Digital Journalism Ethics Symposium


Journalism ethics are rooted in humanity, not technology

This month marks the eight year anniversary of “Regret the Error,” which means I’ve been reporting on and writing about ethical issues in journalism for close to a decade.

That anniversary and this week’s Poynter symposium on journalism ethics in the digital age led me to step back and think about the principles that underpin ethical behavior in the profession, and how journalism ethics can and should evolve.

Rather than focusing on the usual concepts of accuracy, transparency and accountability, I found myself thinking more about humility, honesty, fairness, empathy and vulnerability.

Professional ethics are most effective when they flow from human values, emotions and, of course, action. It’s a perhaps obvious point, but one that is easily lost or overlooked at a time when new technologies recurve bows for sale have sparked change and disruption in journalism. Read more


Why ethics and diversity matter: The case of Trayvon Martin coverage

If anyone asks why ethnic, cultural and gender diversity is important in journalism, advocates have a ready answer: Greater diversity equals greater accuracy and fairness.

This belief is based, in part, on bitter experience. From turn-of-the-century lynchings in the American South to the women’s suffrage movement and the civil rights protests in the 1950s and ‘60s, U.S. history is filled with stories journalists got wrong because they excluded the perspectives of anyone who wasn’t a white male.

Coverage was so distorted during the civil rights era, newspapers such as the Tallahassee Democrat in Florida, the Lexington Herald-Leader in Kentucky and the Hattiesburg American in Mississippi all apologized for their misguided work decades after the initial mistakes were made.

Beyond hurt feelings or appearances, a diverse newsroom better reflects the population, which enables fairer, more accurate or incisive reporting. Read more


Video & highlights: Poynter symposium on journalism ethics in the digital age

Poynter convened a symposium in New York Tuesday at the Paley Center for Media, in partnership with craigconnnects, the Web-based initiative created by Craig Newmark. The event — which featured John Paton, Clay Shirky, Eric Deggans, Ann Friedman, Gilad Lotan, Vadim Lavrusik, danah boyd and more — was live streamed; you can now view the videos below. You can also follow the follow-up at #poynterethics, and catch up on the highlights in the Storify below. || Related papers presented: Clay Shirky, “We are indeed less willing to agree on what constitutes truth” | danah boyd: Fear undermines an informed citizenry | Eric Deggans on lessons from the Trayvon Martin coverage | These essays and symposium are part of a book on digital ethics to be published by Poynter and CQ Press. Read more

1 Comment

The ethics of fear and how it undermines an informed citizenry

Fear is a powerful emotion. When people are afraid, they react. It can also be put to use. When people have a vested interest in motivating other people to react, they may try to capture their attention through fear.

Thanks to the Internet, people have more access to more information at their fingertips than ever before in human history. Yet, this creates a new challenge for those who are trying to produce and disseminate information. What has emerged is an “attention economy,” where capturing people’s attention can often be challenging. Organizations that depend on people’s attention – including news media – go to great lengths to seize their focus by any means possible.

In a fast-moving information landscape, fear can sell almost as well as sex. Read more

1 Comment

Shirky: ‘We are indeed less willing to agree on what constitutes truth’

Here’s what the “post-fact” literature has right: the Internet allows us to see what other people actually think. This has turned out to be a huge disappointment. When anyone can say anything they like, we can’t even pretend most of us agree on the truth of most assertions any more.

The post-fact literature is built in part on nostalgia for the world before people like Bigfoot showed up in the public sphere, for the days when Newsweek reflected moderately liberal consensus without also providing a platform for orthographically-challenged wingnuts to rant about the President. People who want those days back tell themselves (and anyone else who will listen) that they don’t want to impose their views on anybody. They just want agreement on the facts.

But what would that look like, an America where there was broad agreement on the facts? Read more