Monday, September 18, 2017

The Evolution of Printing Technology

At left in the foreground, a printer removes a...
At left in the foreground, a printer removes a printed page from the press. The printer at right is inking the plate. In the background, compositors are using cast type. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Yes, the printing press was a very big deal.

Today we are all Pajama Publishers if we want to be, sitting at the computer creating page after page of precise and beautiful pagination. It was not always so.

Overheard Conversations in Public Places

Iced tea, popular throughout the U.S.
Iced tea, popular throughout the U.S. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
The article focuses on the motives of the speaker, not the "ethics" of reporting what's overheard.

This behavior seemed so indiscreet and unprofessional on Cobb’s part that some even speculated he might have intentionally spoken where he could be overheard, to “accidentally” get his grievances against McGahn into the press.

A suggestive comment from Talking Points Memo:

The spot is so well known to be a favorite Times’ hangout that some joke that it’s bureau’s cafeteria.

More today from Political Wire. The reporter says:

To my astonishment, they were in the midst of a detailed discussion of the Russia investigations being conducted by the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, and various congressional committees, as well as the strategy of Mr. Trump’s team for responding.
They were in a public place where they could have been overheard by anyone. I just happened to be a reporter, so I figured their conversation was fair game. I ordered another iced tea, pulled out my phone and began typing out notes, hoping that they would assume I was merely responding to emails, tweeting or surfing the internet.

An Ethical Problem: Master Narrative

Map showing where natural disasters caused/agg...
Map showing where natural disasters caused/aggrevated by global warming will occur, and thus where environmental refugees will be created (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Story formulas shape, and sometimes distort, news coverage.

News networks do this because treating natural disasters like war gives them a compelling way to tell stories about storms like Harvey and Irma.

The problem is that war requires an enemy — some “bad guy” for people to fight against. And that need to find a bad guy has warped the focus of news coverage during natural disasters.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

The Ethics of Disaster Reporting

Here are some ideas.

An excerpt:

Journalists must also expect and prepare for criticism while covering emergencies.
Journalism often looks opportunistic and vulture-like during disasters. Television and radio journalists are especially susceptible to being perceived as exploitive since the emotions of victims are much more apparent and palpable.

Journalists should be especially careful when selecting people to interview on-air during traumatic events. People should not be put in front of cameras or microphones during such events unless they want to tell their stories. Some people will want to speak about their experience as – almost – a form of therapy. Other people may not be ready to share, and that’s okay.

The SPJ Code of Ethics says journalists should be especially sensitive to people not used to dealing with the press. Pre-interviews or brief discussions off camera can go a long way to preparing people to tell their stories. If after those conversations a person is still unsure whether to share their experience, a journalist should feel empowered to decide not to move ahead with the interview for the sake of the source and the people watching or listening to the report.

Here's a cynical take by a "vulture journalist"

An excerpt:

When we write about how people deal with tragedy, we arguably are serving up lessons for coping with grief, reminding readers and viewers that life is precious, that people matter. 

Yet the noble pursuit of this story is often lost in the cynical quest for a “get.” When I’m trying to lure a grief-stricken widow into talking to me, I invariably try some version of the old “I want people to know what your husband meant to you” trick. I’m not lying when I say this; I really do want that, and I really do believe the world is well served by remembering someone’s life in a poignant way. But this line I deliver is still a trick, because what I really want is to pick apart your grieving soul for a good story, a story I can use to catapult my own career.

When I do this kind of piece—when any of us does this kind of piece—we are still hyenas, no matter what good comes out of it. We can comfort ourselves by rationalizing our actions, proclaiming that we’re writing the first draft of history. But we’re also jabbing our snouts into freshly dug graves, gnashing through coffins and munching on broken bones. It’s our nature.

Is This Ethically Acceptable?

You overhear a conversation in your Beverage Management class suggesting another class member, with whom you are not acquainted, is taking advantage of his job in the Public Safety office to steal daily parking permits which he then resells for $5.

You are a student in a beginning reporting class, and your professor says that if you write a story that makes the Foghorn, you will get extra credit - and the more significant the story, the more the credit.

