Thursday, October 06, 2011

iPhones and Journalism Ethics:
Take a look at the short article below. Is it ethical to report a verbatim text message in a story? Should it be considered private property or public domain? How do you suppose this reporter attained access to the text? Does a text have the same rights as a quote? What is off the record when it comes to text messages?

Margie Phelps speaks in front of the Supreme Court, which ruled this year that Westboro's controversial sidewalk protests are protected as free speech, as is her recent anti-Jobs tweeting. (AP)

It may seem like all of America is sad to hear the news of Apple co-founder Steve Jobs’ death at age 56, but Westboro Baptist Church can find a reason to hate anyone, and Jobs is no exception.

Margie Phelps, daughter of rogue church’s pastor Fred Phelps, tweeted their plans to picket Job’s funeral FROM HER IPHONE.

She wrote that Jobs went in hell. He served himself and not God, and he taught people to sin, Phelps said.

Phelps defended her use of Jobs’ technology, saying “Rebels mad cuz I used iPhone to tell you Steve Jobs is in hell. God created iPhone for that purpose! :)

The Phelps family makes up the majority of the small, Topeka, Kan. church, which is not affiliated with any Baptist body. Westboro, known for protesting funerals of soldiers and celebrities, is condemned by Christians across the U.S. for their blatant, unapologetic hatred and judgment.

The Washington Post’s On Faith reported on Westboro’s plans to protest Jobs funeral, including tweets from the rest of the Phelps family arguing they use Apple products for the glory of God:

The iPhone-wielding Westboro members seemed unable to find any irony in their embrace of the technology of a man they condemn. One church member even suggested that God was using Jobs to help advance the message of Westboro Baptist Church: “God used Steve Jobs to create amazing STUFF for WBC to preach,” wrote Shirley Phelps-Roper.


....J.Michael Robertson said...

On that's a nice one. I recall back in my days as a grad student at Duke studying the life and times of Mr. James Joyce, and the issue of quoting from some of his letters in a current biography came up. We were told that the text of the letters - the words in Joyce's "creative" arrangement of them - belonged to the Joyce family but that anyone who read the letters could make fair use of them; that is, they could paraphrase them.

But what about emails? Same logic, maybe?? Here's something I found online that suggests that's true, that instant copyright is created the moment you write an email.

Tweets and text messages are just jumped-up emails, I reckon. But I'm also assuming this particular message was widely distributed, and I'd consider that de facto permission to reprint it exactly. And as a newsperson, if I somehow laid hands on this message even if it was intended for a single individual, I'd probably consider it newsworthy enough - and produced by someone who has become a public figure in an important public controversy and thus would sacrifice certain libel rights - to print as written with no ethical hesitation.

I think I'll ask lawyer/doctor Ed Lenert about this.

Kate Shellnutt said...

Hi-- I'm the author of this piece for the Houston Chronicle. I just wanted to make sure that you recognize that a tweet sent out on Twitter is not a text message. It is publicly accessible on her Twitter feed, as I linked to. You can find it here or at Tweeting is the same as posting something on a website, just shorter.