Articles about "Ethics"

Rainbow Room Reopening

N.Y. publishers mull more layoffs

mediawiremorningGood morning. Here are 10 media stories.

  1. More layoffs may come at New York publishers: “Industry executives are spending the month of October in closed-door meetings as they look for ways to tighten their belts even more.” (WWD) | Related: Time Inc. management “wants the ability to send 160 editorial jobs overseas,” Newspaper Guild of New York President Bill O’Meara says. (Capital) | Meta related: New owner Jay Penske‘s plan for WWD. (Capital) | Related sad trombone: “The joy we get from throwing magazines away seems like a bad sign for their future,” Laura Hazard Owen writes. (Gigaom)
  2. NBC News crew quarantined: They worked with freelance cameraman Ashoka Mukpo in Liberia and “Officials said the order was issued late Friday after the crew members violated an agreement to voluntarily confine themselves.” No one’s shown any signs of the disease. (Reuters) | “With the Ebola virus, you never relax completely, but we think [Mukpo] has made great progress,” a doctor at the Omaha hospital where he’s being treated said. (Mashable)
  3. Keith Olbermann notifies his bosses about his commentaries: Olbermann gives ESPN execs in Bristol “as much as six hours notice,” he tells Richard Deitsch. “The key people all get the A Block [opening] commentary and the Worst Persons. So the scripts are sitting with them for a couple of hours.” (SI)
  4. NYT kills chess column: Dylan Loeb McClain‘s Oct. 11 column ends with an abrupt note: “This is the final chess column to run in The New York Times.” (NYT) | “Few will mourn, even as a symbolic loss.” (@Kasparov63) | “A chess column has appeared in the NYT since… 1855.” (@DVNJr) | The bridge column is still breathing, Michael Roston notes. (@michaelroston)
  5. Why David Remnick isn’t on Twitter: “I don’t have a Twitter account, [but] not because I’m a dinosaur about it,” the New Yorker EIC tells Alexandra Steigrad. “I have enough of a platform here. People in my position who do it tend to use it in a promotional way or in a hamstrung way. I look at Twitter all the time as a news tool or for cultural conversation. I’ve used it in my reporting. It’s very useful.” (WWD)
  6. Peter Parker’s poor journalism ethics: “That’s exactly how Peter Parker paid the bills in the early Spider-Man comics, taking posed pictures of Spider-Man that no one else could get, then selling them to J. Jonah Jameson, the Daily Bugle’s editor-in-chief.” (Salon) | Related: 5 bad journalism lessons from Superman comics (Poynter)
  7. “The network just doesn’t surprise you”: Bill Carter looks at why MSNBC’s ratings “hit one of the deepest skids in its history, with the recently completed third quarter of 2014 generating some record lows.” (NYT)
  8. YouTube builds a “teaching hospital”: At its new production space in Manhattan, members of the company’s partner program “are given access to better cameras, production spaces and editing facilities as classes train them not just in shooting video, but also in makeup, design and anything else that might make programming pop online.” (NYT)
  9. Front page of the day, curated by Kristen Hare: Chicago’s RedEye fronts a very nicely framed image from this weekend’s St. Louis protests. (Courtesy the Newseum.)


