Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Values/ Ethical Thinking & Decision Making

Ethical thinking and decision making are an important function of journalism. At Gaylord, we are taught how to conduct interviews, how to eliminate jump cuts and how to avoid libel lawsuits. The gravitas issue that is lacking from our journalism education is the assessment of values and ethics within our writing and producing.

Our inherited worldviews make it difficult for us to write objectively; but to question ethics is to question individuality. Merrill defines several types of ethics in his chapter “Main Ethical Roads.” His divulgence into each category provides the idea that humans maintain different ethical codes. Thus, how is the journalist to decide what is universally ethical?

Each individual’s thoughts and actions are unique, coinciding with the belief that our personal ethics are unique, as well (Merrill). Asking what is moral or ethical allows us to assess the broader scheme of ethics in journalism such as attribution, truth, word choice, etc. (Craig). Each of these topics involves a reasoning that deduces objectivity and ethical consideration. For example, a journalist’s voice carries heavy implications. The voice must remain detached from bias and maintain simplicity to “help readers understand the political and social world” (Craig, pg. 183). The ethical dilemma occurs when a journalist’s voice gains judgment (Craig).

“Professional journalists and journalism organizations have consistently held up truth as an important ethical value” (Craig, pg. 177). Truth in journalism implies research, fairness and accuracy among many things (Craig). While these standards seem clear it is sometimes hard to gauge their accuracy within its given context. A quote within a story may indicate prejudice and harm the speaker’s reputation; analysis of complex issues may allow the journalist’s values to permeate into the story (Craig).

In response to these ethical dilemmas, Merrill provides a pseudo guide of ethical definitions for the young journalist to regard. Ultimately, our ethical decision-making is our own, but the precedence of journalistic “professional ethics” and others may serve as a guide.

Pragmatic ethics “focus on the professional goal of providing the best story” (Merrill, pg. 187). This role of ethical behavior has been seen through the journalistic approach of the ends being more important than the means (Merrill).
Machiavellian Ethics define the sly reporter, stating one only “obey[s] laws if they don’t harm their success” and seek to provide the truth where it is hidden (Merrill).

Through all of this, “the best journalists are sensitive to how their work affects others without being enslaved to their work” (Craig, pg. 178). While every individual is entitled to their own code of ethics, it is important to understand the process by which journalists and society function. Ultimately stating that the element of truth within journalism cannot be cast aside.

Sunday, October 25, 2009


“The day-to-day, paragraph-by-paragraph choices are important ethical matters because they go together to influence the picture of the world that the audience takes from news stories, features, analyses, and commentaries.” (Craig 187)

Ethics, while being an important aspect in everyday life, are especially important when it comes to the world of journalism. While everyone’s sense of ethics differs, it is important to have a set of ethics to guide one’s thought process and decision making.

As we discussed in class, a person’s ethics come from one of two places, theology or philosophy. So, there are starting points when trying to make important ethical decisions.

While there are two considerably different starting points, there are ideas and devices that should be universally accepted and practiced.

In their book the “Elements of Journalism,” Kovach and Rosenstiel suggest that no matter where the beliefs and ethics come from it is important for journalist to exercise their own conscience when out in the professional world. (Kovach 231)

In their code of ethics, the Society of Professional Journalists agrees with those ideas. The part of the code that stuck out to me simply said that journalists need to, “Examine their own cultural values and avoid imposing those values on others.”

To me, these are very important ideals. If journalists are simply doing what they are told by their superiors, the quality of journalism will suffer. If reporters are forced to report, write, and investigate issues they truly do not believe in, the information the public will get will be distorted and perhaps incorrect.

Fortunately, journalists have certain tricks and tools they can use to help guide them when trying to make these difficult ethical decisions.

In Craig’s reading, he lays out six different writing techniques to aid journalists in their ethical battles.

Of these six issues, the two that I found to be the most important were the techniques involving word choice and labeling and interpretation and analysis.

