Sunday, October 18, 2009

Kevin's ethical dilemma

On Poynter, there is a link that tells about journalist Alysia Sofios, who let four members of a family traumatized by murder, abuse and incest into her home after she had done an initial story about them for Fox affiliate KMPH in California. She never told her news director about the arrangement.

After growing compassion for the criminal's (Marcus Wesson) relatives during her coverage of the story, she received a call from Wesson's wife asking for help. 8 months after Sofios let the Wessons into her home, Marcus Wesson went to trial and Sofios was asked to report on them again. Her boss asked whether she could cover the family objectively, and Sofios said she could.

Was this unethical of her? Should she have told her boss right away about the living arrangement? Is it even possible to cover a situation like this "objectively" if you were in Sofios' position?

EDIT - I realized I didn't link the article for more info. Sorry.



Lauren said...

This is the perfect example of questioning objectivity. I remember reading about this somewhere and Sofios saying that she was a human being first and a journalist second. She felt so compelled by her compassion to take this family in. They clearly needed help, whether or not from her is the question. I think what she did was amazing and honorable. However, I don't think she was able to report "objectively" about the case. With the sources in your living room how balanced can you be?

Obviously, Sofios had already decided that she would report the story by exposing the father as a horrible human being. This plays into an entirely bigger question as to whether we can report without bias.

As a journalist, I don't think she should have taken them into her home. As a human, I commend her. If she truly feels she can be "objective" then more power to her. I just don't think I could.

Meghan said...

Sofios' first problem was getting so invested in the lives of her sources. I believe journalists need to have a sturdy wall built up around their emotions to avoid situations like these. More so than other professionals, journalists need to have two distinctly crafted mindsets for their work and home lives. However, I realize their are circumstances that cause leaks in emotional walls. Sofios, like all of us, is a human being. We can be compelled by certain situations and emotionally drawn to others. Becoming invested in sources is, at times, unavoidable. The major problem I have with Sofios' situation is that she thought she was capable of reporting objectively. She must have realized she connected with these sources on a much deeper level. It seems she would have recognized the significance of inviting them to stay in her home. To me that would scream RED FLAG--I cannot interview or report on these people. EVER AGAIN. I'm curious to see what some of the post source-turned-housemate articles look like. Will I be able to sense a bias? I'm afraid knowing this information will make me subconsciously create a bias while I am reading it. I'll do some browsing and let you know...

Alysia said...

Thanks for posting, Kevin. I really look forward to hearing the students' feedback. Two great comments already. Let me know if anyone has any questions for me.

caitlindee said...

Hi Alysia,

Thank you so much for responding to our class blog!

How did you frame your second news story on the Wessons for Fox after already housing some of them for close to a year? Was it difficult to maintain a sense of objectivity in your story? And lastly, do you think reporters should always be objective no matter the circumstances? Is that even possible?


Chloe said...

Hi Alysia,
I think you made the right decision in housing the victims. It’s always important to put humanity before one’s career. But I do think, ethically speaking, in order to be objective it would have been wise to include the fact that they were stain gin your house as part of the story. It would have made for a more honest story and let your reader’s know that the story has bias. I think it’s fine to have a story with bias as long as you explain to readers why you have that bias. I’m glad you found out blog!

Michael Vick said...

Just wanted to drop in my two cents as a former Journalism Ethics student and current reporter. Objectivity is not an admirable goal, at least not the type of robot-like indifference that seems to be advocated by some journalists and journalism schools. Accuracy is an attainable goal. Objectivity is divorcing yourself from the human family, and I: a. refuse to do that; and b. do not believe it to be a realistic or positive goal.

I remember when I took J-Ethics, there was a controversy over whether it was appropriate for Anderson Cooper to tear up and get noticeably angry when he was reporting the lack of government help in the Katrina disaster. I took the position that it was a reasonable response. I would hope that if Cooper were on the ground when Katrina hit, he would have pulled people out of the flood waters (a similar response to that of the reporter in this case).

What exactly does "objectivity" mean to you all in this context? Are there two or more valid opinions about incest, rape and murder? If you have it within your power to help someone, should "objectivity" stand in your way?

There are times when you will be faced with an option: cover a story and neglect your human obligations to your fellow person, or cover a story while at the same time embracing your humanity. I don't think it's a crime to do the latter. If that requires you to acknowledge such in your story, so be it.

I want to face my God with a clear conscience. If I were in this reporter's shoes and I did anything less than what she did, I don't think I could sleep at night.

Brian Brause said...

This story is great because it involves being a journalist, but also being human first, which can leave a lot of gray area. I don't think it was wrong for Sofios to take the family into her home at all. I just don't know if it was right for her to continue covering the story. Also she probably should have told her boss about the arrangement. But hey, she felt that she wasn't covering them anymore and why should it be the stations business?
If it had been me, I know I would have taken myself off the story because I would have felt responsibilities not only to myself, but to the family as well. But I also understand that it is difficult bringing in another journalist. They would basically have to start from scratch and build a relationship with the family. It might be hard on the family to have to start from the beginning again and go through the chain of events.
Also, it depends on your definition of objectivity. Is she writing the story strictly he-she said format, like we read about in our objectivity readings, or simply just not taking a side? In my opinion, its hard enough writing any story without being completely bias.
But in any event, mad props to Sofios for being an awesome human being.

Melissa said...

I agree with what many of my classmates have suggested. I think taking Ms. Sofios made a brave and noble decision taking the Wesson family members into her home. When social services continuously fail people, it's admirable to see community members respond and do what they feel is right. I don't think she had any obligation to inform her employers about the situation until it became applicable. However, I believe after taking the family into her home she needed to stop covering their situation completely and when her boss asked if she felt could cover their circumstances again she needed to say no. Whether she felt she could objectively cover the trail or not she needed to understand she was too involved. Also, if her editor thought even in the slightest she was involved with the family he shouldn't have asked her to cover it.