You decide to go for it. You ask the student who is supposedly selling the stolen permits if he can "fix you up" with an all-day permit for next Tuesday.

"Sure," he says. "Five dollars, please."

You hand over the five. Next class period he gives you a permit, signed and dated. Now all you have to do is confront him and write the story, right??

Is there an ethical problem in how you have proceeded? Why? If so, how should you have proceeded instead? Why?

Perhaps Milton was Right After All

Poynter Institute rounds up some recent studies on fact checking and mind changing.

The fake news phenomenon led to an explosion in media coverage of fact-checking in the final months of 2016. Now academia, with its slower publication process, is catching up.
Since November, studies have failed to replicate the backfire effect and tested the power of corrections on partisan voters in both the United States and France.

And we will stash this insight from a recent law article right here. Milton opposed prior restraint.

Milton was also willing to concede that the Government should be able to
penalize offensive speech. If printers published scandalous or seditious work,
Milton accepted the premise that the Government should "confine, imprison, and
do sharpest justice on them as malefactors.,,67 But, licensing, according to
Milton, created a special and intolerable harm by preventing books from ever
seeing the light of day. 

Thursday, September 14, 2017

When a News Source Self Criticizes

The New York Times eliminates the job of Public Editor

“[T]oday, our followers on social media and our readers across the Internet have come together to collectively serve as a modern watchdog, more vigilant and forceful than one person could ever be. Our responsibility is to empower all of those watchdogs, and to listen to them, rather than to channel their voice through a single office,” Sulzberger said in the memo. "We are dramatically expanding our commenting platform. Currently, we open only 10 percent of our articles to reader comments. Soon, we will open up most of our articles to reader comments. This expansion, made possible by a collaboration with Google, marks a sea change in our ability to serve our readers, to hear from them, and to respond to them.” 

The trend is not in this direction.

The experience with page-story comment moderation at News24 reminds Bevan Lakay, community editor, of a time that was particularly hard. The volume of comments was enormous and hate speech in particular was prevalent. To make moderation easier and more efficient for journalists, the media had an automatic filter in place. Moderators would choose the words for the filter to watch out for and ban. However, it did not always work. He says:
“These guys were clever and quite meticulous. We banned one [offensive] word and the next day it would be a version of a different word. It was hard to keep up with it.”
There were several journalists in charge of moderation but the budget was still limited. Even though users had to comment through their Facebook profiles, it would not discourage them from posting hateful comments and some would slip through the careful monitoring of journalists.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Shield Laws and Who is a Journalist

First an old list of jailed journalists

Second, today's anti-leaking memo.

From 2013:

One of the troublesome aspects of the bill is an amendment proposed by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., and co-sponsored by Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill., which “defines a journalist as a salaried agent of a media entity,” such as a newspaper, broadcast news station, news website or another type of news service distributed digitally. There is also a “look back” option to protect legitimate reporters not tied to a specific news organization. Feinstein said, “This bill is described as a reporter shield law — I believe it should be applied to real reporters.” She was also concerned “that the current version of the bill would grant a special privilege to people who aren’t really reporters at all, who have no professional qualifications.”

Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., co-sponsor of the bill, objected to Feinstein’s definition, stating that bloggers and others don’t necessarily receive salaries:
“The world has changed. We’re very careful in this bill to distinguish journalists from those who shouldn’t be protected, WikiLeaks and all those, and we’ve ensured that. But there are people who write and do real journalism, in different ways than we’re used to. They should not be excluded from this bill.”

A more recent article in the Columbia Journalism Review:

The first question: Who’s a journalist? That might be a tired debate in some circles, but when it comes to journalist’s privilege, it’s a question that has to be answered. Some privilege schemes are narrow and apply only to full-time employees of professional news outlets, while others are broad and extend to bloggers, filmmakers, freelancers, book authors, and student journalists. In other words, some are inclusive and others are exclusive. The problem here, of course, is that innovations in technology have complicated the endeavor of defining journalists and journalism.