Word choice and labeling are two things that every journalist struggle with at one point or another. In certain instances and with certain stories, the word choice can change the entire meaning of a story. Word choice and labeling are what determines the tone and slant in articles. Keeping an eye on your word choice could be the simplest way to watch your ethics.

For the public to keep their trust in journalists, journalists need be careful to differentiate between reporting the news and interpretive pieces.

The SPJ Code of Ethics says that journalists need to, “Distinguish between advocacy and news reporting. Analysis and commentary should be labeled and not misrepresent fact or context.”

The public uses journalists and their reporting to make decisions on important issues that affect not only their lives, but the lives of countless others. If a citizen is using a mislabeled piece to decide on whatever the pressing issue is at the time, the journalist’s ethics can be questioned and in this business, that could spell the end of a career.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Ethics: The Never-Ending Debate

I find it interesting that Kovach and Rosenstiel's main thesis in bold print is that 'journalists have an obligation to exercise their personal conscience.' It doesn't say they have the RIGHT to, it says they have the OBLIGATION to. (There are several people in the world that I do not think I necessarily want exercising their conscience.)
After many hours of discussing objectivity in almost every journalism course this semester, including reading about it in earlier Kovach and Rosenstiel chapters, on page 237 they quote Linda Foley, the president of the Newspaper Guild, as saying, “It's credibility, not objectivity, that's important for us in our industry...” and “the ability of journalists to exercise conscience is much more important than anything they believe or any beliefs they bring to their job.”
While, yes, we would all like to believe that it's understood by each journalist that, for example, plagiarism is bad and objectivity is good....look at cases like Jayson Blair and we can see that perhaps this 'obligation' that journalists have is not so well upheld. There is no way that we will ever be able to get everyone to agree on what is 'good' and what is 'bad' so how do we decide, whether in the newsroom or in life, just how ethical something someone does is? The only method we have is to judge it with our own standards which are flawed and imperfect and non-universal.
So we try to label and define things-for example, David Craig talks about how 'truth,' 'accuracy,' and 'objectivity' are almost consensual cornerstones of journalism ethics in professional codes around the world, but in professional usage, “truth encompasses accuracy, honesty, lack of distortion or misrepresentation, and fairness.”
When looking at the Society of Professional Journalists code of ethics, it includes:
1.Seek truth and report it
2.act independently
3.minimize harm
4.be accountable.
To me, a few of these seem to counteract themselves. If you are truly acting independently and objectively seeking truth then how can you also be minimizing the potential harm? To 'minimize harm' gives the impression of “fluffing” your story so it doesn't seem so bad or eliminating facts/details that may be used to help paint a more accurate and transparent picture.
I think that David Craig best explains the three-way tug-of-war between objectivity, truth, and this 'obligation' at the end of his article, 'The Power and Ethics of the Story.' He says that “the difficulties connected with objectivity do not require journalists to abandon truth as an ethical responsibility because truth encompasses more than objectivity.” To me, this basically means while objectivity is a huge part of accurate storytelling, there are other methods that we as journalists must equally give as much attention to and look at that could contribute to our most transparent writing.
While I enjoy talking about it, after a while ethics is frustrating because there never has been and never will be a universally 'right' answer. We try so many methods and definitions and theories and philosophies in an attempt to give ourselves a feeling of organization but no matter how many classes or seminars or professional organizations it is discussed in, journalists-as humans-will always have varying degrees of just how 'wrong' they think something is or what they are willing to do given sets of circumstances.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Does virtue hinder objectivity?

The importance of objectivity in reporting has been taught to us over and over in our journalism education. But can a reporter’s personal ethics hinder his or her ability to write a story or cover an event?

Merrill phrases the dilemma in this way: “Does a journalist’s concept of virtue override his or her purposeful attempt to be even-handed and as objective as possible?” (p. 71)

Merrill describes what he calls “communitariansim,” and believes that it is increasingly being incorporated into mass communication disguised as a type of civic journalism. He defines communitarianism as “widespread participation in the intra-public ‘conversation,” and believes it is biased by its very nature.