  10. Job moves, edited by Benjamin Mullin: David Cohn is now executive producer at AJ+. Previously, he was chief content officer at Circa. (Dave Cohn) | Lenika Cruz has been named associate editor at The Atlantic. Previously, she was a contributing editor at Circa. Grace White will be a reporter at CBS Houston. Previously, she was a reporter and anchor at Fox 29 San Antonio. (Muck Rack) | Rick Daniels has been named publisher at The Hartford (Connecticut) Courant. Previously, he was chief operating officer of GoLocal24. Nancy Meyer has been named publisher and CEO of Orlando Sentinel Media Group. Previously, she was publisher of the Courant. (Poynter) | Dana Hahn has been named news director for KTVU in San Francisco. Previously, she was news director for WTTG in Washington, D.C. Sara Suarez has been named news director for WFDC in Washington, D.C. Previously, she was news director for WUNI in Boston. Matt King has been named news director for WCNC in Charlotte, North Carolina. Previously, he was assistant news director at WXIA in Atlanta. Jeff Mulligan has been named news director for WMBD/WYZZ in Peoria, Illinois. Previously, he was assistant news director for WISH in Indianapolis. Lee Rosenthal has been named news director at WFXT in Boston. Previously, he was news director at KTVU. Rick Moll has been named news director at WSLS in Roanoke, Virginia. Previously, he was news director for WMBD/WYZZ in Peoria, Illinois. Brian Nemitz has been named assistant news director at WLOS in Asheville, North Carolina. Previously, he was a nightside executive producer at WTVJ in Miami. Martha Jennings has been named assistant news director at WBIR in Knoxville, Tennessee. Previously, she was nightside executive producer at WFLA in Tampa, Florida. Troy Conhain has been named nightside executive producer at KOLD in Tucson, Arizona. Previously, he was morning executive producer at KPHO in Phoenix, Arizona. (Rick Gevers) | Job of the day The Hill is looking for a campaign reporter. Get your résumés in! (Journalism Jobs) | Send Ben your job moves:

Suggestions? Criticisms? Would like me to send you this roundup each morning? Please email me:

Programming note: I’m going to be off for most of this week and will be at the Creative Belfast conference on Thursday. Sam Kirkland will leave a roundup under your pillow while I’m gone. Read more


SPJ Approves New Code of Ethics

The Society of Professional Journalists approved a new Code of Ethics at the Excellence in Journalism 2014 convention in Nashville Saturday afternoon.

SPJ’s code of ethics attempts to speak to all media, and all who consider themselves to be journalists:

Members of the Society of Professional Journalists believe that democracy, a just society and good government require an informed public. Ethical journalism strives to ensure the free exchange of information that is accurate, fair and thorough. An ethical journalist acts with integrity.

The Society declares these four principles as the foundation of ethical journalism and encourages their use in its practice by all people in all media.

The newly approved code attempts to address using anonymous sources in stories:

Identify sources clearly. The public is entitled to as much information as possible to judge the reliability and motivations of sources.

Question sources’ motives before promising anonymity, reserving it for those who may face danger, retribution or other harm. Do not grant anonymity merely as license to criticize. Pursue alternative sources before granting anonymity. Explain why anonymity was granted.

Some members wanted the new code to urge journalists to directly link to sources they reference online, the committee rejected that idea, saying it was a good idea to link to original sources but it was not imperative in every circumstance.  The new code says:

Identify sources clearly. The public is entitled to as much information as possible to judge the reliability and motivations of sources.

Provide access to source material when it is relevant and appropriate.

The new code takes a harder line against paying for interviews compared the the previous code. The previous code said, journalists should “avoid bidding for news.”  The new code say s”do not pay for access to news. Identify content provided by outside sources, whether paid or not.” 

The new code also takes a dim view of undercover tactics:

Avoid undercover or other surreptitious methods of gathering information unless traditional, open methods will not yield information vital to the public.

The proposed new code also said, “Be cautious about reporting suicides that do not involve a public person or a public place,” but late Friday, committee members removed that line and would write an expanded guideline for journalists urging them to be careful when reporting on suicides but to not ignore such a significant issue. SPJ has already produced “position papers” on a number of other ethics issues.

I asked SPJ Ethics Chairman Kevin Smith if he thinks ethics codes even matter anymore.

After the vote Saturday, Smith said, “This was a long and arduous process that took a lot of thought and deliberation.”  Smith said he was “proud of the people who worked on this new code and proud of SPJ for accepting it.”

At the same convention that SPJ adopted its new code of ethics, the Radio and Television Digital News Association unveiled its proposed new code of ethics. Ethics committee chairman Scott Libin says the new code is RTNDA’s first ethics code update since 2000. The proposed code, which will likely be voted on in 2015. Here are some of the passages:

  • The facts should get in the way of a good story.  Journalism requires more than merely reporting remarks, claims or comments.  Journalism verifies, provides relevant context, tells the rest of the story and acknowledges the absence of important additional information.  Many things that are technically “true” are incomplete, out of context or otherwise misleading.  Journalism’s standard of accuracy is higher than that.

