Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Covering a downfall--what's ethical?

It would be obvious to anyone that reads my blogs that PoynterOnline has become a favorite perusal spot of mine. Looking through some of the old archives, I came across a really interesting story about the ethical problems involved in covering the downfall of evangelical ministers.

The article specifically covers the downfall of evangelical minister Pastor Ted Haggard of the New Life Church in Colorado. Bob Steele, of PoynterOnline, conducted an interview with Tim Ryan, the executive news producer of the station covering the unfolding drama. Ryan described the difficulty in deciding whether or not to cover such allegations.

"It's not the kind of story that you can typically just report in the form of 'here's an allegation, here's the response.' The allegations are explosive, the political and religious implications are enormous, and it's the type of story that can threaten our news organization and our careers."
Other issues were also thought about before running such a type of story.

"We never used any graphic descriptions of the claims of what went on between Jones [the man making allegations] and Haggard. We had heard some of the details before but decided by saying 'homosexual sex acts' and 'drug use' we had covered the topic as tastefully as possible and with as much details as needed."
Many ethical issues and standards are involved in the coverage of such a story. This is obviously a story that the public needs to know about. Using the theories of John Locke, when a person in rule becomes tyrannical or corrupt, the public has the right and duty to overthrow. The press, in this case, helped this cause, making the corruption known and forcing the minister out of his position of power.

Unlike Kant, too, Tim Ryan had to think about the consequences of making such knowledge public. Using the idea of utility and thinking of the greatest good for the greatest amount of people, Tim Ryan did believe that making the information public knowledge was in the public's best interest.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

The Learning Process in Journalism

I was troubled recently by an article I read on PoynterOnline about student journalists. In article titled Student Journalism: Bad Work Undercuts First Amendment, Bob Steele writes about the recent problems in the college journalism industry. As a student of journalism myself, I took this article particularly to heart. Are journalists, particularly student journalists, really abusing the power of the press?

Steele specifically cites two recent incidents involving a faux pas or two by college newspapers. The Princeton University newspaper, The Daily Princetonian, recently came under fire after publishing a joke issue, which Steele describes as "always a bad idea." The other issue, which many of my fellow classmates blogged about, was The Central Connecticut State University satire written titled Rape Only Hurts If You Fight It.
"Student journalists at the high school and college level have a unusual opportunity to learn the craft of journalism and to give members of their school communities meaningful information about relevant issues and events. Given that these are student journalists, the quality of the work may fall short of professional standards."

As an aspiring journalist, I can only hope that Steele wouldn't think of my work in this way. I recently wrote a column for The Simpsonian about my feelings about a rule that will be put into effect at Simpson. I try to use the rule of utility in all that I do, as I think many journalists do. Steele describes his own frustration with student journalits.
"It angers me when I see student journalists throw ethics to the wind and use journalism irresponsibly."

As students, I know that we all are learning. Maybe the articles written were just steps in the learning process, but it's still sad to learn of the pain and anguish they have caused. My own column may have been a little scathing, but I sure hope it didn't cause anyone any pain!

Friday, February 16, 2007

I am the first caucasian

I was troubled by a recent article I read on PoynterOnline. John Mills of KMOV-TV in St. Louis was actually the one to raise the issue of using the term "black" as a noun. The Associated Press in Washington in a national newspapers piece described Barack Obama as "the first black." Not only did I find the use of the term in this way as offensive, I found it to be both unethical and racist.
"Using color as a noun reduces the person to a species, and an imprecise one at that, particularly where Obama is concerned. He's bi-racial and, thus, more than a 'black.' But the larger issue for me is that it's an act of dehumanizing the person, summoning up their essence by rendering them an inanimate color."

I'm currently in a "Gender, Race and Class in the Media" course at school and have become more concientous about the way that media portrays certain things. Recent headlines have especially bothered me. "Forty-six Mexicans killed in accident" and "Cheney's gay daughter pregnant" are not an ethical way to say things. I have a hard time believing that the same headlines would read "Forty-six caucasians killed in accident" or "Cheney's heterosexual daughter pregnant." The same idea applies to Barack Obama-- would I be "the first caucasian?"