From Digital Media Law Project:

Who is Covered?
California's shield law protects a person "connected with or employed upon a newspaper, magazine, or other periodical publication." In an important case, O'Grady v. Superior Court, 139 Cal. App.4th 1423 (Cal. Ct. App. 2006), a California appellate court held that the shield law applies to persons gathering news for dissemination to the public, regardless of whether the publication medium is print or online. In that case, Jason O'Grady operated an "online news magazine" about Apple Computers. He published confidential information he received about a new Apple product. Apple wished to sue the person who divulged the confidential information to O'Grady and subpoenaed him for information about the identity of his confidential source. The court applied the shield law, and O'Grady did not have to identify his source.

The O'Grady case does not mean that all online publishers will benefit from the protection of the California shield law. The court indicated that the shield law protects newsgatherers, like O'Grady, who engage in "open and deliberate publication on a news-oriented Web site of news gathered by that site's operators." On the other hand, the court said the shield law might not protect "the deposit of information, opinion, or fabrication by a casual visitor to an open forum such as a newsgroup, chatroom, bulletin board service, or discussion group." The court expressly declined to decide whether the shield law applies to bloggers because of the "rapidly evolving and currently amorphous meaning" of the word "blog." Thus, the exact reach of the California shield law is unclear, but it arguably protects online publishers who gather and disseminate news to the public. The exact definition of "news" is uncertain, and future cases will no doubt determine its contours more precisely.

Monday, September 11, 2017


from everything

Cultural Osmosis

This is the phenomenon where you find yourself knowing things about stuff. Stuff that you haven't experienced yourself, but you encounter from so many outlets that you can't help absorbing it yourself. This will happen to you from the moment you are born, but you probably won't notice it. Everyone will have their own examples of this but for me the one thing I've always been aware of without knowing where from, is songs by the Beatles. Yellow Submarine, Help!, A Day in the Life, Yesterday. I've known these songs all my life and I can never remember not knowing them. They must have been played so often on the tv, radio, and been such general background noise that I assimilated them and made Lennon and McCartney a part of me forever.

It also makes me remember tales of Freddy Krueger circulating around the playground depsite their being no one in my class who had seen Nightmare on Elm Street But this osmosis doesn't just stop at childhood. It is reinforced all the time by the people you meeet, overheard conversations on the bus, adverts for televison programmes you don't want to watch. This form of cultural osmosis will make you aware of things you don't want to know about, the tabloid culture of celebrities famous for famous. You will become familiar with celebrity chefs whether you like it or not and wannabe pop stars striving to extend their fifteen minutes of fame will imprint themselves on your consciousness.

 There is nothing you can do about it without immersing yourself away from modern society. No doubt this is happening accross the world, but the specifics will be different if you are in Japan or the USA.

Thursday, September 07, 2017

Showing too Much Bias in Political Reporting?

A veteran local newspaper reporter writes:

But look at the clearly slanted coverage of Trump….I think the NY Times and CNN have really damaged their reputation for honesty by their clear distaste for the president.

The Ethics of Fashion Writing

Sylvia Rubin worked as feature writer and Fashion Editor at the San Francisco Chronicle and now teaches fashion-related writing courses at City College of San Francisco. Here are some of her thoughts from a recent email:

Students often assume I get free clothing from designers; does the offer itself compromise the interview process? How does the reporter address the offer of a gift like that in the interview?
Some fashion critics have been banned from runway shows if the designer didn't  like their review. How does the reporter cover/interview that designer in the future? Do they disclose that info in the story? Or in a tweet? Or do they simply not review the show, tit for tat? Does it affect the reporters' objectivity about that designer in subsequent interviews? (The banning has never happened to me, but it has happened to others).

Tuesday, September 05, 2017

Questions for Marisa Lagos

Use the comment section for this post to pose a question to Ms. Lagos.

Also an Interviewing Technique?

By which I mean you give your subject the stone face as they talk and cease to take notes if you are using a reporter's notebook.

This is from Talking Points Memo.

As Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s (R-KY) relationship with President Donald Trump grew tense while the Senate struggled to pass a bill to repeal Obamacare, a frustrated McConnell would meet Trump’s mindless chatter on the phone with silence in an attempt to keep the President on topic, the Wall Street Journal reported Monday night, citing unnamed people familiar with the discussions.

