Morning media roundup: Journalism is about trust

Theater, disguised as a media column: You have to read to the end of David Carr‘s column about Mike Daisey and “This American Life.”

>>More Daisey: Craig Silverman on the four important truths about Daisey’s lies. Steve Myers on how Daisey’s changed his monologue since the storm. James Fallows on the importance of getting facts right when writing about Daisey.

• Regarding the last point of that piece, which I’m not giving away by saying it quotes someone interesting saying “journalism is essentially built on trust,” Edward Schumacher-Matos does some thought-provoking ombudspersoning in a column about whether Audie Cornish should have disclosed that the drink’s manufacturer is an NPR sponsor when she drank a bottle of 5-Hour Energy on the air. Schumacher-Matos writes something that makes me want to rethink my own reflexive overdisclosure: “The segment did not need to acknowledge that Living Essentials is a sponsor. Hardly any story on a company that is a sponsor should.” He continues:

My position may sound treasonous for an ombudsman. Aren’t we supposed to be concerned about the slightest appearance of a conflict of interest? Yes, we are. But as a former editor and publisher, I know that some realism is required here. There is no way to totally eliminate the appearance of all conflicts of interest, and sometimes the conflict itself. Any system comes down at some point to trust. You either trust NPR’s reporters and editors to be impartial, or you don’t.


• OUT LIKE A…: Brian Lamb is stepping down as chief executive of C-SPAN at the end of March. Time Warner Cable CEO Glenn Britt calls Lamb’s transition plan “very thoughtful.”

• “Paradoxically, Village Voice began as an alternative newspaper to speak truth to power. It publishes some superb journalism. So it’s sad to see it accept business from pimps in the greediest and most depraved kind of exploitation.” —Nicholas Kristof on the human misery problem of Backpage.com, which is owned by Village Voice Media. (I wrote a piece in 2009 about alt-weeklies benefitting from Craigslist dropping “adult” ads.)

• “We should all hope that neither Britannica nor Wikipedia will ever have to write the other’s obituary.” —L. Gordon Crovitz on whether Encyclopaedia Britannica can make it as an online property.

• Another subscription-required read: Ryan Lizza on Politico’s delightful primary-night telecasts (which I like to listen to on C-SPAN radio).

• Penn State professor Marie Hardin says “journalists often frame Title IX as a loss for men, not a gain for women.”

• Chicago sports blogger Ed Sherman is launching a sports-media siteRobert Feder reports that Jonathan Liss, who designed Jim Romenesko‘s sharp-looking site, will design The Sherman Report.

• In case you missed it, the Project for Excellence in Journalism released its annual State of the Media report. Rick Edmonds foreshadows the 6 trends for newspapers drawn from the numbers. Jeff Sonderman assesses how much work it will be for journalists to keep up with new news consumption patterns. I give the streamlined highlights, including how local TV is growing, along with all audience for media, except in print.

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  • Anonymous

    Ms. Moos:
    For Mr. Beaujon to consider  what Mr. Schumacher-Matos has done simply “thought-provoking ombudsmaning” IS praise. To deem the dismissal of the obligation to divulge financial connections to the subject of a story simply as provoking thought rather than what it is, the erosion of a long-standing right that the public has had in regard to journalism, necessitates an explanation. I would think that the immediate response from and organization which exists in large part to promote journalistic ethics would be ‘Hey, what does this ombudsman think he’s doing to journalism?”. Several people at Poynter have had not problem expressing their outrage regarding Mr. Daisey (who is not even a journalist!).

    I feel the same way about your response. Surprising? Yes. Counter-intuitive? Yes. Thoughtful? In a misplaced way.

    I sense that Mr. Schumacher-Matos, who has an important position at a large media outlet which has long relied on Poynter as an arbiter of ethics, is automatically given respect, even when his actions are as outrageous as this one.

    I have no problem with Poynter covering this. If you wanted to just report it, then just report it as Mr. Schumacher-Matos deciding to not divulge corporate sponsorships even when the story is about that sponsor. If Mr. Beaujon is going to editorialize that such a radical act is simply thought-provoking, then it is incumbent on him to explain himself. Otherwise, he gives Mr. Schumacher-Matos a pass. Similarly with you not knowing what to think, you need to explain why you don’t know what to think.

    Some specific questions:
    Divulging financial connections to the subject of a story has been a long-standing tenet of journalism. Why is it NOT outrageous that Mr. Schumacher-Matos is eschewing it?

    Mr. Schumacher-Matos’ job is to represent the public to NPR. The public complained about the non-dicsclosure of the financial connection. How is Mr. Schumacher-Matos representing the public by doing the opposite of what they want? How is Mr. Schumacher-Matos representing the public by being proactive about pursuing NPR’s interests? How is Mr. Schumacher-Matos representing the public by takimg away a right they have always had?

    How are the interests of journalism served by Mr. Schumacher-Matos’ actions? How is journalism improved? How is Mr Schumacher-Matos helping the public to make more informed decisions by his actions?

    Mr. Schumacher-Matos justifies his actiions with a vague claim that his experience with the realities of journalism necessitate his reversing one of its basic tenets. It is incumbent upon him to itemize what those realities are and how journalism is better served by his actions. I think any discussion that treats the ombudsman’s actions as thoughtful needs to bring these into the discussion.

    I find Mr. Beajuon’s “thought provoking” statement distressing.
    I find your not knowing what to think distressing.
    Unless, of course, you mean. “What the heck is he doing? I don’t knkow WHAT to think!”

  • http://www.poynter.org Poynter

     Thanks for clarifying. I understand your concern now. The “guidelines not rules” approach to ethics has long been our hallmark; it enables journalists to be guided by values in their decision-making, whatever circumstances they face, rather than by externally-imposed dictates. That doesn’t mean we at Poynter have a uniform interpretation of how those guidelines should be applied or whether they were applied fairly. We don’t.