  • There are not two sides to every story; for every story of significance, there are more than two sides.  While they may not all fit into every account, responsible reporting is clear about what it omits, as well as what it includes.

  • Scarce resources, deadline pressure and cutthroat competition do not excuse cutting corners factually or oversimplifying complex issues.  “Trending,” “going viral” or “exploding on social media” may increase urgency, but these phenomena only heighten the need for strict standards of accuracy.

  • Facts change over time.  Responsible reporting includes updating stories and amending archival versions to make them more accurate and to avoid misinforming those who, through search, stumble upon outdated material.

Libin explained to what the committee was aiming for:

The SPJ and RTDNA codes are similar, both focusing on accuracy, accountability and independence. I asked Libin if he foresees a day when all of the organizations could come together with one unified code that all people practicing journalism in all forms could follow.

The RTDNA proposed code includes language that both encourages journalists to tackle unpopular, even controversial topics, while encouraging journalists to be sensitive, not just in how they report, but how they gather the story:

  • Responsible reporting means considering the consequences of both the newsgathering – even if the information is never made public – and of the material’s potential dissemination.  Certain stakeholders deserve special consideration; these include children, victims, vulnerable adults and others inexperienced with American media.

  • Preserving privacy and protecting the right to a free trial are not the primary mission of journalism; still, these critical concerns deserve consideration and to be balanced against the importance or urgency of reporting.

  • The right to broadcast, publish or otherwise share information does not mean it is always right to do so.  However, journalism’s obligation is to pursue truth and report, not withhold it.  Shying away from difficult cases is not necessarily more ethical than taking on the challenge of reporting them. Leaving tough or sensitive stories to the rumor mill, the blogosphere and social media can be a disservice to the public.

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covering an event with a video camera

What breaking news reveals about your newsroom culture

Here’s what a lifetime in journalism has taught me: Breaking news reveals the true character of a newsroom’s culture and quality.

Spot news success happens in cultures with specific systems, skills, values, mindsets – and leadership.

In the healthiest cultures, when news breaks, here’s what staffers can count on:

  • We have a plan. We don’t have to scramble to figure out how to respond each time a big story breaks. Everyone on our team has an understanding of the key roles that need to be filled – both in the field and at the mother ship. We automatically call in and report for duty. We adapt the basic plan by situation and story, and we’re never caught flat-footed.
  • It doesn’t matter if our boss is on vacation. Deputies and team members are capable of making tough decisions and deploying resources because our leader routinely shares information and power. (No one has to say, “What would the boss do?” We know what WE should do.) We know who’s in charge and we know we’re all responsible.
  • Our hardware and software won’t be our weak link. Our organization invests in the necessary gear and the preventive maintenance to keep it ready for heavy duty use at any time. We have backup provisions for power, technology and tools.
  • Our communication works. Okay, it never works perfectly, but we have phone trees, updated contact lists for email, social media and phone access, bridge lines for conference calls, protocols for briefings, and computer files for shared information and resources as the story continues. We minimize ignorance, confusion and duplication.
  • We’re cross-trained and talent-deep. We’re not in a hole because a key player or craftsperson isn’t available. Even our bench is brilliant — and can step in with confidence and competence. We can cover all the bases.
  • We have an investigative and analytical mindset. We assume that everyone will cover the “what.” We’ll get that — and automatically dig into the “why?,” “what the hell?,” “what’s the bigger picture?,” and “what next?” That’s not the exclusive role of people with “investigative” in their titles; it’s expected of all of us on the team.
  • We play on all possible platforms. We understand that people expect the news to come to them, wherever they are, however they prefer to consume it. We do our best to deliver — with quality.
  • The whole building knows the drill. When breaking news demands all hands on deck, people from other departments (from sales to sports to marketing to maintenance) take the default position: “How can I help?” We gratefully tap their talent and plug them into our plans.
  • We know what we stand for. We know that breaking news is fraught with land mines. We know how to navigate them. Because we talk about values in our everyday coverage, the stress of spot news won’t make us stupid.
  • We take care of each other. Our leaders focus on the needs of the next shift, the next day, the next week. They don’t let staffers run on empty, and don’t hesitate to encourage (even order, if need be) exhausted or traumatized teammates to stand down or accept help.
  • We never forget we’re covering human beings, not statistics; featuring their stories, not our selfies; chasing truth, not thrills. We’re documenting history.