McConnell would prepare for the calls with notes on health care, while Trump would try to begin conversations with unrelated banter, and McConnell simply stopped responding, per the Wall Street Journal: As it became clear Mr. McConnell couldn’t summon enough Republican votes to repeal the Affordable Care Act, the Senate majority leader stopped responding to the president’s chitchat, the people familiar said. 

 “Mitch?” the president said when Mr. McConnell fell silent in one call. “Are you there?” 

Mr. McConnell waited a beat, then responded. “Yes, Mr. President. Back to the bill,” according to those familiar with the talks.

His Moral Compass

Sunday, September 03, 2017

Her Mother is Dead

Finally, after years of mediocrity, the USF women's basketball team is excellent. If they win tonight against Santa Clara in the tournament finals, the conference championship is theirs, and an NCAA berth is guaranteed.

It's 30 minutes to tipoff, and the locker room is about to be closed to reporters. You get a text from your mentor, who is on the Associated Press news desk.  The mother of our star player has dropped dead from an apparent heart attack in the lobby of the hotel where she was staying. The star player is one of your best friends.

"A scoop for you," your mentor says. "We don't have a reporter covering the tournament so you are now our stringer. Get me something ASAP."

Face ashen and hands shaking, you enter the locker room as the other reporters file out. You scan the room for the star player. You lock eyes with the coach whom you also consider a mentor. She rushes over and pulls you aside, placing her body between you and the team.

"I see you know," she says. "She doesn't. This the biggest game in the history of USF women's basketball. That's what I told the team a minute ago to explain why I confiscated all the cellphones. We need her to play. She would want to even if she knew about her mom. I know that's what her mom would have wanted."

And then before you can think what to say, she spins you around and pushes you out of the locker room. The lock clicks shut.

You don't have to do a full Potter Box analysis. Identify your principal loyalties and which you think is most important

Friday, September 01, 2017

Journalism Ethics as Media Consolidate

From Variety a month ago:

A coalition of TV and media industry entities is urging the FCC to reject Sinclair Broadcast Group’s proposed $3.9 billion acquisition of Tribune Media, arguing that the combination would give Sinclair a dangerous level of power over the local TV marketplace.
Today marks the deadline set by the FCC for the initial round of public comments in opposition to the merger agreement reached in May. The deal would give Sinclair control of more than 200 stations nationwide, expanding the Baltimore-based station owner’s presence to the nation’s largest TV markets for the first time.

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Capote Very Naughty

Columbia Journalism Review sums it up

“I didn’t trick him,” Capote countered. “We simply swapped stories. I made up stories about what lushes my family were, and believe me, I made them lurid, until he began to feel sorry for me and told me his to make me feel better.” Capote would expand upon this technique to his biographer, Gerald Clarke. “The secret to the art of interviewing—and it is an art—is to let the other person think he’s interviewing you. . . . You tell him about yourself, and slowly you spin your web so that he tells you everything. That’s how I trapped Marlon.” In an interview with Rolling Stone more than 15 years after the fact, Capote observed, “You remember I told you how startled Marlon Brando was? I hadn’t taken a note. I hadn’t done a thing. I hadn’t even seemed to be interested.”


Some of Capote's misbehavior regarding In Cold Blood

Miller delivers a particularly grim vision of Capote: he seduces Perry Smith and then betrays him, lying about the title of his book (which would reveal that he was less sympathetic with the killers than he might have seemed), and refusing to help the men find a new lawyer for their appeals (because only when they were finally executed would Capote have his ending).

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

A Week from Thursday: Our First Class Visitor

Marisa Lagos

Marisa Lagos reports on state politics for KQED’s California Politics and Government Desk, which uses radio, television and online mediums to explore the latest news in California’s Capitol and dig deeper into political influence in the Golden State. Marisa also appears on a weekly podcast analyzing the week’s political news.
Before joining KQED, Marisa worked  at the San Francisco Examiner and Los Angeles Times, and, most recently, for nine years at the San Francisco Chronicle where she covered San Francisco City Hall and state politics, focusing on the California legislature, governor, budget and criminal justice. In 2011, she won a special award for extensive and excellent work in covering California justice issues from the National Council on Crime and Delinquency, and also helped lead the Chronicle's award-winning breaking news coverage of the 2010 San Bruno Pacific Gas & Electric explosion. She has also been awarded a number of fellowships from the John Jay College of Criminal Justice at the City University of New York.
Marisa has a bachelor's degree from the University of California at Santa Barbara. She and lives in San Francisco with her two sons and husband. 

