Sunday, November 29, 2009

Week 15: Unit 4: Professionalism, Uncertainty and the Future of Journalism

Journalism is an institution that continues to evolve with time but still has its roots in proving “newsworthy content” to its audience. Kovach and Rosenstiel list two key components that should keep journalism grounded while benefiting the consumer, “Journalists must make the significant interesting and relevant” (p. 208) and “Journalists should keep the news comprehensive and in proportion.” (p. 187) However with the growth of technology, journalism and the news media have come to a pivotal point where critical decisions will have to be made.
The Internet has created a portal where now the consumer can become the creator, where instead of being a one-way-street in terms of the media producing content and the audience accepting the content, the street has become two-way now. The audience now has the opportunity to create or even change already published material. The consumer can now create news that they specifically want instead of only being able to consume what is given to them, this has given the consumer the freedom of choice. This all may sound great for the audience/consumer but what about the journalist and the news media?
Journalists are embracing this new wave by using consumer generated content and even asking for more by sending the public out to report but they do have some reservations about the change. According to the “Fundamental Values” section of the “Online Journalist Survey” section from the “,” “a solid majority (57%) say the Internet is ‘changing the fundamental values of journalism’ rather than ‘transferring those values online.’ And the change was deemed more negative than positive.” Journalists and the news media have reasonable fears about all this consumer-generated content. With this sudden wealth of consumer-generated content the chance of errors, plagiarism, fiction, etc. has also risen.
All in all, this new stage of journalism and the news media with technology and specifically consumer-generated content whether it be writing, video, audio, pictures etc. like all things, it has its pluses and negatives. Consumers and journalists alike are benefiting but in the end they both can also reap the negatives when it comes to errors. The news media needs to get ahead of the curve and figure out how to not necessarily control the flow of content but restrain it better. Whether it be paying for content or leaving everything, the news media needs to make a move and quickly before they lose all control and power to the everyday audience. What good would a degree in journalism do then?

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

How to Maintain Good Journalistic Values While Keeping the Convo Going

The role of the press is changing from one that tells their audience the news to one that engages their audience in conversation.

Crowdsourcing was initially seen as a great new way to really connect with our audience, and even find out about news that reporters missed. However, because some news organizations became too dependent on the audience in recent years and many argue this dependence has caused the quality of content to suffer, I feel it now has a negative stigma attached to it that journalists can, and should, change in order to broaden their audience and coverage.

In “The Wisdom of the Crowd Resides in How the Crowd Is Used,” by Jeff Howe, he argues crowdsourcing, also known as citizen journalism, can still be a positive thing for journalism, it just depends how journalists utilize it.

Instead of relying on the crowd to determine and help create content, he says the audience should be thought of as a single spice in a bigger recipe. In this sense, journalists can continue delivering valuable information to the public, but crowdsourcing and other forms of media participation will actual benefit both parties because the audience will be more engaged when they can offer their own voice.

In “Journalism and Citizenship: Making the Connection” by David T.Z. Mindich, he says, “Not only do citizens benefit from good journalism, but also journalism gets a boost from having engaged, news-hungry citizens.”

Mindich gives some sad statistics on how disengaged our generation is with the media, citing information from his equally optimistic book “Tuned Out: Why Americans Under 40 Don’t Follow the News.” He says the majority of students in his research could not even name a Supreme Court Justice. He argues this is not because our generation is less intelligent than past generations, but severely disengaged.

“I don’t find that today’s young people are ‘stupid’ or ‘dumb.’ Quite the contrary: I find them to be just as idealistic, thoughtful and intelligent as their parents and grandparents were (and are). And while they’re not dumb, most Americans, particularly those under 40, do have what Michael X. Delli Carpini and Scott Keeter once called a “thin” citizenship; this means they only follow the outlines of democracy and, in many cases, don’t bother to engage at all” –Mindich

So how can we engage our generation in news?

In Professor Gade’s class today we had a very heated debate on what draws people to check their computers and phones for Facebook updates so frequently, since every single student in the class has an account (with the exception of one who cancelled his because he said he was too addicted). Some said it was a constant need to see what is going on in their friends and families’ lives and others said they loved to comment, post pictures, and spread their thoughts. I think this was a great example of how our generation wants to be engaged in the conversation and how we use the new media technology differently, offering new opportunities in how the journalists can connect with their audiences.