And when the story becomes history, we think about how to do things better next time.




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If you must unpublish, here’s how to maintain credibility


Gawker notes that BuzzFeed has unpublished more than 4,000 articles recently, disappearing posts on the 8-year-old company’s website. Editors at news websites usually take articles down with great reluctance, because doing so undermines public confidence in your newsroom’s work. Why would anyone trust what you say today if you routinely take down pages that you can no longer stand behind?

RELATED: Fairness and credibility guidelines for unpublishing online content

Still, there are rare occasions when taking down a post is the best option. Here are some best practices:

  • Keep a blank page up, rather than making the entire URL disappear or redirecting to a homepage without note.
  • Leave the tags and searchable information, so folks can find what’s left behind and know for certain the information is no longer valid.
  • On that blank page, insert a precisely worded explanation from editors describing why the material had to be removed. Was it entirely untrue? Inappropriately attributed? Obscene? Telling people why allows the audience to discern your editorial standards.
  • If the item was inaccurate, do your best to redirect the audience to accurate information.
  • If the item was accurate, yet inappropriately harmful to an individual, (this happens to college news sites all the time) explain what your news organization’s threshold is for making such a decision.
  • Direct readers to an online copy of your code of ethics or editorial standards.
  • Remove entire articles only as a last resort. If it can be fixed or attributed, you owe your audience that first.

I stop short of telling editors they should never unpublish information. Taking articles down is a rare phenomenon among trustworthy institutions, and it should be executed in the full light of day.  If you have editorial standards for publishing information, you might as well have standards that guide you through the decision to take it down. Read more

Two students comfort each other during a candlelight vigil held to honor the victims of Friday night's mass shooting on Saturday, May 24, 2014, in Isla Vista, Calif. Sheriff's officials say Elliot Rodger, 22, went on a rampage near the University of California, Santa Barbara, stabbing three people to death at his apartment before shooting and killing three more in a crime spree through a nearby neighborhood. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

The right way to publish a killer’s deranged manifesto

There’s a democratic value to publishing and referencing Elliot Rodger’s manifesto. The 22-year-old mass murderer left us a 141-page window into his deranged thinking.

But don’t just publish it, add context. Perhaps the most valuable thing journalists can do would be to get psychiatrists and psychologists to annotate the document. (Though perhaps you wouldn’t want to annotate it like this.)

Art Caplan, head of the bioethics division at NYU’s Langone Medical Center, advocates the same approach when considering the publication of medical research produced by Nazi doctors. By explaining the flaws behind information, we contribute to an improving body of knowledge while neutralizing the potential of perpetuating harm.

“Make it clear this is the raving of a devious and delusional mind,” Caplan said of Rodger’s manifesto. “Help us understand what compels someone to be so hateful and mysogonistic.”

Also, help the audience see what hate and misogyny really look like. You can do that the way the New York Post did, by labeling the killer’s ravings as those of a lunatic. Or you can point out the many places misogynists turn to reinforce their hate, the way the Soraya Nadia McDonald did for The Washington Post in this piece.

Journalists who repeat the names of childhood acquaintances that Rodger faulted for his personal misery have a particular responsibility to counteract that blame in their reporting.

When we leave out the additional context that would condemn Rodger’s logic, we run the risk of legitimizing his rationale. It seems ludicrous, until you consider the fact that misogyny is the root of many crimes.