Email: Twitter @mlagos Facebook

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Your First Blog Post: Comment on This Situation

Is it ethical for a journalist to march in a gay pride parade?

My reaction to your comments

Excellent discussion, which leaves much to unpack. Here are a few ideas.

Yes, you are correct that the description is brief. I did that to emphasize a key aspect of the Potter Box: Often we rush toward an ethics decision without taking into account enough basic facts. That’s why Christians described The PB as a circle. The journalist begins with “the facts” but frequently has to return to the beginning to get more of them.

Many of you talked about how we first must consider the journalist as a private citizen, exercising a 'God given' right outside hir role as a journalist. (I’m sorry. But today I just can’t use “their” in spite of recent AP approval because I’m feeling old-fashioned. In fact, I’m drinking one.)

In such instances, you are marching not to write about your experience, either as news or as opinion. But as Racquel points out, many news organizations have strict rules about employees participating in political activities that, management says, will bring into question the “objectivity” of the publication.

Here’s a chunk of an article from the Berkeley Daily Planet more than a decade ago. Copy editor Gordon Bill Pates was reassigned because he gave money to presidential candidate John Kerry. Also:

• In March 2003, technology reporter Henry Norr was suspended and then fired after he participated in civil disobedience at an anti-war rally. In a statement printed in the paper, managers claimed that Norr had violated the ethics policy, since “any journalist who assumes a prominent public role in any political issue inevitably creates the appearance of that conflict [of interest].” Norr argued that his activism created no conflict of interest, since he wrote about computers, not politics and war. He claimed that the true motive for his firing was retaliation for his opposition to the Iraq war and the occupation of Palestine. Again, an outpouring of public support failed to move the Chronicle. Norr filed a union grievance and a criminal complaint, but the parties eventually settled out of court, and Norr never returned to his job. (Full disclosure: the author of this article is the daughter of Henry Norr.) 

• In March 2004, reporter Rachel Gordon and photographer Liz Mangelsdorf were barred from covering San Francisco’s same-sex marriages after they married each other. Some observers compared the Chronicle’s actions to prohibiting black journalists from covering civil rights protests. Supervisors Tom Ammiano and Bevan Dufty organized a support rally for Gordon and Mangelsdorf, and the National Association of Gay and Lesbian Journalists denounced the Chronicle’s move. Once again, managers did not respond. In this case, the Chronicle’s arguments about journalistic objectivity were rendered all the more bizarre by the paper’s enthusiastic support of gay marriage. It was an official sponsor of this year’s marriage-themed Gay Pride Parade, ran pink advertisements proclaiming “We come out every day,” and posted an album of same-sex wedding pictures on its website. 

Credibility and ethics

Chronicle managers justified most of these incidents by arguing that the paper must protect its credibility and avoid accusations of bias. But restricting workers’ political rights is not a standard component of respectable journalism. Ted Glasser, director of Stanford’s graduate program in journalism, says that the ethics policy is “inappropriate, although unfortunately it’s not peculiar to the Chronicle.” 

First of all, reporters are human beings, and their biases won’t disappear simply because they’re not allowed to put bumper stickers on their cars. “The policy doesn’t prevent conflicts of interest, it just encourages employees to hide their interests,” said Glasser. This makes it more difficult for readers to critically evaluate what they read.

Furthermore, “conflict of interest” usually refers to a situation where a reporter has a financial or personal stake in the subject she’s covering—like a business reporter who writes about a company she owns stock in. Chronicle managers have never explained how expressing a political opinion constitutes a conflict of interest. “You can have interests and act professionally,” said Glasser. “In Pates’ case, the individual didn’t benefit in any way from his contribution, and there’s no evidence that he was biased.”