If news organizations would format their news in an interesting, personal, engaging fashion like Facebook, I think there is hope for our generation to be much more aware of current events.

 “The future of content is conversation.”- Michael Maness, the Gannett executive who helped craft the company’s recent newsroom overhaul said.

In “The Elements of Journalism” by Kovach & Tom Rosenstiel they argue this new conversation can also improve journalism by placing new responsibilities on the public, which they refer to as the tenth amendment, to keep a watchdog role on the journalists by making sure the news is “contributing to their ability to take an informed part in shaping their society (248).”

The value of journalism does not have to suffer by opening up the conversation, but instead it can improve by allowing the media to reach new audiences and allowing the audience to challenge the media. 

The Future

Here we are. After four of five years at the University of Oklahoma and the past few years in this journalism program we are all on the cusp of graduating and becoming real life journalists. With our choice of jobs available, there is really no reason for the blog looking into future of industry and potential career paths and opportunities.
Anyone who has spent any time in a journalism classroom recently knows that times are tough and the industry is changing rapidly. So, what does that mean for us, the recent journalism grads looking to get their feet wet? Luckily, there are a few options for us.
It seems as if the future of the industry could be wrapped up in social media. The two social mediums that jump to mind immediately are Twitter and Facebook. In my experiences, students have come across these two platforms a time or two. As evident by class discussion this morning (11/17), students are clearly passionate about their Facebook. Imagine how passionate they would be with a job on the line.
The students that are about to enter the workforce have been part of this social media revolution, so they could be key in fixing the current business model that is currently crippling the industry.
The American Journalism Review says that while social media may be a stepping stone in fixing mainstream media, they also suggest that it is going to take more than these outlets to save the industry. The author of the article states it this way. “Today, journalists romance new communities by blogging and posting updates and stories on Twitter, YouTube and Facebook. “(Emmett 2009)
Another aspect of the future of the industry can be seen in that quotation, blogging.
Now, while I’m not sure this blog thing will catch on, others seem to believe that it is a part of the industry to stay. Of course, I’m joking about the blogs not catching on, but it has changed the industry.
Blogging, which was once considered the red-headed step child of journalism, has come into its own and is now a very large and important part of the business.
Blogging allows journalists, and even citizens who want to pretend to be journalists the opportunity to set our own agenda. As Bradshaw puts it in his article, “In generating story ideas, blogging journalists don’t need someone to tell them who the readers are and what they want: They already know, because the readers are on their blogs, telling them who they are and what they’re curious about. In this new blogging relationship, editors are the middlemen being cut out.” (Bradshaw 2008)
Blogging journalists can now break news faster than ever before and with the emphasis journalism schools have placed not only on blogging, but speed, this provides an excellent opportunity for journalists just entering the field.
Journalism will never die. It is a never changing entity that will adapt to the current climate. This being said, the business is different than it was 10 or 15 years ago, but there are opportunities waiting out there in this industry waiting for us.

Monday, November 16, 2009

The Future of Journalism

Every chance an older person gets, they tell us young people to wise up because the future rest in our hands. I can not call myself the spokesperson of my generation, but I think some would agree that after hearing that over and over again, one begins to feel quite overwhelmed, half of the time not knowing why or what to prepare for.
In the world of Journalism backed with surveys, the talk is no different. A study which surveyed young Americans today showed that only nine percent of young adults knew as much as their elders (Mindich, Nieman Reports 2008). According to the study, this age gap has been widening since the 1970’s. One way to reverse this gap, thus securing the future of journalism, Mindich suggests cultivating kids from a young age to be news-hungry citizens. He goes futher to contend that young adults are not dumb, it’s just that we have a thin citizenship (Mindich, Nieman Reports 2008). This means that young adults are only interested in the surface of issues. Beyond that we don’t care.
For some young adults, yes, I feel that this is the case. They just want enough information to stay informed on things that matters most to them. But I feel that a major problem of thin citizenship of young adults is not that they are products of “The Age of Indifference”, but rather young adults are a product of “The Age of System Overload”.
In the 1940’s to the 1970’s young adults knew as much as their elders (Mindich, Nieman Reports 2008). But the young adults of that time didn’t have information actively seeking their attention from different platforms, whether it be traditional new, the plethora of channels we have to choose from, social networking’s, even our cell phones. Today, with the pressure journalists feel to constantly feed us with information, a story is there, and then it’s gone in 30 minutes, depending on how big the issue is. If the focus is solely pushing the content out, then of course you cannot have an engaging conversation.
The future of Journalism is not depending on the medium, because as we have seen from the leaflet pamphlets to the Internet, that is always changing. The future of Journalism is not overloading people with information they don’t have time to process. Because Journalism is a field where the only certain thing is change the future of Journalism rests in connecting readers with others and information so that they may be able participate in engaging conversation (Adee, Nieman Reports 2008). This is why social media such as blogs and networking are important tools to harness power because it gives life to stories that only have a 30 minute self-life as illustrated with the “Paris, Texas” story in Adee’s article. Because it gives stories longer lives, it gives people the opportunity to engage.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Changing Journalism: How Young Generations Consume the News

