Updates on ethical decision-making in newsrooms big and small, written by Poynter’s Kelly McBride, Bob Steele and colleagues.

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BuzzFeed reporter’s use of tweets stirs controversy

BuzzFeed’s Jessica Testa noticed a unique thread on her Twitter timeline Wednesday. Twitter user @steenfox asked her followers who were rape survivors to share what they were wearing when they were attacked. The results were rather spectacular. Some were in college when they were assaulted. Others were children. The precise details of their memories – pink pajamas, or peep-toe flats – provided a window into the insidious nature of rape.

Seeing an opportunity to tell an interesting story, Testa asked some of those same Twitter users for their permission to aggregate the tweets, then organized them by themes, drawing out the trends, adding her observations and sprinkling in some statistics about sexual assault. The result was this BuzzFeed news item that went up Wednesday evening.

It was an effective device to counter many of the myths about rape. Read more

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Wednesday, Mar. 05, 2014

Joe Paterno, Mike McQueary, Matt McGloin

ESPN reports Mike McQueary was sexually assaulted, but says little else

In this photo taken Sept. 24, 2011, then-Penn State head football coach Joe Paterno, left, talks with quarterback Matt McGloin (11) as assistant coach Mike McQueary listens on the sidelines during an NCAA college football game against Eastern Michigan in State College, Pa. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

Editor’s note: This column was revised and updated to include ESPN The Magazine Editor Chad Millman’s response to our emailed questions about the process behind the story.

ESPN The Magazine just published a long read about Mike McQueary, the man who witnessed Jerry Sandusky sexually assaulting a child in the Penn State locker room. The man who cost Joe Paterno his job and his legacy.

The story appears under the headline “The Whistleblower’s Last Stand” and describes widespread distrust of the former assistant coach and a life diminished since Sandusky’s indictment in the fall of 2011. But all anyone is talking about is this line near the top of the story:

“Finally, McQueary confided in his players something he hoped would make them understand how he’d reacted at the time. Read more

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Tuesday, Mar. 04, 2014

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Outed Duke student presents lesson in crowd behavior

There’s been a relatively slow burn on the story of a female Duke University freshman outed as a porn star by a frat boy during rush.

The rumor first circulated through Duke’s campus in late January, after a frat boy discovered one of his classmates in a porn video, promised to keep her secret and then outed her during a rush party. On Valentine’s Day, the student newspaper published a smart, in-depth story on the woman, including lengthy answers to an interviewer’s questions. The paper used a pseudonym, Lauren, to identify her.

In the ensuing two weeks, anonymous participants on sites like CollegiateACB  revealed the woman’s name, her hometown, her dad’s profession and his work telephone number. Read more

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Friday, Feb. 28, 2014

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Poynter at SXSW: Algorithms, Journalism and Democracy

Editor’s Note: Poynter will be at South by Southwest, the annual music, movie and interactive festival, March 7-16, in Austin, Texas. Look for our Poynter faculty members, Roy Peter Clark, Ellyn Angelotti and Kelly McBride, and digital media reporter Sam Kirkland. Here is the third in a series of posts on what we’ll be doing at SXSW.

Algorithms control the marketplace of ideas. They grant power to certain information as it flies through the digital space and take power away from other information. Algorithms control who sees what on social-media sites such as Facebook and YouTube, through search engines such as Google and Bing, and even in defined news spaces such as The New York Times, with its lists of most-shared and most-commented features, and Yahoo News.

Just ask some poor guy who’s tried to get his old DUI photo removed from a scurrilous mug-shot site. Having your old mug shot out there in the ether isn’t so bad, except when it turns up on the first page of a Google search for your name. Read more

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Friday, Feb. 14, 2014

Crime scene

Hyperbolic to sensitive, how news outlets treated dramatic car crash video

The 55-second cell-phone video of an SUV going the wrong way on the Interstate, smashing into a sedan and exploding into a fiery ball that killed five people quickly sky-rocketed to one of the most viewed videos ever on the Tampa Bay Times’ website. It’s also a case study to examine how different newsrooms treat difficult content.

The Tampa Bay Times, which Poynter owns, ran the whole video, unedited, along with the sound. The Tampa Tribune ran the video without the sound. WTSP and WFLA used small portions of the video in a package, but then stopped using it, as did Fox 13. ABC Action News used a tight clip of the video in two packages. Bay News 9 ran the video but truncated it before the crash. Read more

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Tuesday, Feb. 04, 2014

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Five questions answered about reporting on your local confession site

Confessions sites are popping up in teen communities all over the country. There is a Twitter feed called yococonfessions, targeting the community of York County, Pa. A post about a weapon on the Facebook page, Amherst Regional High School Confessions, closed the high school for a day.