I know that we do not live in a perfect world, but one needs to think of virtue. The right thing to do would be to treat others as you would like to be treated. If we continue to base our lives on the color of anothers' skin, we can never live a virtuous life.

Barack Obama may be biracial, but he is a person just like all of the rest of the United States citizens. Nobody should be strictly defined by the color of their skin or their culture, and if we cannot even figure this out in a headline for a newspaper, our society has further to go than I thought.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Here we go again!

I think I'm beginning to sound like a broken record, but it's becoming so easy for me to find stories about the ethical issues in the news industry. Most recently, I came across an article from FreelanceUK about the BBC and their ethical dilemma in promoting Microsoft Vista. Of course at this point, there isn't "proof" that the BBC was in fact talking the product up, but it sounds like investigations will be coming.

"John Beyer, director at Mediawatch UK, has called on the corporation’s trust to investigate.'This is something that the trustees really have to be transparent about. It did occur to me that the BBC in its coverage of the launch of Vista seemed to be promoting it.'”

So what! Big deal? It is a big deal! I've said it before and I'll say it again. Journalism and the media have a direct responsibility to the public--to deliver unbiased views and news one needs to know. It seems to be the same old story again and again. The big companies make deals with one another to make more money. It's just wrong.

The BBC argued that the launch of Microsoft Vista was news.
"As a result of the technology’s dominance, he argued it would be ‘bizarre’ not to have covered the launch of the latest OS, and the BBC has highlighted the product’s perceived flaws."

Yeah...right. Anyone smell bologna? (I really thought of a more profane word instead of bologna, but thought the use of such terms would be inappropriate.)

Using my love for utilitarianism, the greatest good for the greatest amount of people would be for the journalists to report on important occurrences in the recent past. After all, is not that the responsibility of journalists? I don't think anybody cares to see the commercials during the news.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

"Man Down"--Our right to know

In a recent PoynterOnline column, Bob Steele gave his opinion about the recent scrutiny The New York Times has experienced. New York Times reporter Damien Cave recently wrote a story, "Man Down," about a soldier in Iraq who was killed in action. The story ran with a picture of the wounded soldier being carried out of a building.

So why is this such a big deal? Many believe that Cave violated the law about pictures and stories about soldiers dying in Iraq. Although viewing and reading about such deaths may be bad for the country's morale, I think it's something that is our right to see. If the public doesn't see the deaths, in my opinion, it is as if they don't occur.
"[The story] took us to the heart of a military conflict that, no matter what your politics or your views on the war in Iraq, should be of great concern to everyone."

I suppose I'm becoming a bit of a utilitarian. The greatest amount of good for the greatest amount of people just seems to be the best option to me, and in this case, the media is doing exactly as it should--showing the public what they have a right to see.
"Especially in a story like this, it's not always possible to avoid doing some harm. The challenge is to minimize the harm, and I believe the Times accomplished that in this case."

I agree 100 percent with Bob Steele. The New York Times was doing its best to serve the public which is their job. In a world where too often things are hidden and sugarcoated, it is nice to finally hear the truth.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Careful what you say

I recently read a news article about the controversy surrounding "Grey's Anatomy" star, Isaiah Washington. Washington apparently had uttered a word that wasn't something he should have said, and apologized for it, yet the paper had not reported what he had said. How am I supposed to learn from his mistakes if I don't know what he said?

PoynterOnline reporter Aly Colon took on this issue of whether or not one should report offensive speech. She sites three elements in which one should consider before printing or reporting the offensive speech: your journalistic purpose, your audience and the clarity that comes from using the word.

I took from this argument that one must do what would result in the greatest good for the greatest amount of people, or the idea of utilitarianism.
"The word seems pretty central to any discussion about whether and when to use it. But what about journalists serving more general interest audiences? Words matter."

In this case, I do believe that Washington's use of the word, which happened to be the term "faggot," should have been included in the story. I do believe that summarizing that what Washington was wrong was beneficial, but that there would be purpose, the audience would be correct, and that there would be a great deal of clarity if the word was printed.

I do believe in this case, that the greatest good for the greatest amount of people would be to know what Washington said. This way, the public would know that the use of such terms is unacceptable and that even a star can't get away with such ignorant speech.