Over recent years, we have seen journalism changing at a fast pace with the media transforming into the digital age. Not just the news organizations are changing the way they interact with the public, but also the way the public consumes the news these days is changing, as well as how young generations face news differently compared to older generations.

Like Mindich says, the studies show that a generation’s news habits need to be taught early. Encouraging the young to read news is important, especially when these young people become adults. When reading news becomes their habit, they will pay more attention to what is going on around them, which builds in them a sense of deep citizenship. This lets them make the right decisions about holding leaders accountable by engaging in a deliberate process that can go deeper (Mindich).

For this to happen not only journalists, but also the educators, need to get involved with young people and encourage them to consume news frequently in order for it to become their habit. Also, it is important for journalists to build them a sense of trust with the young Americans. Nowadays young people are deeply and rightly suspicious of the rising sensationalism in the media (Mindich). To gain the trustworthiness back from the public, journalists should try harder to take on a watchdog role, providing a dependable Web forum where people can gather to distribute information (Howe). The fastest growing type of social networking and news consumption for the young people that is effective today is through news organizations’ blogging as well as the posts and the updated news stories online.

Among the many social networking tools growing today, one good example is Twitter. It is the mobile messaging utility which allows the media fans, the columnists and news producers to share their thoughts with each other by sending short questions, comments and updates of up to 150 characters (Emmett). I believe that Twitter is the best way to persuade young generations to approach the news with interaction and a critical mindset, or to “talk back.” Unlike traditional news, where it is time consuming and hard to comprehend, Twitter is fast and young people are able to share their thoughts freely. It also gathers all the ideas together just like a public forum.

The primary idea of new types of media networking achieves journalism’s goal of setting public thoughts to come together. What the journalists need to remember when doing Twitter and other types of Web social networking is all the principal elements of journalism. Also, the journalists’ goal not just to write the news, but also what they really want to do is to engage in a conversation and make a qualitative public forum (Howe). We as journalists should be open-minded toward new types of media networking and also be responsible about how we use it.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

How Important Should Professional Values Be to Us?

Immensely important, essentially so. As in, the I-can’t-stress-how-important-it-is kind of important. As Dr. Gade mentioned in lecture, the frameworks for our professional values begin here in college, in classes like this one that is teaching how to think about journalism, not just how to do it.

It can boil down to this: for journalism majors, now is the time when we decide how we will view the professional world of our trade before we enter it. Not only do we determine our professional values, but we find out what we believe to be newsworthy. We find out what we think is news, whether it be conflict, impact, proximity, celebrity, or any of the other traditional factors (Weaver, 153). Because ultimately our conceptions of newsworthiness depends on who we are as journalists (Weaver, 154). Consequently, in order to find out who we are as journalists, we must have a firm grasp on professional values.

We have a chance to do that now, especially those of us who are involved in Student Media. There we get hands-on practical experience, but we are also presented with the challenge of discovering our professional values in the midst of a hectic, 24-hour work week that just begs us to become complacent, not even considering what our values are, just going day-by-day.