To illustrate this, he gives the example of the media giving priority to marginalized portions of society. It can be seen as a media bias, but one that is justified by a moral imperative to empower the less fortunate and weaker portions of society. (p. 70) In this view, being just is more important than simply informing the public.

But beliefs on what is just and unjust are extremely varied and dependent on personal belief systems. Merrill outlines several of the ethical concepts and frameworks proposed by some of the most prominent and important philosophers.

Both Aristotle and Socrates stress character-driven virtues. “Being virtuous as opposed to simply following rules. Aristotle’s rational person is happy, and a happy person is virtuous. His concept of happiness is what we mean by ‘living well.’ This would include such things as performing virtuous acts, and enjoying one’s social status. Virtues are acquired through practice; they become habitual.” (p. 76)

The ethical principles outlined by Immanuel Kant are more duty-based. “[Kant’s] moral person would be one who followed a predetermined maxim or principle that would assure the person’s intrinsic worth. But it is not trying to be happy, said Kant, but living the kind of life whereby a person deserves to be happy. The virtuous person, for Kant, was the duty-bound person who followed principle without trying to predict the consequences.” (p. 76)

John Stuart Mill argued for a principle of utilitarianism. His idea was that the moral worth of an action or decision is determined by the amount of happiness it gives to the largest amount of people, or maximizing utility. Mill “exemplified those who would act so as to spread happiness as broadly as possible.” (p. 76)

Merrill advocates for a kind of fusion of all these ethical concepts. He promotes “care for [a journalist’s] own character and constant self-improvement, while at the same time evidencing deep concern for the improvement and happiness of others.” (p. 77) To me, this seems like the most logical approach.

Merrill also asks, “How does the reporter maintain respect for the factual, for impartial, for neutral reporting and at the same time the value of personal perspectives, opinions and feelings?” (p. 74)

He applies Nietzsche’s “Dionysian” and “Apollonian” tendencies to journalism in an attempt to illustrate the need for balance between the objective and subjective role of a journalist.

The “Dionysian” journalist is one that is passionate and subjective. To me, this seems like the writer writer, not just simply regurgitating facts — it’s the artistic aspect of writing. The “Apollonian” journalist is more neutral and straightforward, taking a kind of “just the facts ma’am” approach. It’s more scientific and mechanical than artistic.

Merrill says the reporter needs to find some combination of both tendencies, to “recognize the value of both antinomies—and the weaknesses of both… Needed is the recognition that subjective structuring of and sensitive emphasis on facts will make a neutral and cold story more realistic and truthful.” (p. 74)

I agree with Merrill when he advocates self-improvement and care for your own character while being compassionate and concerned for others. It’s a noble goal, but one that may be more idealistic than pragmatic. I also agree that a scientific but somewhat artistic approach to reporting is important. Neutral, merely fact-based reporting is often dry and boring, but reporting that is too flexible and subjective can be overly sensitive.

So, “Does a journalist’s concept of virtue override his or her purposeful attempt to be even-handed and as objective as possible?”

I still don’t know. I don’t think there’s supposed to be an answer really. I understand how having strong feelings about an issue can sometimes get in the way of reporting, but I don’t think being a virtuous person means you can’t be a reporter. If anything, I think you could argue that the journalism industry needs people who value virtue now more than ever.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Why Ethics?

The journalism code of ethics, we have heard it often before. Seek truth and report it, minimize harm, act independently, and be accountable (Society of Professional Journalists website).

From day one, as incoming freshmen sitting through introduction to mass communications, we have learned about the ethics of journalism. As our education continues, we are still consistently reminded of the importance of these values and the necessity that our own stories match up with such standards. We know what they are. We know what they mean, or so we think we do. We have learned about them, memorized them, and been tested over them.

However the true questions are, have we established these ethics of journalism in our writing and do we continue to live as journalists dedicated to these moral standards? More specifically, does our writing explicitly reflect our knowledge of the ethical foundation we are building our future profession upon?

As students, many of us are busy and short on time. As a result, I feel our writing and reporting may tend to lack some of the ethics and techniques we have been taught.

