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

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


Friday, Oct. 25, 2013


Bullying is not on the rise and it does not lead to suicide

Every other month or so a story about a child bullied until he or she commits suicide rises into our national consciousness.

This month it’s Rebecca Sedwick from Lakeland, Fla.

Before that it was Gabrielle Molina of Queens. And before that it Asher Brown.

All suicides are tragic and complicated. And teen suicides are particularly devastating because as adults we recognize all that lost potential.

Yet, in perpetuating these stories, which are often little more than emotional linkbait, journalists are complicit in a gross oversimplification of a complicated phenomenon. In short, we’re getting the facts wrong.

The common narrative goes like this: Mean kids, usually the most popular and powerful, single out and relentlessly bully a socially weaker classmate in a systemic and calculated way, which then drives the victim into a darkness where he or she sees no alternative other than committing suicide.

And yet experts – those who study suicide, teen behavior and the dynamics of cyber interactions of teens – all say that the facts are rarely that simple. Read more


Thursday, Oct. 17, 2013


After Jayson Blair, journalists seek a better way forward

The public’s trust in journalists had been steadily slipping even before New York Times reporter Jayson Blair’s unveiling as a plagiarist in 2003. While some of that trust has been recovered, journalists still face a wary audience.

At the Online News Association convention in Atlanta on Thursday, a room of journalists and educators brainstormed ideas to rebuild reader confidence and reinvent story-checking to minimize if not prevent other episodes of journalism deception.

Grant, producer of a documentary on the Jayson Blair case, leads a discussion on solving the ethics issues faced by journalists.

A sneak peek of Samantha Grant’s documentary, “A FRAGILE TRUST: Plagiarism, Power and Jayson Blair at The New York Times,” scheduled to air on PBS in spring, set the stage for the discussion.

In the documentary, Blair recalls the events that led to his undoing, beginning with his copying from a story in the San Antonio Express-News.

“I lied and I lied and I lied,” Blair said. Read more

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Wednesday, Oct. 02, 2013

Don’t call it an impasse, stalemate, or standoff

Don’t call it an impasse, or a stalemate, or a standoff.

Yes, it’s a shutdown. But accurately describing how our government arrived at this point requires more than one word.

To suggest that this current government shutdown is an example of Republicans and Democrats simply unable to reconcile their differences is to ignore the facts of how budget appropriation bills are passed.

Dan Froomkin points this out in an opinion piece for Al Jazeera. James Fallows calls it out in The Atlantic. And Greg Mitchell screams about it in the The Nation.

Bill Adair, the Knight Professor at Duke University and the founder of PolitiFact, told me Wednesday during a phone call that if he were editing reporters, he would insist they use more words to describe exactly what happened, rather than allowing them to reduce the government shutdown to a deadlock, a political stare-down, or gridlock, all of which imply mutual responsibility. Read more


Friday, Sep. 20, 2013


‘Journalism has to stop mimicking what’s happening on the Internet’

The ninth annual Kent State Ethics Workshop, held Thursday, looked at how journalism ethics play out in entertainment stories. The workshop addressed some important topics:

  • Privacy vs. adoration
  • Access to celebrities
  • How to get a job in entertainment media
  • Stalking and paparazzi
  • Dealing with publicity and press agents

Here’s a Storify we put together with highlights from the event, which we both spoke at:


Tuesday, Sep. 17, 2013

Mallory Hagan, Nina Davuluri, Crystal Lee

How the entertainment cycle brings out the best & worst journalism

First something crazy happens. It could be DeAndre Jordan making a big dunk, or Miley Cyrus twerking. On Sunday, it was the first Indian-American woman winning the Miss America pageant.

Second, the Internet reacts. We say this as if we are all in on the joke — the Internet isn’t really a thing that can react; it’s all the people who are on the Internet who are reacting. But actually the Internet can become this uncontrollable beast, because there are too many people creating content on it to take in what they say in any kind of controlled way. So in a way it’s accurate when we say the Internet reacts.