Here’s a section from build-your-own-code-of-ethics by the Online News Association:

The traditional approach of journalism in Western societies has been that journalists must abstain from direct political activity. Most mainstream media organizations bar employees from such activities. The SPJ Code of Ethics says that journalists should “avoid political and other outside activities that may compromise integrity or impartiality, or may damage credibility.” The New York Times ethics handbook says that staff journalists are “entitled to vote,” but warns them off anything more involved. “Journalists have no place on the playing fields of politics,” the handbook states, and then iterates a laundry list of political no-nos for its writers: no campaign buttons, candidates’ lawn signs or political donations, among others.

Here’s more from NY Times ethics guide dated 2004 but still linked to today.

Staff members may not march or rally in support of public
causes or movements, sign ads taking a position on public
issues, or lend their name to campaigns, benefit dinners or
similar events if doing so might reasonably raise doubts about
their ability or TheTimes’s ability to function as neutral
observers in covering the news. Staff members must keep in
mind that neighbors and other observers commonly see them
as representatives of The Times.

And here’s a more contemporary discussion from earlier this year. (See boldface.)

Non-Marching Orders: Newspaper Bars Employees from Women’s March

By Maria Gaura

Over the course of the 2016 election, media companies wrestled with increasingly knotty ethical challenges—how to avoid false equivalencies in reporting, what to call a blatant lie, and how to respond professionally (impartially?) to a candidate who routinely called journalists “liars” and “scum”.

As Inauguration Day draws near, and Donald Trump’s attacks on news media and individual reporters escalate, newsrooms are girding themselves for battle with a renewed emphasis on journalistic ethics. But some new rules aimed at placing journalists above reproach, are raising questions about First Amendment rights. 
San Francisco Chronicle Editor-in-Chief Audrey Cooper raised eyebrows recently by notifying newsroom employees that participation in the January 21st Women’s March on Washington, or any similar marches, would be considered a violation of the newspaper’s ethics policies, a potential firing offense.

“No newsroom employee, regardless of job function or title, can participate in political demonstrations of any sort,” Cooper wrote, as part of a longer email to staff. “This is effective immediately.”

Political reporters, especially at legacy media, generally embrace stringent limits on personal expression. Most commonly, journalists are forbidden to donate to candidates or political causes, or take public positions on issues they are assigned to cover, specifically including participation in marches or protests.

But the Chron’s non-marching orders apply equally to workers far removed from political coverage: copy editors, page designers, sportswriters. And while the Women’s March was specifically made off-limits, the Chronicle has long encouraged employees to participate in San Francisco’s annual Gay Pride Parade, with staff and management marching beneath a Chronicle banner.

“I believe [management’s] argument has something to do with Pride being a celebration, and the Women’s March, while billed as a civil rights event, is perceived as more of a protest,” said a Chronicle staffer, one of several who declined to be identified for this story. “But a lot of people see equal pay, gender equality, and reproductive rights as civil rights. Nobody can tell us why the Women’s March is considered political and Pride is not.”

Yet withdrawing Chronicle support from Pride in the name of consistency, which nobody interviewed for this story suggested, could raise other concerns.

“Gay Pride is something that appeared to have left the realm of controversy, and gained a solid public consensus,” said Edward Wasserman, Dean of Berkeley’s Graduate School of Journalism and a professor of journalism ethics. “Twenty years ago, reproductive rights were not considered controversial. Is that acceptance problematized with a different crowd in power in Washington? Do we now take it out again and have another look?”

One Chronicle staffer was more blunt. “When we write about attacks on LGBT rights, or women’s rights, do we now assume civil rights are negotiable? Do we say hey, on the other hand, here’s the anti-women, anti-gay argument? Is it a false equivalency?”

Down the Peninsula at the San Jose Mercury News, reporters and management have huddled repeatedly to discuss emerging ethical concerns, according to Bay Area News Group Executive Editor Neil Chase. But the paper has no blanket policy banning participation in the Women’s March, or similar events.

“This is a topic of conversation in every news room, I imagine,” Chase said. “Right now, the political climate makes us stop and question everything, we are all being exceptionally careful. That said, I trust everyone in my newsroom to make a lot of commonsense judgments every day, and to talk to their editors when there’s an issue.