Instead of “testing the accuracy of information from all sources and exercising care to avoid inadvertent error”(SPJ website), we may idly believe a source’s information and simply take his or her account to be accurate. Instead of checking and rechecking facts, we may just use the scant information we have in order to turn something in on time to receive a grade.

My fear is that if we, as students, are not practicing good ethical journalism now, what is going to happen when we are in the real world writing for a professional paper, not just a class or the OU Daily? Will these poor habits we have unknowingly formed continue to be prevalent in our writing?

“It is easy for them [journalism students] to pick up the habits and conventions that produce adequate but not excellent journalism. But stopping to reflect on the ethical implications of writing techniques is vital-not only to achieving personal excellence but also to sustaining the best practices of journalism at a time when the profession faces significant challenges.”

Once we graduate and are working as professional journalists, our lack of time is not going to change. In fact, our days will probably become even busier with the stress of stories and the pressure of deadlines. If we don’t have a strong ethical foundation as students, how are we going to have a strong ethical foundation when we are working as professional journalists?

“Every journalist, from the newsroom to the boardroom, must have a personal sense of ethics and responsibility- a moral compass. What’s more, they have a responsibility to voice their personal conscience out loud and allow others around them to do so as well,” (Kovach & Rosenstiel, 231).
Not only is it important for us to develop a sense of ethics, but it is also important for us to abide by those ethics and to challenge authority.

In “The Big Picture,” Merrill explains how large metropolitan newspapers are facing profit pressures, which has caused them to cut back on various resources and is consequently lowering their once high ethical standards in writing and editing.

“It is important for students, journalists, and those who study journalism to think about what the best practices in the use of writing techniques look like before staff cut backs and limitations on resources drive away the best practitioners of the craft or further eat into the time to reflect on good work” (Merrill, 194).

Nothing should take away from good journalism and high ethical standards. Not even a fear of authority.

“We need our journalists to feel free, even encouraged to speak out and say, this story strikes me as racist or boss your making the wrong decision. Only in a newsroom in which all can bring their diverse viewpoints to bear will the news have any chance of accurately anticipating and reflecting the increasingly diverse perspectives and needs of American culture” (Kovach & Rosenstiel, 213).

If we want to speak out against authority for what is ethically correct we must have a foundation of strong ethics that we abide by ourselves. This ethical foundation does not automatically begin when we graduate from college or when we start our first jobs as professional journalists. It starts here and now as journalism students. It is a process and a skill we must practice and a craft we must one day master.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

The Electro-Democracy

The definition of electronic, according to the New Oxford American Dictionary (on my Mac) is: relating to or carried out using a computer or other electronic device. In order to complete this assignment, for instance, a computer or other electronic device is needed. Professor Gade felt the need for this class to complete assignments and engage in discussions online. There has got to be a reason for that.

A democracy, by virtue of the same dictionary, is defined as the practice or principles of social equality.

An electronic democracy involves the principles of social equality being carried out via electronics.

Based on the definitions of the words alone, it would appear to be quite clear, but it’s not that simple.

The focus of our reading and the biggest thing Friedman discusses, as a “world-flattener” is the ability to upload. Anyone with a computer can upload things. Apparently even sever-year-olds can with the new Windows model. Twitter allows us to upload up-to-the-second statements that can include whatever we want them to. The ability to upload things had a role in beginning this new-age “land run” of technology. Generally, whoever could say that they were the first to do something online, could hang their hat on that and become a reputable source on the origin of whatever it is that they did online (the equivocal ‘U.S. flag on the moon’ moment). Friedman’s idea is that the blog serves as a personal virtual soapbox.

Hear ye, hear ye. Destined for Greatness is standing on his soapbox.

This passage is meant to be portrayed in an opinionative way, because that what blogs were created for. Back when I was a teenager, Xanga was the big thing. It was an online journal. There was an empty canvas for the computer-savy 13-year-old to jot down anything. Every kid had an online journal back then.