The third step is when the journalists tell us what the people on the Internet are doing. It was about an hour after Nina Davuluri was crowned Miss America that BuzzFeed posted a list of a couple dozen tweets under the headline that “A Lot Of People Are Very Upset That An Indian-American Woman Won The Miss America Pageant.”

This creates that proverbial echo chamber. Read more


Wednesday, Aug. 28, 2013


What the ESPN/Frontline breakup teaches us about investigative reporting

As we put the pieces together in this week’s ESPN/Frontline breakup, we’ve learned something about investigative journalism: it’s incredibly difficult for a news organization to hold its own partners accountable.

That may have been obvious. But for the 18 months I was the lead writer on the Poynter Review Project, which served as ESPN’s ombudsman, the brass in Bristol, Conn., insisted ESPN could do both.

We don’t surprise our partners, ESPN executives told me. But they always added that not surprising partners wasn’t the same as not investigating them, as ESPN and Frontline were doing with the NFL. And indeed, ESPN has amassed a remarkable body of work on the subject at hand, the long-term effects of concussions on professional football players.

But investigative reporting is more than just acknowledging harsh realities. Investigative journalists take a stand.

ESPN reporters Steve Fainaru and Mark Fainaru-Wada, along with journalists at PBS’  Frontline, seem to clearly have formed the opinion that the NFL was negligent in its response to the concussion problem. Read more


Thursday, Aug. 22, 2013


5 ways to measure success at Al Jazeera America

Al Jazeera America debuted this week and everyone seems to agree it is a legitimate news organization with the funding and the foundations to do good journalism.

The big question now is who will watch and why. Judging by Al Jazeera America’s promotional marketing (sponsorship on NPR, full-page ads in The New Yorker and The Washington Post), it is shooting for a certain demographic: highly educated, middle class, engaged in public policy.

It seems to have the most diverse staff of any national television network and a sincere dedication to covering serious and significant news stories. And with 850 to 900 journalists, according to the BBC, it has enough resources to hit the ground running.

So what will success look like? There are several different ways to track the new network’s growth and traction.


The easiest measure is ratings, which are likely to remain small. Al Jazeera America shows up in fewer than 50 million American households, compared with 100 million for the other cable channels. Read more

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Thursday, Aug. 15, 2013

NPR Headquarters

NPR ombud’s latest report raises important questions, but it’s not without flaws

The modern ombudsman has been a prominent fixture in several of the largest American newsrooms since The New York Times instituted its public editor in the wake of the Jayson Blair debacle a decade ago.

While the position itself has been controversial among journalism leaders, newsrooms that contract with an ombudsman signal to their audience that they take their work seriously enough to open themselves up to independent critique.

Every ombudsman worth his (or her, but most of them have been men) tenure produces a few particularly noteworthy reports or analyses during his tenure.

In 2004, Daniel Okrent took a look at The New York Times’ failure on weapons of mass destruction and did a very smart examination of whether The New York Times was liberal. Then Arthur S. Brisbane riled up readers as well as Times brass last year when he asked whether the Times should be a “truth vigilante.”

ESPN’s Don Ohlmeyer’s received a particular gift from the network in the form of “The Decision”  — LeBron James’ notorious announcement that he was leaving Cleveland for Miami. Read more

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Thursday, July 25, 2013

Community support officer

Small paper’s ongoing investigation into local police leads to suspensions, resignations

The Lakeland (Fla.) Ledger has delivered almost daily installments this summer of a story of law enforcement dysfunction that seems more like a script for Reno 911 than a scandal plaguing a modern-day police department.

Five officers have resigned or been fired, others have been reassigned or suspended pending further investigation, and up to 20 people, current officers, former officers and city employees have been implicated. Five prominent citizens resigned from an advisory council before the first meeting.

City commissioners are struggling to isolate themselves from political fallout. And investigators have exposed a culture of sexual harassment and permissiveness, which includes documentation of police officers and staff members having sex in city offices, police cars, city parks and abandoned property.

About 200 people packed a town hall meeting this week, where most participants voiced support for the embattled police chief. A small number criticized the paper for being sensational, but at least one citizen defended The Ledger. Read more