    It’s interesting that Andrew’s description seems “praiseful,” It doesn’t seem that way to me. But then, I’m not sure yet what I think of Schumacher-Matos’ position on this or NPR’s change to the guidelines. I do find it surprising and counter-intuitive and thoughtful — hence worth covering. Just because we cover something doesn’t mean we approve of it (consider plagiarism, for example).

    I appreciate your commitment to these issues and your take on this. Thanks for sharing it.

    Julie

  • Anonymous

     No apologies necessary Ms. Moos. I was just curious.

    I was not that interested in Bob Steele’s other curriculum vitae. Just that someone represented Poynter in NPR’s efforts at their new ethics handbook.

    As you know, I am concerned when principles and ethics of journalism are not followed. It is what I comment most about here and back when I used to comment regularly at NPR. What riles me more is when they are applied selectively.

    I think Poynter has room for improvement on those issues. I think NPR has a HUGE room for improvement on those issues. I was hoping that because Poynter was involved in the development of NPR’s new ethics handbook that it would have more teeth. I suspected that when the “guidelines not rules” meme arose that it would be used to circumvent long-standing and near-universal journalistic principles and ethics.

    Mr. Schumacher-Matos’ imperious rewriting of the disclosure principle makes me feel like it’s worth than I thought. And Mr. Bequjon’s praiseful reference to the issue Mr. Schumacher-Matos’ is doubly troubling to me. In a way, Poynter should be the ombudsman’s ombudsman, not the enabler of the erosion of journalistic principles and ethics.

    So, Poynter helps NPR develop its new handbook.
    Mr. Schumacher-Matos, who is supposed to represent the public to NPR, not only decides that it is not important for the public to know these connections, but manages to effectuate it.
    These can’t be the values Poynter contributed to the handbook.
    Poynter, throuh Mr. Beaujon, apparently thinks what the ombudsman did is OK.
    That bothers me.

    To put it another way, journalism is supposed to help people make informed decisions. The more informed, the better. The NPR ombudsman’s decision to inform people less goes against journalism and against the duties of an ombudsman.That bothers me. Poynter thinks it’s OK.. That bothers me too.

    FYI
    I rely most on the principles developed by the Pew Project for Excellence in Journalism.
    http://www.journalism.org/resources/principles

  • http://www.poynter.org Poynter

    Nate, I apologize. I should have introduced myself. I am indeed affiliated with Poynter, I run Poynter.org. Because you’ve commented on the site so often, I assumed you knew who worked on it, but that was my mistake.

    I am aware that Bob Steele was on the committee to work on the new guidelines. Bob is also the Director of the Janet Prindle Institute for Ethics at DePauw University — his full-time job for the last two years, though he returned to DePauw four years ago.

    Through Bob’s involvement, Poynter’s values were certainly represented in those discussions.

    Now what is it you think it means that Poynter was affiliated with the ethics guidelines and also wrote a post about the fact that they would be revised? I don’t want to misread your implication.

    Thanks,
    Julie Moos, Director of Poynter Online

  • Anonymous

     Dear Julie

    I assume you are affiliated with Poynter.

    I got the information from your own Mallary Jean Tenore

    It is here

    http://www.poynter.org/latest-news/top-stories/164223/npr-introduces-new-ethics-handbook-appoints-standards-and-practices-editor/

    “Vivian Schiller initiated the handbook work shortly before resigning,
    and NPR’s Board of Directors encouraged it. A 14-member committee
    comprised of NPR staffers and journalists from outside the organization
    helped create the handbook. Members included David Cohn of Spot.us;
    Raul Ramirez, executive director of news & public affairs at KQED
    Public Radio; Ashley Messenger, associate general counsel at NPR; and Bob Steele, The Poynter Institute’s Nelson Poynter Scholar for Journalism Values.

    Why are you not aware of this?

  • http://www.poynter.org Poynter

    Nate, In what way did Poynter help NPR draft its new ethics handbook? Please explain. Thanks, Julie

  • Anonymous

    I wondered what it would mean when Poynter helped NPR draft its new ethics handbook and it was touted as a set of guidelines rather than hard-and-fast rules. And why that was brought up at all.

    Now we find out.

  • Anonymous

    Regarding Mr. Beaujon’s admiration of the NPR ombudsman’s position on divulging corporate ties:

    Mr. Schumacher-Matos is condescending to and insults his audience by suggesting that trust is something that people come to the table with (or not). People give their trust (or not) based on the actions of those attempting to gain their trust. In other words, trust has to be earned.

    Making this proclomation (accusation?) allows Mr. Schumacher-Matos to ignore criticism and not worry about having fact-based, truth-based and reality-based journalism play a role. It is an insult to journalism.

    Journalistic principles and ethics are there for a reason: to maintain the integrity of the profession. Mr. Schumacher-Matos’ invocation of his experience and “reality” to justify his eschewing of one of its basic tenets is imperious and turns journalism on its head.

    I would posit that all of Mr. Schumacher-Matos’ experience has taught him very little about the work of journalism and a lot about pleasing those in power. Having experience does not give anyone any additional rights. It creates an obligation to uphold the integrity of the profession and not prostitute it.

    As I said numerous times in comments to the piece by the ombudsman, all people are asking for is appending “, and NPR sponsor” to mentioning of a corporate sponsor on air. Mr. Schumacher-Matos claims that this is an “impossible standard”.

    And all of this is separate from the airing of what amounts to a promotional piece for the product, which is defended by Mr. Schumacher-Matos and others from NPR. I cover the evidence against the excuses in other comments there.

  • http://twitter.com/HotCornerBlues Gary

    OK, I don’t trust National Pravda Radio.