I don’t know that it is still around, but it was used for the purpose of letting people know your thoughts without being burdened with the task of speaking to people. Blogs remain the same today in the idea that people can present their own thoughts without being burdened with having to convince people to agree with them. My voice, my online voice that is, has the power to be presented just as loudly as anyone else’s.

The ability to upload information, and then to create news has allowed people to address the news as they see it, directly. No more letters to the editor. I’ll just post a comment in the ‘comment box’. Friedman uses an example of this new ability on page 167, where he talks about the emergence of YouTube effecting sports referees.

He uses the all-too-famous example of the Oregon-OU game of 2006, where the onside kick that was clearly recovered by Allen Patrick, was officially ruled recovered by Oregon. Immediately following the game, fans went to YouTube to post their own coverage of the blown call. Friedman goes on to explain that the titles like “cheaters!” and “The Officiating That Changed My Philosophy on Life” were uploaded and linked everywhere. The overwhelming fan response led to the suspension of that official. Normal fans made a difference for once; an immediate one at that.

This is what is meant by an electronic democracy. The use of online polls and online surveys has changed the way media direct its content. No longer do news corporations have to guess who’s paying attention. The media consumer is no longer just a consumer. Anyone has the opportunity to do or say something worth remembering. The media do not spoon-feed the consumer any longer. Consumers can pick up the proverbial spoon, and feed the media.

Electronic Democracy

The Electronic Democracy is a place where everyone’s ideas, thoughts, values etc. are expressed and taken into consideration or simply expressed via electronically. In today’s age electronically means anything over the Web, whether it is video, blogging, podcasts, software development, creating or changing of data, etc. Newsrooms have taken note of the electronic phenomena and are beginning to jump on board, “change course or go under,” (Howe, 2007).
We are on a wave of a journalism revolution, so much technology and a need for value, (9/3/09). In order to get a job in journalism one must be versed not only in typical skills such as reporting, writing, newsgathering etc. but one must now be educated in the world of multimedia. This world of multimedia opens the door to the public. Uploading, has breached the gap between the reporter reporting the news and the consumer consuming the news, (Friedman, 93).
In 2006 Gannett embraced the idea of involving/using the public more to their benefit and to the public’s gain. “The Web was to become the primary vehicle for news, with frequent, round-the-clock updates. The newsroom would be rechristened the Information Center, while traditional departments like Metro and Business would give way to the Digital and Community Conversation desks. Photographers would be trained to shoot video, which would be posted online. Investigations would no longer be conducted by a coven of professionals working in secret. Instead, they'd be crowd sourced — farmed out to readers who'd join in the detective work,” (Howe, 2007). This idea of opening the newsroom and inviting the public in to contribute only broadens the marketplace of ideas. By broadening the marketplace of ideas, we are in essence supporting the basic fundamentals of the Libertarian Theory through Milton’s eyes. When the marketplace is broadened by an influx of ideas, whether right or wrong, the truth will rise, (Gade Lecture Notes, 9/28/09).
One of the hardest things for journalists is to be completely objective, divorced from our own thoughts, ideas, values, bias, etc. When the door is opened to the public it shatters the longtime problem the public has had with the media, which is that the media is not good at telling us what to think but good at telling us what to think about, (Gade Lecture Notes, (10/8/09). With the electronic boom, the power has shifted into the hands of the audience. The audience now has control on setting the Media’s Agenda all because the journalists reached out to connect with their audience and the audience connected back. " ‘We must mix our content with professional journalism and amateur contributions,’ read one of the PowerPoint slides prepared by Gannett execs. ‘The future is pro-am,’ " (Howe, 2007).
In order to best serve the democracy the media and journalists must embrace and help cultivate the marketplace. The press best serves a democracy when they keep everything especially a democracy’s government in check. With this new electronic era the media have only strengthened their role as a watchdog because it has embraced the value of being independent from faction, (Gade Lecture Notes, 10/8/09). The attitude of becoming more involved in the process rather than just watching the outcome “is indicative of the larger shift in the Internet age away from a static and passive approach to media to an active and participatory approach. It is more fun to be in the game than to watch the game,” (Friedman, 125).