The challenge presents itself in one of the basic forms of values: autonomy. Yes, when it comes to me and the average blogger who considers him or herself a journalist, there is the distinct difference in that my student ID will get me into the Daily newsroom and there’s won’t, but the people of the world don’t see that. It’s easy to see the difference from a journalist’s point of view, but not everyone has been trained so. When you walk around the newsroom whether you work for the Oklahoma Daily or OU Nightly or, it’s easy to see the professionalism of the organized body of the newsroom. But the bottom line is this is still a university setting, which means there are many officials on this campus who will not speak to us if our story could paint them in a negative light, making it so we have to play ball with them in order to get a quote, which is not having autonomy at all (Beam, 226). How can we have any sort of latitude or control in what we want covered, essential to being a professional as Beam, Weaver, and Brownlee write, if we allow the content to be dictated by the source (Beam, 230)? That would make us no different from the citizen journalist with no perception of seeking the whole truth, who just clicks, uploads, and is gone. This leads us to determine what is more important to us as student journalists: always printing praise of the powers-that-be or not backing down and seeking the truth for our readers/viewers regardless of the difficulty. Easier said than done I know, but this is a great indicator of how we employ professional values in our craft.

As student journalists we have plenty of other opportunities to develop professional values. There are many student organizations that we can become involved in, inserting ourselves in a professional culture where our values can be shared by others and we can become socialized into our occupations (Beam, 227). We can become members of the Society of Professional Journalists, or the Oklahoma College Broadcasters, just to name a few. Joining these groups is one of the hallmarks of our profession, that’s right I said profession. They are associations where we can communicate our interests politically and socially, potentially shaping our own behaviors to be more focused on our own professional values (Beam, 228). More ways for us to be engaged in our profession can allow us more ways to discover what our values are.

As student journalists, we have to make the effort to apply these and other professional values in our everyday lives as we go about our reporting. It’s true that anyone can be sat down and taught how to write, shoot, edit, and upload news content, but what separates us as journalists are these values. Not everyone can be a professional journalist when these values, responsibilities, and obligations are added to the job. Most importantly, down the road in our careers, we will be forced to make the tough choices when it comes to our reporting. It could be where we choose to work or deciding whether or not to run a story, which could be in conflict with any number of factors. When that time comes, when the chips are down, our own journalistic professional values will aid us in those decisions, and ultimately dictate who we are as reporters.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Professional Values: Journalists' Last Defense Against Falsehood

As the question arises this week to ask if journalism is a profession, I can’t help but think that professional values are going to be more important for our generation of journalists then ever before. During the digital age of media, journalists are competing not only with one another, but also with their readers in the form of citizen journalism. Journalists were considered so based on a byline on the front page. Having their name in print next to a story was proof that they had not only written the article to follow, but that a news organization had accepted these facts and details of an event as news. It simply took publication in a newspaper to convince readers that a journalist was he. But with a mixture of so-called professional journalists, citizen journalists, entertainment and commentary publication is no longer a form of stamping a journalist as such. “Citizen media have no obligation to embrace or exercise standards of journalistic ethics and professionalism,” (Kovach & Rosenstiel, 2007).
News was once limited to those who could afford to print a newspaper and their employees. Today with the invention of the Internet and its contents such as blogs and social networking news is no longer a profession by limited access, but must be separated by ideals and values, (Gade & Lowrey, 2010). It is no longer a contest won by money. “The challenge for journalists and news media generally in a digital marketplace crowded with content providers and aggregators is how to make their product standout and attract attention,” (Gade et al., 2010). This “duality of missions,” providing the news and gaining the largest audience, is forcing news to suffer for business purposes creating a more entertaining version of news, or infotainment, above providing the truth and facts that most critically supplement democracy and informed citizens.
“News has become an abundant commodity, easily aggregated (often by non-journalism entities), and sent to or shared with online audiences for free, diluting the value of news,” (Gade et al., 2010). So it is during the age of digital media, when the values of journalism and news have become not only important for the serving of democracy and an informed public, but they have become the only weapons that journalists and news organizations have left to fight for the trust of the citizens. After decades of losing the trust of citizens (Gade et al., 2010), journalists must hold professional values such as truth, public service, objectivity, independence and fairness closer than ever (Kovach et al., 2007). These values are what separate us, the journalists, from those who are polluting the media, often citizen journalists or commentators, particularly online, with falsehood, biases, marketing schemes and subjective commentary.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Are Journalists Professionals?