Journalists asked similar questions when The Washington Post and The New York Times, at the request of the FBI, published the Unabomber’s manifesto in 1995, hoping that someone might be able to identify him (which worked.) That 35,000-word screed against technology, equality, and progressive causes remains available today. Read more


‘We spoke from the heart’: how a former journalist influenced coverage of his family members’ killings

Will Corporon left broadcast journalism nearly 20 years ago. Though he loved news, he felt compelled to make a career change. The 24/7 demands of TV kept him away from his family far too much, and he gravitated to insurance and financial services.

On April 13, when his father and nephew were killed outside the Jewish Community Center of Greater Kansas City, his news instincts kicked back in.

But not at first.

There was too much else to deal with: The what-the-hellish shock of a phone call from his brother-in-law Len Losen, as Will, wife Heather and five of their blended family’s children had arrived in Tulsa for daughter Alli’s cheerleading competition. The maddeningly incomplete early information — that the beloved man who his family called “Popeye” and his community knew as Dr. William Lewis Corporon — had been shot, but nothing further. The second call from Will’s mother Melinda, 20 minutes or so later, telling him his father was dead and no one at that moment knew the status of Will’s 14-year-old nephew Reat Underwood, who had also been shot and was rushed away by ambulance.

Will and Heather moved quickly, leaving their older children in Tulsa with Heather’s mom, grabbing toddler Olivia and heading out, first for their home in Northwest Arkansas to make arrangements for the children’s needs in the uncertain week ahead. En route, the next assault of sorrow: In a call that Will describes as “sad but sad times a thousand,” they learned that Reat, too, was gone.

A recent picture of Dr. William Lewis Corporon and his grandson Reat Griffin Underwood. Both were shot and killed April 13. (Will Corporon photo)

Heather Corporon’s training as a nurse led her to take charge in her own way, packing, organizing, comforting — and driving, often with one hand on the wheel and the other holding Will’s.

On that three-hour slog from their Arkansas home to what he describes as “a big pile of human suffering” in Kansas City, Will Corporon realized he had a job to do, and called on skills he’d honed in the 10 years he spent as a TV photographer, producer, assignment editor and news director. The killings of his kin had become a national, even international, story and he would make certain it was told right.

Will’s family told him the Overland Park Hospital’s public relations department was working on a news release and wanted him to review it. The draft contained no victim identifications and few details, an earnest effort by the hospital to give the family time to share the news with their closest circle first.

But from the passenger seat of a Ford Expedition, with little Olivia watching Barney videos in back, Will took a different tack and began coordinating his family’s coverage — his way.  With their approval, he rewrote the release and filled it with details that mattered most to the family:

It is with deep sadness that we confirm the tragic loss of Dr. William Lewis Corporon and Reat Griffin Underwood (Losen) who died as a result of the injuries they sustained in today’s shooting at the Jewish Community Center.  Dr. Corporon was Reat’s Grandfather, whom he loved very much.

Dr. Corporon leaves behind his wife of 49 years and a loving and devoted family and extended family.  Dr. Corporon practiced family medicine in Marlow and Duncan,  Oklahoma from 1976 through 2003, when he and his wife moved to the Kansas City area to be closer to their grandchildren.  He was a well-loved physician in the Johnson County community,  cherished his family and more than anything had a passion for caring for others.

Reat was a 14 year-old Freshman at Blue Valley High School – a school he loved.   Reat participated in debate, theatre and had a beautiful voice.  Reat had a passion for life, and touched so many people in his young age.  Reat was an Eagle Scout and loved spending time camping and hunting with his Grandfather, Father, and brother.  Both Reat and Dr. Corporon were very proud supporters of the University of Oklahoma and it’s sports teams.

We would like to thank our friends, family and our church, the United Methodist Church of the Resurrection, and school community for the outpouring of love and support during this very difficult time.  We take comfort knowing they are together in Heaven.

We ask for privacy as we mourn the loss of our beloved Dr. Corporon and Reat.

Thank you very much,
Will Corporon, Son and Uncle

At the same time, he dispatched his mother, brother and sister to find the best possible photos of Popeye and Reat, preferably together, and email them to him. On his iPad, he began editing and distributing those photos to the many news outlets whose email requests had been forwarded to him by the hospital PR staff. According to Will, “Within minutes those beautiful photos of my dad and his beloved grandson were being shown on every channel in the country and around the world. It happened that fast.”