The digital age is making a mess of news

The digital age of media is here. It has planted its foot firmly in the mud of the mass media, bringing with it bloggers, uploads, downloads and community outreach. The Web has become the very definition of mass media, while it seems newspapers are being squashed underneath the shoe of the digital age. So how does a technological phenomena like the Internet beat down the media giant, newspapers, who has been around for centuries and so quickly?
The answer may lie in a story from Gannett online communities editor, Linda Parker regarding the Enquirer's recently successful comment section, "Get Published." Parker said of the section, "It used to read, 'Be a Citizen Journalist.' And no one ever clicked on it. Then we called it 'Neighbor to Neighbor,' and still nothing. For some reason, 'Get Published' was the magic phrase," (Howe, 2007). It seems that citizens were not interested in being journalists or in communicating with their neighbors. Everyday people were finding empowerment in being published, (Howe,2007).
A similar empowerment was described in The Ten Forces that Flattened the World when Mike Arguello, an IT systems architect said, "IT people tend to be very bright people and they want everybody to know just how brilliant they are," (Friedman, p. 97). Regular citizens are putting their ideas online for everyone to see. Blogs, podcasts, chat rooms and social media sites are only a few of the outlets being used by people looking to validate their obsession with being published, with putting their ideas out for all to see. So is it the realization of the marketplace of ideas, or simply a platform for random thoughts that are thrown haphazardly onto the Web with little or no impact on anyone but the author?
Friedman describes bloggers as, "one-person online commentators, who often link to one another depending on their ideology, and have created a kind of open-source newsroom," (Friedman, p. 117). In theory, an open-source newsroom could be the key to great news. It would create more watchdogs over corporations, government and other groups which tend to take advantage of everyday people. In this nearly perfect newsroom, the topics would be significant to readers, information would be accurate and mistakes would be almost obsolete with millions of editors.
The reality is this perfect newsroom does not exist as is should. Commentary has taken the lead role over news, objectivity is nowhere to be found and information has become infotainment. The lines between commentary and news, between necessary information and tabloid talk, between truth and lies has blurred and without trained journalists who constantly seek the truth and divorce themselves from the information, the line will disappear forever.
Boundaries must be distinguished between bloggers and journalists, between the news and gossip, for our democracy to flourish. After all, "Democracy is the worst kind of government, besides all the others," (class notes, Oct. 8). Without a true marketplace of ideas our democracy cannot flourish.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Where Has the Watchdog Gone?

"The watchdog is unlike any other role. For all that it is similar to all other journalism, it requires special skills, a special temperament, a special hunger. It also requires a serious commitment of resources, a desire to cover serious concerns, and a press independent of any interest except that of the ultimate consumer of the news. For all the lip service paid to it, the watchdog principle, like the others outlined here, faces more challenges today than ever." (Kovach & Rosenstiel, pg. 159).

I thought that this line from the readings sets the tone for what the watchdog role is and what the current state of the role is in the profession of journalism. The watchdog role has not only shaped the journalism profession but also, defined the United States as a nation.

During the colonial period printing presses were shut down for acting as the watchdog for the public and reporting the issues that the ruling government did not want exposed. This reporting eventually led to the Revolutionary War and the creation of the United States of America. We then saw the watchdog role come alive again following World War II and then in what might be the most famous watchdog story of all time Watergate. (K&R pg. 140). These examples of watchdog journalism are why journalism is important. It is proof the public relies on reporters to inform them on what is really happening and not to act as a public relations publication.

Although this form of journalism has acted as an important role, it seems today we have seen less and less of it in the news. When watching national news coverage or reading it, it seems that everyone reports on the same thing and in reality it is not “sexy” news. So the question then becomes where has the watchdog gone?

