suspended rail links between it and Germany last week after hundreds of migrants were stopped at the border. Hungary closed its border with Serbia completely on Tuesday, leaving hundreds stranded. Is Charlie Hebdo justified, then, in shedding light on this crisis? Perhaps.

But even if it is true satire, does that alone make the cartoon ethical? And, once again, should images of Aylan Kurdi be published and circulated at all?

As is typical of such ethical dilemmas, the answers are not clear-cut or easily defined, but what we as producers of media must ultimate ask ourselves in order to reach the most reasonable conclusions possible is: What is this content worth? Do the graphic images serve a purpose? Do these visuals help to advance the story by giving readers a perspective – disturbing as it often may be – they otherwise may not have had?

Historian and documentary filmmaker Ken Burns weighed in on the issue, providing his insight as to why certain images, while often awful, have had and continue to have the power of inspiring action and reform.

“The power of the single image to convey complex information is still there,” Burns said when asked about the images of Aylan Kurdi. “It has that power to shock and arrest us. To make us stop for just a second and interrupt the flow.”

Leila Beem Núñez is a student in Dr. Jen Hoewe’s JN 499 class at The University of Alabama.

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Opelika-Auburn News: ‘Finding a way’ to anger nearly everybody

Not for the squeamish? This photo and headline has led to wailing and gnashing of teeth from football fans and others.

Not for the squeamish? This photo/headline combo has led to wailing and gnashing of teeth from football fans and others.

You’re working in The Opelika-Auburn News sports department late on a deadline Saturday night. You should be celebrating in your seat, even if you don’t care who won the big game your paper will blow out in Sunday’s paper.

The Auburn Tigers, the team your paper cares about, has held on to beat another Top 5 opponent with one of college football’s biggest plays of the year—with 90 second left in the game, Ole Miss receiver Laquon Treadwell fumbles the ball inches away from the winning touchdown.

Your photographer is in the perfect position to capture the photo that other photographers don’t. The team’s coach supplies the quote you need – “It’s about players, they truly believe that if it’s close, they’re going to find a way to win” – making it easy to quickly write the wood headline to sell the package.

But there’s a one problem – the photo shows the receiver’s leg breaking as he loses the ball. And there’s no way to crop the photo to eliminate the crooked leg without losing the information that it’s happening at the goal line.

Do you find another photo that doesn’t tell the story of the game, worried that your photo might not pass the Cheerio’s test? Or do you figure it’s OK, given that nearly every reader saw that replay multiple times during ESPN’s live coverage, or in ESPN’s highlight blog that shows the place twice after the game, or available in other online places (including “traditional” media sites.)

We’re having this discussion now because The Opelika-Auburn News published that photo and the “FINDING A WAY” hed on its sports front for November 2, 2014.

Running the photo with its headline led to an even greater problem – the combination creates a package that becomes more than the sum of its parts, and more than a few readers and bloggers might think you mean that “finding a way” includes breaking a person’s leg.

So the results are predictable—media write about the page and people nationwide criticize the paper for its decision, and not just the football-conspiracy few who believe that this was a deliberate attempt to embarrass Auburn because someone working the desk went to a different school.

A few questions and thoughts for people thinking about media ethics:

* Does it matter that we can see the video and pictures online and not be so upset, but when in print it somehow crosses an ethical line? As we start the third decade of the Internet age, does print really add an imprimatur that doesn’t exist online?

(I think this is a function of web pull vs. newspaper push: We don’t seem to mind as much that the Web has gruesome pictures and video, because we can choose for ourselves whether to see it. We do seem to mind when it’s pushed on us by the newspaper, who makes the decision for us.)

* How much of this is third-person effect, the theory that says we tend to overestimate the effect that media will have on other people?

* Are we hypocritical – we love our football, but we’re not willing to look at harsh images from a harsh sport? (The web is full of those who write about the evils of football on society.)

* Should there be an apology? The paper apologized, but not for running the photo, which it called “gut-wrenching” but “also tells the story.” (An early version of editorial wished the photo had been smaller; that later was edited out of the editorial.)

The paper said it would have found a new headline, saying it was “not meant to celebrate Treadwell’s injury or offend any reader. To any person hurt by our editorial decision, we apologize.”