Will and his sister Mindy, Reat’s mother, took the same proactive approach to speaking to the media. When I saw coverage of him addressing reporters, I realized that this man was the same Will Corporon I’d met in a Poynter seminar in the early ’90s, when he was news director of KAIT-TV in Jonesboro, Arkansas.

Will Corporon, left, and his father, Dr. William Lewis Corporon (Will Corporon photo)

I watched news anchors comment about the family’s stoicism, grace and faith, and I wondered how Will got through it all. And as I thought about what an important story he had to share with journalists, he was thinking the same thing, and reached out to me.

We talked at length, he shared journal entries he’s writing that might become a book, and he responded to a list of questions I emailed him for this story.  He also granted me permission to edit his answers for clarity and brevity:

Jill: Would you share more about your decision to get in front of the story quickly – to provide details and distribute photos?

Will: I decided that if we were going to get something public it needed to immediately begin to tell their story — the victims’ story — and not the perp’s. At that point, I had little to no info about him and didn’t want any, frankly. So I added personal info to the release and at the same time asked my brother, sister, and mom to email me pictures of Dad and Reat asap. They had a few in their phones … .

Knowing the media has deadlines — knowing television needs pictures — knowing journalists need “human stories,” I knew we could not hide and try to be private. We had to provide information or the media would do whatever they had to in order to get their own pictures and stories. And that would not be good. Then our privacy could be compromised. The dignity of of my Father and Reat would be compromised.

Jill: You mentioned to me that several of the occasions in which you and your sister Mindy — Reat’s mother — spoke publicly, it was spontaneous, not something you planned. What led you to be as available and candid as you were?

Will: We wanted to portray our father and son/nephew/grandson in the best possible light. There is no way to do that given the circumstances without showing our grief. You can’t have one without the other. So there was no forethought to how we portrayed ourselves. We were just honest. We spoke from the heart.

As far as availability, I fielded calls from newspapers and local TV and networks. We were somewhat selective. I chose “CBS Evening News” on the Monday after the Sunday murders. I enjoyed the conversation with the producer, Ryan. I also liked that the story was going to be the lead and was going to focus on our family. Lastly, the correspondent was Dean Reynolds. I have respected his work since I started my journalism career back in the 1980s. My sister chose to be on the “Today” show because she liked Savannah Guthrie and felt she would do a good job asking her questions.

I guess that just goes to show that reputations built over years, or in just a few seconds, can make all the difference when a reporter or producer is working a source. As it turns out, the choices we made were good ones. We were very pleased with the way both news programs treated us and the memories of Dad and Reat.

Jill: The killing of William Lewis Corporon, Reat Underwood and Terri LaManno (the third victim, shot at a second location) was local, national and international news. How do you assess the performance of news organizations? Does any one organization or journalist stand out — for better or worse?

Will: I was really impressed with some of the local Kansas City blogs and some of the local KC news magazines (newspaper inserts with local columnists) … . We didn’t watch TV a lot. There was nothing that was negative. Those we dealt with were all very professional. I was very happy and pleasantly surprised. I hate to say that, but I figured at some point I would have someone who would overstep. But it didn’t happen. Everyone I dealt with was sympathetic. Professional and understanding.

Jill: As you faced national and local media, you spoke in detail about your faith. You told me you were pleasantly surprised that your spiritual message wasn’t tuned out or edited out but featured prominently in coverage. Why?

Will: I know from being in the media and from nearly 20 years watching from the outside that often people who express their faith are either ignored or perhaps lightly ridiculed. Perhaps with a  smirk. Usually I think the soundbites we hear of people talking about God or Jesus (in the case of Christians) may lend credence to people thinking “those people sound a little nuts.” Perhaps that’s my own bias speaking.

We’ve all seen the aftermath of storms where people are interviewed climbing out of rubble — usually a trailer — thanking their Creator, often without thinking about what they are saying or how it will be perceived. It is raw emotion. And that is what drives live television and live-to-tape reactions. It’s what makes TV news so good — but it’s also what drives so many viewers crazy. Especially those of us who want to elaborate a little more about our “religion” than just, “Thank you, Lord Jesus, for savin’ us from that twister.” I am not trying to be humorous. Trying to make a point … .