It is unclear exactly where the watchdog is, but most likely in a shell trying to break out and be free from the corporate ownership groups and set agendas. News is not an agenda, but rather it happens live. It is not planned. No one can decide the news, if it is real news. These large groups have a tendency to be worried more about appeasing a specific audience with what that group wants to hear, rather than working for the people and digging to expose issues that may not be in the public light. This is the job of a journalist, to serve the people. If these big corporations aren't pushing their journalists to dig and uncover than what exactly are they reporting on? They reported the exact same thing that every other news outlet covered that day.

As we have seen, watchdog journalism is not only good journalism practice but also gains the respect and appreciation of the public. Journalists must return to the watchdog style and dig, uncover and report. For the a positive future for journalism and the United States of America, the watchdog must prevail through these times of corporate ownership and in a sense, the censorship of news. We will be waiting, for his return.

The weakening watchdog role

By Breia Brissey 

It only takes one journalism class to hear about the watchdog principle of journalism. For that matter, anyone who knows anything at all about journalism (classes or not), should probably know about the watchdog principle. The term has become synonymous with the work of journalists. 
“Today journalists continue to see the watchdog role as central to their work .... and the watchdog role was second, after informing the public, among the answers journalists volunteered as to what distinguished their profession from other types of communication” (Kovach and Rosenstiel, 143).

This idea that journalists are watchdogs stems from a completely different era. Journalists can easily point to the Watergate scandal or the Vietnam War as the golden age of watchdog journalism. But with few exceptions, most of us probably can't point to a story that holds the same weight as Watergate in recent years.

Kovach and Rosentiel go on to say this watchdog role has, in fact, weakened. As journalists we’ve gotten away from the idea of monitoring power, and instead our “investigative reporting is tabloid treatment of everyday circumstances” (151). Because we've let the principle of watchdog slip away, it's become more of amusement than any sort of help to the public. 

I came across this headline last week: “Don’t Bail Out Newspapers - Let Them Die and Get Out of the Way.” Click here to read the post from Newsweek. I was surprised that a journalist felt so strongly about the death of newspapers. He attacks the idea that journalism actually serves any kind of role as a public forum or watchdog. “As soon as papers got desperate for cash, they dropped their sacred principles as readily as a call girl sheds her clothes.” Ouch! (For a follow up, the author of the blog went on NPR earlier this week. Click here for a transcript of his interview.)
This article hit me because if journalists can have such a negative outlook on journalism, then how can we expect our audiences to look to us for guidance? 

Patterson and Seib attribute this decline to two main things: "For one thing, politicians' statements are often expressions of value rather than fact, and thus not subject to truth tests. Second investigative reporting requires a level of time and information that journalists do not routinely possess" (137). 

I believe that second principle is the heart of the matter. I understand there are certain financial pressures that are facing the journalists today, along with the pressure of our changing media structure. We've got advertisers to please and multimedia projects to produce. We've moved into this digital age that journalists haven't had to deal with in the past. So I understand how it's much easier said than done for journalists to uphold the same watchdog standards that our predecessors held. But I think if we're all truly honest, there is a level of laziness. I think it's the big elephant in the room. People don't want to admit that that is what is really going on. But like Patterson and Seib said, journalists just aren't devoting the time like they used to. And when journalists continually give stories tabloid treatment, posed as watchdog or investigative journalism, it means that the audience is less likely to trust us. Journalists have become the boy who cried wolf. (Thanks to Kovach and Rosenstiel for this analogy.)

Although there are a lot of obvious problems with the watchdog role from a journalistic standpoint, the general audience isn't faultless. Yes, journalists have a role in informing the public, but that doesn't always mean the public is going to listen. As Patterson and Seib point out, "... though most Americans cannot recall the names of their two U.S. senators, they have seen or heard the names many times over in the news" (134). This certainly doesn't make the job of journalists any easier. We're competing for the attention of people who have endless options for distractions.

So what do you all think? I think it's clear the watchdog role has, in fact, weakened. But do you see any hope for the future? 
And what do you think about that Newsweek post? If there are journalists out there who don't see much hope for the future of newspapers, then we've already got some major problems within the profession. Do you think those have to be dealt with before we can even address the issues of informing the public? 

