Friday, October 13, 2017

When Ethics Confuse, Make Some Rules

New York Times spells out what staff may and may not do on social media

Last night, in an event at George Washington University, New York Times executive editor Dean Baquet talked about his frustration with the social media profiles of some of the Times’ reporters and editors:
“I’ve spent full days policing our social media,” executive editor Dean Baquet said, adding that he’s called reporters personally. Baquet said his view is that Times journalists “should not be able to say anything on social media that they cannot say” in the pages of the Times or across its various platforms…Baquet said he wants it to be clear to the public that the paper’s motivation is “journalistically sound” and not part of “a vendetta” against the president. “I can’t do that if I have 100 people working for the New York Times sending inappropriate tweets,” he said. Baquet said the Times is “going to come up with a tougher policy.”
Well, that didn’t take long: This morning the Times issued an updated set of guidelines, developed by editors Clifford Levy, Phil Corbett, and Cynthia Collins. 

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Wine Country Fires: The Ethics of Disaster Coverage

Once again, it's Vox

Though seasonal wildfires are a natural occurrence in the Golden State, humans are making them worse and increasing the harm from them every step of the way.

Syllabus Tweaked

Week Eight      The rise of objectivity as the principal   
10.9.2017          journalism norm. Complicity in power: questioning

 Week Nine         (No Tuesday class) Review for Midterm, which will be
10.16.2017          Tuesday, 10/24. Assignment:  Second essay is due in class
                            Tuesday, 10/31.

Week Ten            Assignment: Read excerpts from Janet Malcolm’s “The
10.23.2017            Journalist and the Murderer,” on which there will be a quiz.
                              Privacy: “A journalist is always selling someone
                              out - Joan Didion.  When journalism becomes “nonfiction,”
                              does it acquire the privileges – and the excuses – of
                             Additional Assignments: Begin Discussion of term paper. No
                             Reading Response is required. Tentative term paper ideas are due
                             Thursday, 11/2. Lit Review is due Thursday, 11/16


Journalists with College Degrees - Since 1971

Trump vs. the Constitution

A Republican senator scolds him

Mr. President:
Are you recanting of the Oath you took on Jan. 20 to preserve, protect, and defend the 1st Amendment?

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

News Media Need to Get Off Facebook

Here's the argument

REESE: Your book seems to hold journalists and journalism to a high standards — in the pursuit of truth, the investigation of power, and other noble values. What about the argument that, say, the people working in the tech companies have their own core values? That they want to make information free and connect people, and all those things? Do you see very different core values in media organizations versus the tech industry?

FOER: Yeah, I do. Journalism has a commitment about holding people to truth, and that’s not the core commitment of the tech companies. There’s much more of, I think, a sense of almost relativism that you get with the tech companies. You saw this in Zuckerberg’s response to the fake news crisis during the last presidential election. He just struggled to understand what was so wrong about it or what Facebook had done wrong in the midst of it.
It’s because the whole notion of Facebook or Amazon or Google is to be responsive to the market, to give consumers exactly what they desire. If consumers desire fake news and propaganda, then that’s what they get.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

The Perils of Undercover

Mother Jones (magazine)
Mother Jones (magazine) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
A National Magazine Award winner from Mother Jones.

I started applying for jobs in private prisons because I wanted to see the inner workings of an industry that holds 131,000 of the nation’s 1.6 million prisoners. As a journalist, it’s nearly impossible to get an unconstrained look inside our penal system. When prisons do let reporters in, it’s usually for carefully managed tours and monitored interviews with inmates. Private prisons are especially secretive. Their records often aren’t subject to public access laws; CCA has fought to defeatlegislation that would make private prisons subject to the same disclosure rules as their public counterparts. And even if I could get uncensored information from private prison inmates, how would I verify their claims? I keep coming back to this question: Is there any other way to see what really happens inside a private prison?

CCA certainly seemed eager to give me a chance to join its team. Within two weeks of filling out its online application, using my real name and personal information, several CCA prisons contacted me, some multiple times.

They weren’t interested in the details of my résumé. They didn’t ask about my job history, my current employment with the Foundation for National Progress, the publisher of Mother Jones, or why someone who writes about criminal justice in California would want to move across the country to work in a prison. They didn’t even ask about the time I was arrested for shoplifting when I was 19.