Sometimes confessions sites disrupt schools, making it likely that local reporters will pay attention. Here are five questions to consider when writing about confession sites: Read more

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Friday, Dec. 13, 2013

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Newtown’s media blackout forces journalists to do their jobs

The one-year anniversary of a tragic event is a significant moment. But for journalists, such moments too often become opportunities for emotional exploitation rather than real journalism.

The citizens of Newtown, Conn., and the families of the Sandy Hook Elementary School victims have drawn a hard boundary around their homes. No media, they’ve said to the outside world. Don’t talk to the media, they’ve said to the 28,000 people who live in the community.

In doing so, they’ve deprived newsrooms of the easy visuals and rote storytelling that have sometimes substituted for meaningful journalism. And that’s good: It forces journalists to do the hard work they should be doing on the first anniversary of the mass shooting that killed 20 first-graders and six adults.

In a way, it’s a gift to the audience everywhere that Newtown is spurning public events. Without requisite sights and sounds such as flickering candles, tolling bells, and names read aloud, journalists have to do something other than tap into the grief and rehash the horror of that day. Read more

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Wednesday, Nov. 27, 2013

Correspondent Lara Logan of "60 Minutes" is on a leave of absence following an internal review by CBS News of her story on the Benghazi embassy attack. (AP Photo/Robert Spencer)

CBS memos suggest Logan had bias, but don’t say why no one addressed it

The CBS memos from Jeff Fager, chairman of CBS News, and Al Ortiz, executive director of standards and practices, suggest that correspondent Lara Logan had a preconceived bias that prevented her from fully vetting her source before airing his story about the attack on the Benghazi embassy compound that killed U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans.

But the leaked memos don’t explain why Logan’s superiors allowed her to pursue the story in the first place and why others at CBS didn’t compensate for her potential blind spots.

CBS announced the unspecified leave of absence for Logan and her producer Max McClellan. The Huffington Post ran memos from both Fager and Ortiz. Ortiz offered a summary of CBS’ findings that included these points:

  • It was possible to know that Dylan Davies’ account to the FBI was inconsistent with what he told CBS.
  • Logan and McClellan did not try to tap into the wider resources at CBS to get at the FBI information.
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Thursday, Nov. 14, 2013

The gloves come off as journalists increasingly fact-check other journalists. (Depositphotos)

‘Gloves come off’ as journalists debunk each other’s Obamacare horror stories

When Los Angeles Times columnist Michael Hiltzik saw Deborah Cavallaro tell her story on television, something about it didn’t add up.

Cavallaro is a real-estate agent and investor in Westchester, Calif. She’s also become a minor media celebrity in the past few weeks, repeatedly sharing her story of how the Affordable Care Act will raise her medical costs. Since October 23, Cavallaro has been interviewed on the NBC Nightly News, CNBC, the public radio show “Marketplace,” two local Los Angeles TV newscasts, and in Hiltzik’s own newspaper.

As all the news reports have noted, Cavallaro’s insurer informed her that it’s canceling her policy and instead offering a new plan with a higher premium. “Her only option is to be forced into a policy she doesn’t want and can’t afford,” reported KCBS-TV. “For the first time in my whole life, I will be without insurance,” she lamented on KNBC-TV. Read more

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Tuesday, Oct. 29, 2013

Poynter has launched a new site on emerging ethics issues facing journalists.

New ethics site offers resources for journalists

Finding your way ethically in an age of unverified tweets and anonymous comments can be a treacherous journey for reporters and editors, but it doesn’t have to be a lonely one: Help is available with the launch of Poynter’s ethics site, Truth and Trust in Media.

The new site offers reporters and editors a place to track developments in media ethics and get guidance from journalism-ethics experts, and invites both readers and journalists to be part of an evolving discussion about ethical decision-making.

“Going forward, we won’t have a one-size-fits-all ethics code,” said Kelly McBride, Poynter senior faculty member. “We probably won’t be able to define exactly who is a journalist. But we will be able to judge the production of news and information as journalistic, or not journalistic, based on the principles of truth, transparency and community.”

The site features McBride’s The Ethics Blog, including material from the new book “The New Ethics of Journalism,” co-edited by McBride and Tom Rosenstiel, American Press Institute executive director. Read more

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