If there is any service that is being greatly taken for granted, it is the service that journalists provide for citizens. Many belittle the service with attitudes and comments such as “this is so easy, even I could do it”.
The service is even more damaged by acts of people like Jayson Blair who rapidly climbed up the success ladder as a journalist by plagiarizing and fabricating stories. Too add the icing on the cake, his own editors, who job it is to seek truth and report it, failed seek the truth of the many accusations of Blair, punish him and report it an effort to be transparent. Instead all of their actions were reactive to the situation.
Like in any profession or any area of life, there are people committing wrong acts that give their organization a bad name. Journalists report countless stories of doctors treating patients wrong or even killing them. I work at the U.S. Attorney’s Office and we are always learning of lawyers across the nation who are getting disbarred from practices. However, you don’t hear of the medical field or the law field having to forfeit their rights to be called a profession.
A quote that professor has quoted on occasion in her class explains why the journalist field cannot escape the ever careful eye of scrutiny. Generally speaking, the quote is the difference between journalists and other professions is that when doctors make mistakes, they put them in the grave. When lawyers make mistakes, they put them in jail. When journalists make mistakes, they put them on the front page.
To answer the question of the debate of whether or not journalism should be a profession, yes it should be, and the journalists that practice it should be regarded as professionals as well.
Journalism should be considered as a profession because while although journalists don’t agree on the specific, they do share transcending values in which they hold themselves accountable too. They are trained to regard, analyze and disseminate phenomena (Weaver, Reader 199).
These transcending values are to seek the truth and report it truthfully and objectively so that citizens can have verifiable information about their world and to keep government accountable, to be independent and fair, and provide a public forum. Journalists are also committed to free expression as well (Gade, Reader 263)
In Beam’s reading, it lists various characteristics of a profession. Journalisms meets the following listed characteristics: an occupation organized around a body of knowledge or specialized technique, members are willing to put public service ahead of economic gain, has an established professional culture that generally promotes the value of journalists, and the occupation socializes its members through education and training (Beam, Reader 227).
Some would argue that journalism could not be considered as a profession because it is a profession that is not based on strict educational requirements and licensing (Weaver, Reader 199). And a great majority would also argue that the development of citizen-based journalism is indeed proving that anyone can do journalism so journalism is far from being a profession. I would counter argue that that’s the beauty of the profession. In professor Gade’s chapter entitled “Reshaping the Journalistic Culture”, he describes the journalism profession as a “semi-profession” due to journalism’s rejection of formal definitions but its consideration of the traits, attributes and functions of the cohort, and because the profession is not legally mandated.
The journalism field is a special field because it has major factors constantly changing it. Some of these factors are identified as technology, economic and the duality purpose of journalism, which is to serve both as journalistic and commercial enterprises (Gade, Reader 263). While I believe that educational requirements are indeed necessary, I also believe that strict educational requirements would be a waste of time. I believe balancing these factors while trying to survive the credibility of the paper comes from trained experience. The profession of journalism would not able to rapidly change as various factors require it too if it had to adhere to licensing. Not only that, the profession of journalism would not be able to provide information critical of the government or big businesses if it had to adhere to licensing laws. We saw evidence of this in the 1700s and 1800s with the seditious laws that constricted the growth of journalism.

Journalism as a profession

The debate over journalism as a profession is one that has come up multiple times in several of my journalism classes. Many journalists (and journalism students) would probably like to think of themselves as professionals practicing a professional craft. Many could argue that journalists have a core set of values, are trained and have personal autonomy and therefore are professionals (Weaver, 131.) However, unlike law or medicine, anyone can practice journalism. In fact, more and more people are publishing written and broadcast stories today than ever before. Some bloggers or other Internet publishers do their own reporting and write in ways similar to real news organizations. Are they professionals? I assert that these bloggers/internet publishers and their news organization counterparts are not professionals. Weaver et al back up this claim in a discussion of their survey: “Others responded that if a profession is an autonomous practice of work based on strict educational requirements and licensing then journalism is far from a profession” (Weaver, 131.) No strict educational requirements or mandatory licensing currently exist in journalism.

Based on all of this week’s reading, it is clear that journalists do not, for the most part, even agree on any given set of core values. The surveys and reports indicated several types of journalists, several different primary “functions” of journalism and varying levels of support for some ethical practices. Role conceptions among journalists included what Weaver et al defined as interpretive, adversarial, disseminator and populist mobilizer (Weaver, 138.) Journalism just doesn’t have the clear-cut and simplistic objectives of true professions.


On the other hand, journalism does fit into some of Beam et al’s list of professional attributes. For example, the list includes “have considerable autonomy,” “socializes its members through education and training” and “this occupation is usually lifelong and terminal” (Beam, 279.) Journalism generally fits these criteria.