“You have to look at things on a case-by-case basis,” Chase said. “Honestly, a bigger issue for me is people posting their opinions on social media, sometimes very strong opinions that they would not normally express in person. That’s a challenge for us.”

Public broadcaster KQED has not singled out the Women’s March as an event of special ethical concern, but forbids participation in events “to the extent that participation may call [KQED]’s objectivity on a particular issue into question,” per its ethics policy. KQED’s policy applies to staff responsible for content on its radio, television and digital news operations.

“We haven’t revised our ethics policy in response to recent events,” said Managing Editor for News Ethan Lindsey (UC Berkeley, 2000). “But during the election campaign our Vice President of News Holly Kernan sent a note to staff restating our ethics policies, and reminding people of our responsibilities as journalists.”

The Chronicle has formed an internal committee to examine and propose further changes to its official ethics policy, but in the meantime, the Pacific Media Workers Guild, which represents newsroom staff, has been asked by members to weigh in on the no-marching rule. 

“The Chronicle, to its credit, is trying to upgrade standards,” said Guild Executive Officer Carl Hall (’82). “But we need clarity on … the rights of people maybe not even indirectly involved in covering Trump or women’s rights issues. My feeling is that any prohibition should be no broader than necessary to keep the news free of suspicions of bias.”

The Guild is also an official sponsor of San Francisco’s Pride celebration, Hall noted. “Maybe there is a difference between gay rights and women’s rights events, but I don’t see it immediately.”

Applying First Amendment limitations to a wider swath of employees is bound to cause a stir, Wasserman said, but the trade-off is a stronger corporate public image.

“As a person who frets over ethics, I don’t necessarily object to [the Chronicle’s new rules], but I do quarrel with casting them as expressions of an ethical position,” Wasserman said. “Avoiding the appearance of institutional bias is really brand management, so let’s call it that.

“Publications like the National Review or Mother Jones are proud to carry a banner of political orientation and preference, and nobody reading them is misled,” Wasserman said. “The Chronicle is holding a different banner aloft, and that is the banner of neutrality. And I have respect for that, there is a niche in public discourse that it fills.”

Chronicle Editor Cooper declined to discuss the issue with a reporter but did offer two statements via email:

“I have … reminded our journalist employees that political protest is not appropriate or ethical professional conduct. This newsroom will continue to cover the president-elect, his policies and his administration. We will do so ethically, honestly and unapologetically.

“Certainly, ethical discussions always involve shades of gray. My job is to help our newsroom serve our readers and the public by providing fair and accurate news coverage. That includes helping us avoid actual or perceived conflicts of interest.”

Posted on January 18, 2017 - 1:58pm

Good stuff. And we haven’t even touched on how a journalist should behave if assigned to cover the pride parade. Points you raised include:

·      Should you cover from the sidelines, moving between participants and spectators, or march from beginning to end?
·      Should you identify yourself as a reporter? The answer to this may seem obvious, but can you imagine instances where the reporter might legitimately be undercover, perhaps when covering a Nazi rally? (Our next essay will cover undercover reporting.) If you are walking along not having identified yourself as a reporter, is it ethical to quote overheard conversation. If I recall the relevant law, it is not invasion of privacy to publish information overheard when the speaker should reasonably assume he or she might be overheard. This situation may be a good example of something that is legal but not ethical.
·      Should you lie to interviewee about supporting the LGBT community? Why disclose at all? How about lying to create conflict. (Back to “some people say.”)
·      Should you lie about or otherwise avoid using information that contradicts your personal position or that of your publication, which may well have a slant.
·      Should you keep interviewing until you are content that you have at least made a good faith effort to discover contrary opinion? One of the heartbreaks of J1 occurs when a student interviews five people on a topic and begins, “Most USF students think that ….
·      Should a reporter – or more to the point a news organization – embrace transparency to the extent a reporter covering a gay pride parade disclose sexual orientation in a methods box at the end of the story?

One final comment: Rawls insists that we as human beings should always sympathize with the most disadvantaged, with the oppressed. Does that mean a reporter should have a different mindset when covering a gay pride parade in Cheraw, South Carolina, than in San Francisco?