Later, the paper wrote:

Our staff has already spent several hours discussing Sunday’s decisions, and we’ll continue to do that in the next few days. If we could redesign Sunday’s 1B again, we would. One thing we would do is use a different headline. We chose “FINDING A WAY” because after the game, numerous players and coaches discussed how the team keeps fighting and finding a way to win difficult games.

The apology pleased few readers, based on the loads of comments below the paper’s editorial calling for everyone’s head.

* Based on the loads of comments below the paper’s editorial, is it fair to think that many readers believe the newspaper represents Auburn?

* Do people really think that the paper planned for its photo and headline to add up to what it is perceived to mean?

This one is easy, after scores of weekend nights on deadline: I promise that no one in that newsroom had time, much less inclination, to think the photo and headline added up to what some want to think it means. I’m sure the designer thought: “We have the photo that explains the game. We have the overhed from Malzahn’s quote. We’re done.”

* Argue with this sentence: What can be attributed to malice is usually just stupidity or deadline.

Finally, a sentence from the paper’s explanation struck us: “Our staff has already spent several hours discussing Sunday’s decisions, and we’ll continue to do that in the next few days.” As we say in Doing Ethics in Media, deadline is too late to be making decisions from the gut. At that point, either rules (“we never publish pictures of breaking legs or dead bodies”) or front-loaded moral philosophy should kick in.

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If you publish mugshots and other arrest news, then you should follow up

Turn to the right: Nicholas Cage from Raising Arizona.

Turn to the Right: Nicholas Cage from Raising Arizona, the 1987 Coen Brothers classic.

It was a Gannett-owned newspaper that received near-universal condemnation in December 2012 when it built an online map that made it easy to find the addresses of people who had gun permits. The complaints came from all sides — gun owners and others worried about privacy, lawmakers who closed loopholes in New York and elsewhere, to people who simply saw it as bad journalism.

So it’s good to see that another Gannett-owned newspaper has moved away from the “let’s-do-it-because-we-can” approach to content. The Springfield (Mo.) News-Leader dropped its online mug shot collection because, as newsroom leader Paul Berry said, the galleries had little news value and were “little more than a place for people to gawk at those who have been arrested.”

In terms from the Society of Professional Journalists’ Code of Ethics, which he didn’t mention, it’s about not “pandering to lurid curiosity” and remembering that “legal access to information differs from an ethical justification to publish or broadcast.”

Gawking at mugs is a thing on the Internet, ranging from the silly and sillier at TheSmokingGun.com to the sillier still of Fark.com, to history, and to the evil business of charging people to remove their mugshots from sites. The News-Leader site, like most other journalistic sites with mugs, didn’t go as far as poking fun of mugs.

But missing, Berry wrote, was the context of what led to an arrest, whether formal charges were filed, and the judicial outcome.

Or, more simply put, missing was the journalism.

Now to the next logical thought in not printing mugshots because they provide incomplete information: publishing names of people arrested without following up on the outcomes. Information about arrests is news, and it seem antithetical to American justice to limit public access to arrests and mugshots.

Journalists publish information about arrests because it’s news — and because it’s easy to collect. A trip to the courthouse or jail, or even to the courthouse or jail’s website, makes collection easy. (It was easier still for the News-Leader, which only stopped collecting information after its automated retrieval system failed.)

But it’s harder to publish information about outcomes of arrests because the results play out across time, in different judicial venues, and usually in plea deals or ways that do not make for automated or easy collection. As staffs shrink, publishing automated news is easier and far cheaper than chasing news.

So here’s a challenge to media who display mugshots: If you’re going to embarrass people by publishing their mugshot, then you should feel obligated to following this new section to the SPJ code: “Gather, update and correct information throughout the life of a news story.”

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How the updated SPJ code of ethics helps justify one newspaper’s stand against naming a sex-crime suspect

Making a decision about ethics sometimes means doing your own thing while everyone else is doing something else — in public.

One news organization did this in reporting the arrest of a 49-year-old man charged with possession of child pornography in Calhoun County, Ala.

Multiple news organizations reported information provided by the Alabama Bureau of Investigation’s Cyber Crimes Unit. The suspect’s full name (and, occasionally, his mug shot) are published online by The Gadsden Times, Al.com, ABC 33/40,* Fox 6 news and others.

But not The Anniston Star, whose story includes this paragraph:

The Star typically withholds the identities of those charged with sex crimes unless they are convicted or plead guilty, because the stigma associated with such charges can linger even if the charges are dropped or the suspect is exonerated.