Still, I think journalists can hold professional standards and fit certain professional criteria without belonging to a true profession like medicine, law or accounting. Until some form of board certification is required for journalists to enter the field, I don’t think it can be considered a true profession. Even if this were to happen, it would be impossible to prevent independent publishers who need only a computer from doing reporting and writing and reaching an audience. It would, in essence, be a waste of time and money to attempt to professionalize journalism in today’s world of extremely open access to information and information sharing. Would anyone really care whether a story came from a “certified” journalist or a Twitter update? I think this answer is no.

In conclusion, I do think journalists can hold professional values (albeit very different based on Weaver’s surveys) and use them as a guide. Journalists can conduct themselves in a professional manner and hold high ethical standards. But this is a personal decision, not one sanctioned by an overarching professional journalism organization. There is too much freedom in journalism for this, and I don’t think this is a negative thing. I agree most with Gade’s conclusion, “Journalists see their professional values as anchors that provide stability, distinguish them from others in the public sphere and give them a sense of purpose in today’s shifting seas” (Gade, 267.)

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

‘Journalism is a matter of faith’

The portrayal of truth is one of the core principles of media and communication ethics, especially in our society. (Merrill, 2006) But “the truth” is not always universally understood between groups of people, let alone different media entities.

“It is fair to say that the most common ethical perspective seems to be truth-telling. Truth, of course, means many things to different media.” (Merrill, p. 95)

Pursuing and attempting to report on what journalists see as the truth can often become problematic in itself. “Truth can be dangerous, and not only that, it can be ‘unethical’ in some cases. But it persists as a foundation stone of ethics.” (Merrill, p.92)

Merrill writes that the media piece together different parts of truth to concoct a version of truth that is specific to which media entity is creating it.

“The metaphysical truth cannot be told, so the media need not worry about that. The kind of truth they are concerned with comprise bits and pieces of the truth they select from the wide-world of truth, the selected and communicated truth. Not the whole truth, of course; that is impossible. So, what this means is that the media’s version of the truth is their truth. And since various media provide differing versions of ‘the truth,’ the people never really know exactly what to believe. Journalism is a matter of faith.” (Merrill, p. 95)

When viewing truth in this way, as Merrill is identifying it, the truth will always be relative. And a media entity’s version of the truth will always be incomplete.

“People believe something of the hodge-podge of material they access from the media and from a few private conversations. One’s synthesis of the varieties of media-produced information is about the only truth he or she will get.” (Merrill, p. 95)

So maybe the population has a right to be skeptical of the validity of media reports, especially in an era of 24-hour Michael Jackson coverage and the riveting saga that was “Balloon Boy.” Their skepticism should motivate journalists to try harder to be more accurate and thorough in their reporting, and to report on more important and meaningful issues. While we cannot know the full truth, journalists should make an attempt to paint the most accurate and informative picture of the truth.

“The truth with a capital ‘T’—Transcendental Truth—of course, we will never know. But some of the big-T truth falls into the potential level of reality where we can get at it. The dedicated journalist, then, selects as much of this potential truth as possible for the report. And from this selected truth, the story is written or produced. Of course it is not ‘truthful’ in the sense of matching reality, just as a map does not match the territory it depicts. But there are better and worse map-makers and there are better and worse reporters.” (Merrill, p. 110)

The Ethical Journalist

In a newsroom Journalist deal with ethical decisions every day. Depending on how you view the world your ethics might be different compared to the next person. Ethics affects how journalists carry themselves when choosing, writing and presenting stories. In class this afternoon and in the reader we talked about different principles of ethics: deontological and teleological. We also talked about Merrill beliefs on journalism ethics, all have different ideologies and foundations and one does not stand out above the others. These different ethical ideologies affect every journalist in a different way and it is up to you and only you to decide what your journalism ethics are.

Nobody can tell you what to believe and how you should go about getting a story that is our choice as journalists.

Deontological is better described as duty bound ethics. Immanuel Kant, the poster boy for the deontological ethicist, thought that only an action taken out of self-imposed duty could be ethical and that consideration of an action’s consequences, either to self or to others, wipe out any moral significance such an action might have. (Kant, 192) This meaning that what is ethical for a journalist to do is what that journalist would want everybody to do. It is closely related to the golden rule: do on to others… Kant, and many professors have taught us this way of thinking in our college careers, and while I see the point of treating everyone with respect sometimes as journalist we must step on people’s toes and rub people the wrong way to get information we need to fully tell a story. We must tell the truth even when the truth hurts.