Nothing about the way he got the job seems unethical to me. But this section near the end of the story is what fascinates:

I take a breath and try to remember who I am. Miss Carter is right. It is getting in my blood. The boundary between pleasure and anger is blurring. To shout makes me feel alive. I take pleasure in saying “no” to prisoners. I like to hear them complain about my write-ups. I like to ignore them when they ask me to cut them a break. When they hang their clothes to dry in the TV room, an unauthorized area, I confiscate the laundry and get a thrill when they shout from down the tier as I take it away. During the lockdown, when Ash threatened to riot, I hoped the SORT team would come in and gas the whole unit. Everyone would be coughing and gasping, including me, and it would be good because it would be action. All that matters anymore is action.

Until I leave. When I drive home, I wonder who I am becoming. I feel ashamed of my lack of self-control, my growing thirst for punishment and vengeance. I’m getting afraid of the expanding distance between the person I am at home and the one behind the wire. My glass of wine with dinner regularly becomes three. 

Mother Jones rationale:

In 1887, a 23-year-old journalist got herself checked into the Women’s Lunatic Asylum on Blackwell’s Island in New York City. When she emerged, she wrote about patients tied together with ropes, abusive staff and ubiquitous vermin, “lunatics” treated with nothing more restorative than ice baths, and, perhaps most disturbingly, patients who seemed to be perfectly sane, dumped there by a society that had few safety nets for women who were single, poor, and often immigrants.

Serialized by Joseph Pulitzer’s New York World, Nellie Bly’s accounts (later collected in a book called Ten Days in a Mad-House) caused a sensation, fueled in no small part by her pluck—she’d begun her career by writing a scathing rebuttal to an editorial titled “What Girls Are Good For”—though her ingénue looks couldn’t have hurt, either. But despite prose that shades purple to today’s ears, Bly’s work holds up not only for its daring, but for its impact: It prompted a grand jury investigation that led to changes she’d proposed, including a $26 million (in today’s dollars) increase to the budget of the city’s Department of Public Charities and Correction and regulations to ensure that only the seriously mentally ill were committed.
Access to prisons has been vastly curtailed. There is no way to know what truly happens inside but to go there.
Bly—who’d go on to get herself arrested so she could investigate conditions at a women’s prison, and to best Jules Verne’s fictional protagonist by circumnavigating the world in 72 days—was not the first journalist to go inside an institution to expose its inner workings. Or the last. Ted Conover also reported from behind prison walls, as did Ben Bagdikian, for whom MoJo’s fellowship program is named. In 1961, John Howard Griffin ingested a chemical that darkened his skin to investigate racial apartheid in the United States. Barbara Ehrenreich took jobs at chain restaurants and Walmart to spotlight the plight of low-wage workers. Mac McClelland worked as a picker in a warehouse of an online shipping behemoth to report for Mother Jones.

But while such investigations were commonplace in the muckraker era, they’ve grown increasingly rare. Why? First, there’s a real concern over ethics. When is it okay for reporters to not announce themselves as such? There’s no governing body of journalism, but a checklist written by Poynter ethicist Bob Steele provides guidelines for assessing when this kind of reporting is acceptable. I’ll paraphrase:
  • When the information obtained is of vital public interest.
  • When other efforts to gain that information have been exhausted.
  • When the journalist is willing to disclose the reason and nature of any deception.
  • When the news organization applies the skill, time, and funding needed to fully pursue the story.
  • When the harm prevented outweighs any harm caused.
  • After meaningful deliberation of the ethical and legal issues.
To see what private prisons are really like, Shane Bauer applied for a job with the Corrections Corporation of America. He used his own name and Social Security number, and he noted his employment with the Foundation for National Progress, the publisher of Mother Jones. He did not lie. He spent four months as a guard at a CCA-run Louisiana prison, and then we spent 14 more months reporting and fact-checking.

We took these extraordinary steps because press access to prisons and jails has been vastly curtailed in recent decades, even as inmates have seen their ability to sue prisons—often the only way potential abuses would pop up on the radar of news organizations or advocates—dramatically reduced. There is no other way to know what truly happens inside but to go there.