You could argue that The Star’s ethics policy is meaningless because the name is readily available online, any arrest for any crime already brings a stigma, and that the paper would howl if the government had done what the paper did in announcing an arrest but not the defendant’s name. And the name would be more likely to be published were it a public figure, as the paper balances “stigma” against news values. But at least give the paper’s management credit for thinking about ethics.

Two proposed additions to the Society of Professional Journalists’ code of ethics helps The Star justify its decision. The “Minimize Harm” section now says journalists should:

1. Recognize that legal access to information differs from ethical justification to publish.
2. Consider the long-term implications of the extended reach and permanence of publication, especially online. Provide updated and more complete information as appropriate.

So far, The Star has met its first obligation and started on the second. To fully meet the second, The Star must track the case and report the outcome. (In fact, every news organization has that obligation.)

As a member of the committee working on the code’s revisions, these sorts of issues are why we’ve been hard at work.

* Tip to 33/40: Your headline, “Arrested for child pornography,” implies guilt. The others correctly wrote arrested on child pornography charges.” The difference is subtle, but not to a libel lawyer.

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Facebook news feed emotion experiment was a failure of journalism ethics, too

Facebook_News_FeedNews that Facebook manipulated content of nearly 700,000 users continues to make waves, and now a Democratic senator has asked the Federal Trade Commission to investigate whether the company and researchers properly notified and/or debriefed users that they were being used as experimental subjects.

The 2012 experiment tested whether users posted higher levels of positive or negative comments after Facebook removed content with positive or negative emotions. The bottom line, according to the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences: Yep, fiddling with emotion in news feeds can cause a little emotional change in the reader.

It’s no Milgram or Stanford Prison experiment, to be sure, but it raises questions of ethics by experiments, the watchful eye of Institutional Review Boards that consider research ethics, and relationships between academic institutions and the corporate world. Cornell’s IRB didn’t weigh in because Facebook did the research, not the Cornell researchers who only access to results. Since its publication, the National Academy of Science has expressed concern has expressed concern about the experiment, and Facebook has apologized for another in a series of lapses.

Facebook_Stories

Facebook uses journalistic terms such as “news feed” and “stories” to describe its content. Does that mean Facebook has an ethical obligation to journalism ethics?

This post isn’t about research ethics, however. It’s about journalism ethics.

Facebook doesn’t think of itself as journalism or its employees as journalists. But when your site’s main feature is called a “News Feed” and your site describes posts as “stories,” then you’ve moved into the world of journalism.

Essentially, Facebook’s genius is that it is among the world’s largest news organizations—but without reporters. As the star of the Web 2.0 world, it makes its billions by being the host of news produced by users for users.

The millions of people who use the site expect to see precisely what their “friends” have posted, in chronological order – or as “top stories,” another term dripping with journalistic implications as human-created algorithms decide what stories are most important for users to see.

So when Facebook starts editing what its readers see, it is in the journalism business.

Facebook has long manipulated content for better and worse. Its software removes illegal and offensive content for legal and ethical reasons. But it also messes with content for financial reasons. People who use Facebook to communicate with groups by using Facebook pages are realizing that Facebook doesn’t give you access to everybody in your group. Facebook’s “Boost Post” plan requires page owners to pay to reach everyone who has liked the page—more money for Facebook, but with the downside that a Page owner cannot freely reach everyone who has freely chosen to affiliate with a page. Many marketers are unhappy with Boost Post in principal, as well as its effectiveness. (Would anyone like to argue that if I choose to “like” a page, then I should expect to receive the content from that page? How do I know what I’m missing otherwise?)

This post isn’t about advertising ethics, however. (When something online is free, you’re not the customer; you’re the product.) It’s about journalism ethics.

The ethical malpractice of this experiment is when Facebook calls its posts “stories” and “news” – but then manipulates that “news.” Simply put, people who come to Facebook expect to see everything in their friends’ feeds. When Facebook secretly takes away what its readers expect, it is practicing unethical gatekeeping.

Imagine The New York Times conducting the same experiment, fiddling with whether readers’ news feeds are filled with stories about more death in Gaza or happy insurance customers. Facebook did that with its content.

If you’re going to use words such as “news” and “stories,” and if you’re going to decide what stories people see, then you’re in the journalism business. And that brings the ethical responsibility of transparency.

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