On the other side of the road is the belief in teleological ethics formed by John Stuart Mill. Mill believed that journalists should report on the greatest good to the greatest number of people. This means reporting on a story that is going to have the most impact on the greatest population, something that a nightly newscast does on a regular basis. The teleological theory also states that it wants to always consider the consequences before you act and to minimize harm. This is an issue for journalist simply because almost every story we publish will in some way shape or form have a negative effect on someone, the real issue is journalist will never see the negative effect in advance, instead they will see it after the point making it very hard for journalist who believe in this theory to really branch out and write stories that have the potential to be controversial. Personally I feel that this theory is what professors teach us the most. Constantly we are given assignments and told to pick a story idea and when we present our ideas the first question we are asked is who does this effect? And most of the time if it is not a large population of people we are asked to choose another topic or change the angle to grasp more people. While it is smart to report on the greatest good to the greatest number of people journalist should not forget about the little guy, even though they are not part of the big picture they are still part of the picture none the less.

Finally, there is Merrill’s belief in ethics which is different from both the deontological and teleological beliefs. Merrill’s ethics are based off the certain pragmatic goals; he feels that journalist should not worry about the consequences of a story. Merrill feels that you should do what you have to do to get the outcome you want. In relation to a real world situation, if an editor tells you to get the story, you get it by any means necessary. Rather that is by being polite and courteous or being crude and rude to get the information needed.
It seems that most people believe that this is unethical and is something that professors tell their students to shy away from. However, I feel that Merrill is speaking from real world experience. Most of us know that once we get in a real newsroom that most of the things we were taught in school are going to be thrown out the window and that to move up in both the newsroom and on the payroll we are going to have to report stories that are going to make people unhappy. It is harsh reality but then again so is the real world.

I personally cannot categorize myself in any single ideology; I feel that I am a mixture of all of them. Most journalists might feel the same way, these are the extremes of journalism ethics and not everyone is going to lean to one side or the other, however it is still our job to take parts from all of these ideologies and form them into our own journalism ethics code by which we live by.

The Ethical Journalists

Journalists today deal with various kinds of ethical problems. These problems occur in the media, and the most common struggle that journalists face is writing stories that are comprehensive to all the readers of news. Nowadays, it is apparent that less people are watching the news. This is due to the fact that the media presents too much entertainment or news stories that are too complicated for many minorities to understand.

Like Kovach and Rosenstiel mentions in The Elements of Journalism, today, stories in news are too long, sophisticated, and often require college degrees to follow. The stories in the news have become longer and more abundant, which makes it appear as if it is aimed toward only a few segments of the population. Often times the media leaves out certain communities, which tend to create big problems and ethical issues. This leads to the problem of audiences being poorly informed, which also causes them to make poor decisions about contemporary trends that directly affect their needs (Kovach and Rosenstiel P. 168).

I think that this idea of complicated news, which only a few can comprehend, is one of the many reasons why citizens find the news so difficult to understand. Those minorities of people who find news difficult to follow are not interested in reading these news stories and are ultimately not being informed. It is a journalists’ role to continually find ways to serve the diverse communities and let the majority know what they are trying to communicate to the public.

I believe that although there are many ways to inform the whole community, it is the sole responsibility of the journalist to come up with good ways to make the citizens come together, help them understand, and become engaged with the news stories they read. When this is achieved, I believe the public will be more willing to listen to them and ultimately appreciate the information they draw from those stories.

As Kovach and Rosenstiel mentions, journalism is storytelling with a purpose. And the main purpose is providing citizens with the information they need to educate themselves about living in this world. This tends to be challenging to journalists and, as a result, common ethical problems occur. It is important to provide information at the same time in a way that ensures that people will be willing to listen. So storytelling with a purpose is about finding the information that people need in their lives in order for them to live, as well as making these stories meaningful, relevant, and engaging to the citizens at the same time (Kovach Rosenstiel P. 149).