But here’s the other reason investigations like this one have grown so rare: litigation. When ABC News busted Food Lion for repackaging spoiled meat for sale back in 1992, a jury bought the company’s line that the real offense had been the falsification of employment applications and the reporters’ failure to fulfill their assigned duties—i.e., repackaging spoiled meat! The $5.5 million damage award was eventually knocked down to just two dollars, but it put a chill on this kind of muckraking for a generation, and during that time, corporate and official entities built an ever-tighter web of legal protections. Nondisclosure agreements—once mainly the provenance of people who work on Apple product launches and Beyoncé videos—are now seeping into jobs of all stripes, where they commingle with various other “non-disparagement” clauses and “employer protection statutes.” Somewhere along the way, employers’ legitimate interest in protecting hard-won trade secrets has turned into an all-purpose tool for shutting down public scrutiny—even when the organizations involved are more powerful than agencies of government.
Companies’ interest in protecting trade secrets has turned into a tool for shutting down public scrutiny.
Or when, for that matter, they replace the government. When CCA (which runs 61 prisons, jails, and detention centers on behalf of US taxpayers) learned about our investigation, it sent us a four-page letter warning that Shane had “knowingly and deliberately breached his duty to CCA by violating its policies,” and that there could be all manner of legal consequences. The letter came not from CCA’s in-house counsel, but from the same law firm that had represented a billionaire megadonor in his three-year quest to punish us for reporting on his anti-LGBT activities. When he lost, he pledged $1 million to support others who might want to sue us, and, though we won the case, were it not for the support of our readers the out-of-pocket costs would have hobbled us.

Shane’s story will draw a fair bit of curiosity around the newsgathering methods employed. But don’t let anyone distract you from the story itself. Because the story itself is revealing as hell.

Monday, October 09, 2017

One Good Thing to Read About John Stuart Mill

English: The philosopher John Stuart Mill and ...
English: The philosopher John Stuart Mill and Helen Taylor , daughter of Harriet Taylor. Español: El filósofo John Stuart Mill y su compañera Harriet Taylor. c 1835 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Adam Gopnik in the New Yorker

Mill believed in complete equality between the sexes, not just women’s colleges and, someday, female suffrage but absolute parity; he believed in equal process for all, the end of slavery, votes for the working classes, and the right to birth control (he was arrested at seventeen for helping poor people obtain contraception), and in the common intelligence of all the races of mankind.

He led the fight for due process for detainees accused of terrorism; argued for teaching Arabic, in order not to alienate potential native radicals; and opposed adulterating Anglo-American liberalism with too much systematic French theory—all this along with an intelligent acceptance of the free market as an engine of prosperity and a desire to see its excesses and inequalities curbed. 

He was right about nearly everything, even when contemplating what was wrong: open-minded and magnanimous to a fault, he saw through Thomas Carlyle’s reactionary politics to his genius, and his essay on Coleridge, a leading conservative of the previous generation, is a model appreciation of a writer whose views are all wrong but whose writing is still wonderful. Mill was an enemy of religious bigotry and superstition, and a friend of toleration and free thought, without overdoing either. (No one has ever been more eloquent about the ethical virtues of Jesus of Nazareth.)

Thursday, October 05, 2017

Reporting on Suicide

Suicides are never ethical to report on. However, when a celebrity or public figure dies from suicide, it it is inevitable that it will be covered in the media. For example, when Robin Williams died, ABC News sent a helicopter to get aerial shots of the scene during a stressful time for his family. It was a complete invasion of privacy. CNN also stated in an article that he had "demons", which was controversial because instead of stating the obvious, they could have educated the public on this issue. 

Here is an article about the ethical issues about CNN's comments:

When a celebrity or public figure commits suicide, how do you as a journalist decide how to report on it without invading into their personal life and bothering their family while they're grieving? Should journalists use these events to educate the public about mental illness and suicide? 

Fishy Situation

This is your second year as a journalist at The Wall Street Journal and you are assigned to get the story behind a new brokerage firm that’s doing exceptionally well.  Your boss tells you she thinks there may be some fishy business going on at the firm and to investigate it.  

So you investigate it. You make calls for three days straight and talk to many people in person including the CEO but you can’t find anything.  You tell your boss that you cant find anything illegal or even remotely suspicious about the new brokerage firm.

Your boss says, “That’s fine, that’s fine, just write the story on the types of stocks they’re trading and their new found success."

You write the story and it’s published.  One week later you are leaving the office going home when you overhear your boss talking on the phone.  You can clearly hear your boss and the other person on the line and soon realize that the other person on the line is the CEO from the brokerage firm.  

You hear them calling each other “honey” and “sweetie”, and then finally you hear the CEO say, “thank you for getting that story published, we really needed some positive PR.”

The next morning, you walk into your boss’ office and tell her what you heard last night and then she shuts the door and looks at you and says, “If you tell anyone about this, your career is ruined too.”

What do you do?