I think in our case we were able to be more thoughtful because it was not spot news. We had time before, during, and after each interview to think about what we said and how we might say it the next time. In fact, much of what we said we have been hearing all our lives from our pastors and leaders in church and way back in youth groups. I think when this horrible thing happened we were prepared, DIVINELY prepared, to not only deal personally and as a family with such tragedy, but also to show those who were watching that God’s grace was present in such an evil situation.

Jill: Do you have advice for citizens and journalists who become part of stories like yours?

Will: I think journalists have to work very hard to remain human. It is an easy thing to say, “Leave out your opinions and report facts.” But in a story like this, I think it cries for the human side. And in order to do that, I think the reporters (producers, anchors, editors, photographers, etc. …) who do the best are the ones who can see everything unfold through HUMAN eyes.

We didn’t get the “how do you feel” questions. We didn’t get the questions about the bad guy. We got the questions we wanted. We got the questions we were willing to answer — about our family. We did make it clear prior to interviews that we would not answer questions about the killer and, thankfully, we didn’t have anyone violate that.

I think that newsrooms should have regular meetings (perhaps annual) where they review these kinds of stories. Perhaps ones they covered or perhaps one that has been worked up in a teaching way from an organization like Poynter. I think one of the problems with the 24-hour news cycle is taking time to get adequate continuing education. I guess I really have no leg to stand on here since I am no longer a practicing journalist but I’ll bet I am right, at least in most newsrooms. The drive for more and more news — finish one newscast and move quickly to the next — does not provide much time for reflection, let alone stopping for full-scale evaluation and training.

I also think that shying away from anything faith-related is a mistake. A huge percentage of this country goes to church, or synagogue, or Mass, or whatever. Why shy away from it? Report on important issues. Talk about it. Take a leadership position. Even talk about a lack of faith as a faith. Cover it all. I think it would be really good and I think it is something that is sorely missing in journalism today.

Dr. William Corporon, known to his family as “Popeye,” holding his granddaughter, baby Olivia Corporon, who “loved to perch on her grandfather’s generous belly.” (Will Corporon photo)

A Postscript

Will and I exchanged many messages as I double-checked information and he sent me photos, including one of his dad and little Olivia, who Will says loved to perch on her grandfather’s generous belly. Read more

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Can journalists prevent suicide clusters?

Suicides sometimes happen in clusters. Epidemiologists and suicide prevention experts have often claimed that media coverage is partially to blame for this. Thus that old-fashioned and often ignored rule: Don’t cover suicides.

Of course that rule came with a couple of caveats. Celebrity suicides were fair game. So too were suicides that happened in public places. Because of those carve-outs and others (if it’s really interesting, or if people are talking about it) the rule never really worked. The news media have always covered suicides, sometimes badly.

While suicide prevention advocates cite the potential for contagion in their effort to get newsrooms to change their standards, journalists, including me, have responded with skepticism. That’s because there has never been a conclusive study in a peer-reviewed journal that specifically tied contagion to media coverage.

Until now. This month a study published in the Lancet Psychiatry Journal confirms that certain types of media coverage do indeed make suicide contagion more likely to happen, particularly among teenagers and young adults.

The author, Dr. Madeline Gould, professor of epidemiology in psychiatry at Columbia University Medical Center, conducted the statistical analysis as part of a larger autopsy study, then compared suicides associated with a cluster, to suicides that were not part of a cluster, and media reporting.

Her conclusions: Stories about an individual with the word suicide in the headline, stories on the front page of a newspaper, photos of the dead person, detailed descriptions of the act of suicide and portrayals of the suicide victim as noble, angelic or heroic, are associated with more suicides in the same community. It’s not a causal relationship, but rather they are related. Brandy Zadrozny’s Daily Beast article does a good job translating the study into layman’s English.