To sum up, there are many challenges in performing this good journalism especially concerning ethical issues. To solve those challenges, when writing or reporting for a story, we should always be thinking about writing interesting and detailed context stories, which inform the public about the truthful facts together. Like Merrill mentions, we can ethically assume that the media will be honest, fair, balanced and truthful in their efforts (Merrill, P. 94). These types of stories will hopefully engage the citizens and overcome some of the challenges the media faces in balancing those that are presented.

Monday, November 2, 2009

An Ethical Dilemma

Ethics in journalism, like morality in our personal lives, are created through a complex formula of equal parts philosophy, religion, social conditioning and experience.

Considering the vast possibilities for differences in each of these parts, it’s easy to see why any attempt to impose a single ethical standard to all journalists would be tricky at best.

Although there are no hard and fast rules, one general standard emerges.

“After looking at ethical codes around the world, the most common ethical imperative seems to be truth-telling.” (Merrill, p. 95)

In an ideal world, the public should be able to expect the media to be honest, fair, balanced and truthful in their efforts-but we know that such an assumption is unrealistic. (Merrill, p. 94)

“Some of the ethical challenges the media face today largely deal with such things as fabrication, plagiarism, invasions of privacy, and the concealment of the names of sources.” (Merrill, p. 103)

But, as Merrill points out, other issues include quoting out of context, imprecise paraphrasing, incorrect quotations, misidentifications, biased news and propaganda, conflicts of interest, sensationalism and negativism, etc. (p. 104)

Merrill’s Utopian view of ethics in mass media is that “journalists of their own accord will forge a dedicated and committed league of ethicists and freedom-fighters embracing a combination of freedom and responsibility, wisdom and virtue.” (p. 107)

But, responsibility includes more than getting the facts straight and presenting stories in a balanced way.

In its fundamental obligation to inform the public about the events of the day, journalism creates a map for citizens to navigate society. (Kovach & Rosenstiel, p. 208)

The map should include news of all our communities, not just those with attractive demographics or strong appeal to advertisers. (p. 209)

Starting in the early 1900s, newspapers became more middle class and literary. The shift left holes in coverage for entire communities and newspapers did not make much investment in the youngest Americans.

“Those who were unable to navigate where they lived gave it up. The newscasts and newspapers that ignored whole communities also created problems for those it did serve. It left its audiences poorly informed because so much was left out. This made citizens vulnerable to making poor decisions about contemporary trends and about their needs.” (Kovach & Rosenstiel, p. 211)

As news becomes more niche and consumers continue the trend of searching out the news they want to read, or the news they identify with most, ensuring news includes coverage of all demographics will become more challenging.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Ethics: The Struggle that Never Ends

Ethics: the driving force between moral and reality. What seem to be easy concepts at first are not so much once one dives into them and tries to make sense of them. For journalists, we struggle with these concepts in the workplace, out in the field, and even in our own work. Ethics are what we “should” do. We struggle with the ethics of doing what is right when it comes to being assigned to a story and the boss tells us to do something that goes beyond what our own ethics call for. We don’t want to lose a job over it but the question becomes then how would one handle his/herself if the person when through with it?

There is the struggle mentioned in Kovach and Rosenstiel of making stories relevant and engaging without fabricating and sensationalizing the information. Unfortunately, this has become so-called “normal” practice amongst the media today. Where is the ethics in that? Kovach and Rosenstiel mention that “if one feeds people trivia and entertainment, one withers the appetite and expectations of some people for anything else.” This destroys the media’s authority to deliver serious news and drives audience members away. So, where do ethics come in? It comes in when journalists stick to what they have researched and know what it the truth of the story. Merrill mentions the dialectic struggle journalists have when it comes to telling the story and to separate the emotional from the rational so that the audience gets the truth that the journalist wants them to see and hear. In hindsight, journalists should tell the story but keep the news comprehensive in proportion to what is being told.

Why does this sound so easy but it isn’t? One thing that journalists have to keep in mind is for one to continue to be vigilant. Being vigilant means sticking to one’s guns and knows that it is truth that the audience wants, not fluff or trivial stuff. One wants to have a great story but ethically needs to recognize what is right in writing the story and what is wrong in terms of sensationalizing. There are too many examples of that type of media such as "The Daily Show" and "The Colbert Report" that do the sensationalizing for us. Journalists don’t want to struggle and fall into the category of infotainment because that not what they do or work for. They work for their audience and getting the truth they need. The struggle with ethics isn’t going to go away but having a better understanding of what is right and wrong journalistically might make things a little easier.