Sunday, October 4, 2009


By Brandon Wheeler

In 1964 the Philadelphia Bulletin won a Pulitzer Prize in a new category, Investigative Reporting. The Philadelphia Bulletin won the award for the exposing of police officers that were running an illegal lotto game from the police station. This event marked a new time in American journalism. In the next decade, Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein of the Washington Post uncovered the Watergate scandal with the Nixon Administration. This single action would lead to the popularity of investigative reporting and give journalism a new image (Kovach and Rosenstiel, pg 140).

When periodicals came to be in England in the 17th century, they were investigative. The early investigative periodicals is the reason the press has constitutional freedom. These periodicals started the watchdog role by making the government more transparent. They aimed to go and find the news. It is the role of journalists to monitor power.

Today's watchdog journalism is being threatened and cut down. The corporate dualities of today's media have aimed the watchdog role in favor of babying audiences from the search for truth to entertainment news. For example go to cnn.com and you will find that about 20 percent (depending on a given day) of their latest news headlines are niche news and pop culture news. With more headlines being that of interesting or odd news that perks the readers interest. But where is the news regarding the government and what it is doing well and not so well? Where is the role of the watchdog? Oh wait, that's right its ding off and fading into oblivion with the rest of the American culture, because truth be told most people don't care and don't want to come home from work and think and search for the truth. They want to come home, sit down, relax, and be entertained.

The media companies do nothing to change this either. How could they? With so many channels and the internet and cooperate owners who care nothing about making money themselves (after all who can blame them, the doors will close with no money). They are forced to provide news that requires little thought and entertainment news, because that's what the audience wants. There is so much competition out there for peoples attention that the journalist don't have the power anymore. The people dictate what they want to see and want the media to cover. Still that is no excuse. The media's primary purpose is to inform the citizens so they can be informed and self governing. Today's media needs to get back to the role of the watchdog and inform the people of what the government is doing, what they do well, and what they need to do better. It is our write as citizens to know and it is our obligation as journalists to inform them. In a way it is a catch 22 I suppose. I sit here and call for the watchdog role and when journalist do fulfill that role, people look at them as sneaky and untrustworthy.

Thursday, October 1, 2009


I remember Dr. Dana Rosengard saying "why don't you want to be a producer, that's where all the power is?" And I never realized the truth in that until reading McCombs's article. In television news the role of the producer is to select a few topics for attention each day. (McCombs, p 156)
The topic on hand recently is the United States healthcare system it's been at the top of the agenda in the press, public, and politics. It is true, what is prominent in the press is prominent among the public and government officials. (McCombs, p156)
I think that it is good that the press is saying "What is the most important problem facing the country today?" and is choosing the healthcare system.
But which came first the chicken or the egg? Was it the press or President Obama or even the public to put the United States healthcare system on the top it their agenda; which entity ranked the issue.
The article also states the agenda-setting influence of the press results in large measure from the repetition of major issues in the news day after day. (McCombs, p159) Even though that day to day repetition of the issues does happen, I think journalists get lost in the issue and not the facts of the issue.
I remember Jackie Clews stating in class she knew that a congressman yelled "liar" at President Obama, but she had no clue what the remainder of the context of the story was.
McCombs states, the press is not only frequently successful in telling us what to think about, the press also is frequently successful in telling us how to think about it, p 160. The congressman calling the President a liar coincides with this statement amazingly. The public knew that a congressman had called President Obama a liar, even if they didn't know anything else about the story (the what to think about). Then everyone knew that it was being blamed as a racist act (the how to think about).
One of Kovach and Rosentiel's elements of journalism is to provide a forum for public criticism and compromise. Since the press has stirred up all this lair and racism talk there has been public criticism. And then President Obama came out to deny it as a racist act creating a compromise.
Agenda-setting definitely is real and the research proves that. But I think the question of who was first the chicken or the egg still applies. Was it the politics, public or press who rose the issue first. I don't think there is one right answer, I think that all parties can raise an issue to be considered "What is the most important problem facing the country today?"