But here’s the problem for journalists. Those are the devices of good story-telling and effective headline writing. Suicides are tragic events. And when you decide a story is interesting enough to tell, you want to pack it full of emotional punch. But those details can be a factor that contributes to a suicide cluster.

Why? There are both biological and sociological reasons, she said.

Biologically, the frontal cortex doesn’t fully mature in humans until the early 20s. An immature cortex is associated with impulsive behavior. Teens and 20-year-olds are also at the age when serious psychiatric problems can emerge.

Sociologically, during the teen years, family becomes less important and social peers become more important. That reverses for most people in their 20s. Young people also have not had the experience of watching difficult problems come and go. So when they experience serious depression or anxiety, it seems like life will always be that way, Gould said.

“I’m not saying that this will occur in a vacuum with healthy people,” Gould said. Instead, she is suggesting that media attention to individual suicide victims can be harmful to people already at risk for suicide.

But there’s a catch with this study: All the data was gathered between 1988 and 1996. And the media examples most likely to lead to contagion all came from newspapers.

It’s hard to believe that newspapers could have the same influence with the modern under-25 set, who are more likely to consume information through social media and mobile devices. Instead we have to extrapolate her findings into an environment that’s harder to measure and control.

Along those lines, just today, celebrity shrink Dr. Drew Pinsky lead the announcement of Social Media Guidelines for Mental Health Promotion and Suicide Prevention, a more general set of best practices which seem to address the general public, suicide prevention advocates, and  journalists.

The guidelines acknowledge something that suicide researchers have been talking about for some time, that all stories about suicide and attempted suicides are not equally harmful. In a social media setting, it is impossible to prevent people from discussing suicide. The guidelines suggest best practices about language choices, audience engagement, privacy concerns and how to address suicidal content.

Several organizations including Facebook, RTDNA and the Entertainment Industries Council endorsed the guidelines.

Journalists may find more practical advice from the Reporting on Suicide guidelines, which were developed in collaboration with a number of journalists and journalism education institutions.

Will any of this matter? While suicide rates are declining among teen and young adults, they are rising among baby boomers and veterans. Because true statistical analysis takes so long, it’s hard to say what really contributes to pattern changes.

“Suicide behavior is complex, contagion is one piece of the puzzle,” Gould said. “But it’s worth addressing every piece of the puzzle.”

In addition to avoiding the behaviors that might lead to contagion, journalists can find stories of hope and recovery among people who have contemplated or attempted suicide. Those stories were taboo among suicide prevention advocates for a long time, for fear of contributing to contagion. But that community has opened up, and as a result it’s possible that journalists will find new ways to tell compelling stories about suicide and mental health.

And even if they don’t, Gould suspects the public will do its own storytelling, using social media. Once the underlying stigma of seeking treatment for mental health issues diminishes, there may be real progress in reducing rates of suicide. Read more


Craig Newmark, founder of Craigslist and Poynter donor, writes on the Poynter ethics site about a New Republic article that asserts, using anecdotes, that ageism is rampant in Silicon Valley.

Newmark says he was taken aback, and that as far as he could tell, discrimination against older people is no different in SV than elsewhere in business.

But he also says: “If somebody asserts something factual, I want them to back it up with more than anecdotes, so that readers can trust it.”

So he turned to friends in the journalism world, including Dan Gilmor and Liz Spayd, for their take on the subject and asked: “When is anecdotal reporting enough to support broad conclusions without concrete data? This recent article on ageism in Silicon Valley seemed to paint an entire group of people based [on] a handful of examples. Is that fair?”

Read their answers.



Reuters uses activists as photographers in Syria

The New York Times

Reuters employs rebel activists and “in one case a spokesman” as photographers in Syria, James Estrin and Karam Shoumali write. In interviews with photographers there, they say there are more issues with the wire service’s practices:

Three [photographers] also said that the freelancers had provided Reuters with images that were staged or improperly credited, sometimes under pseudonyms. And while Reuters has given the local stringers protective vests and helmets, most said that the stringers lacked training in personal safety and first aid.

Read more
Twitter Inc in internet broser address bar_depositphotos

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