Journalism and public shaming: Some guidelines

Public shaming has been in style for a while and journalism plays a significant role. It’s time to examine the ethics of this.

Public shaming, or openly humiliating someone as punishment for a certain behavior, is inherently a form of intimidation. It’s a strategy where we shine a light so hot and bright on a subject that he or she suffers, or at the very least shuts up and goes away.

It’s often perceived as positive because it exposes what many people consider bad behavior such as when BuzzFeed aggregated a bunch of racist tweets after an Indian-American woman won the Miss America crown.

To be sure, there is a certain nobility in shaming public officials who try to keep public documents from the public, or in exposing a greedy corporation that abuses its lowest paid workers. Read more


How long will Brian Williams be out of the anchor chair?

Good morning. I’m subbing for Kristen today. Here are 10 media stories.

  1. Brian Williams cancels Letterman appearance

    Over the weekend, "a source close to Williams" said the NBC anchor will not keep his scheduled appearance on "Late Show with David Letterman," the same show where he erroneously claimed he was aboard a helicopter that took enemy fire. (CNN) | On Sunday, Politico's Mike Allen suggested that appearing on the talk show might be a "high-profile, controlled way for Williams to clear the air." (Politico) | On Saturday, the embattled "NBC Nightly News" anchor announced he would take a hiatus from the show for "several days," adding that he planned to return and "be worthy of the trust" of his audience. (Poynter) | Meanwhile, media reporters and critics are contemplating the scandal's affect on Williams' career.

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5 tips for getting people to go on the record

Michael Kranish, the Boston Globe's deputy Washington bureau chief, was able to get classmates of Jeb Bush to talk on the record about their recollections. (Screengrab from the

Michael Kranish, the Boston Globe’s deputy Washington bureau chief, was able to get classmates of Jeb Bush to talk on the record about their recollections. (Screengrab from the

With the presidential primaries just a year away, we’ve entered the stage of the permanent campaign that will include many foundational profiles of the potential candidates.

Among the perennial challenges of such stories: sources reluctant to go on the record with critical remarks or recollections about someone who might end up as leader of the free world.

The Boston Globe published a 4,100-word version of the genre in its Sunday edition: a profile of Jeb Bush’s high school years at Phillips Academy by Michael Kranish, the paper’s deputy Washington bureau chief.

It’s the sort of look back at the bad-boy-years often diminished by blind quotes that readers have no way of verifying (and that I’ve been guilty of relying on myself way back when). Read more

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The ethics of hacked email and otherwise ill-gotten information

Sony and Aaron Sorkin both got it wrong. There are journalism ethics to mining emails hacked by someone else. But the question is not whether or not to mine them, but rather how.

Journalists generally agree that it’s appropriate to use ill-gotten information in the public interest, whether it’s the Pentagon Papers or a massive email hack.

But good intentions and execution are two different things. The latter involves a solid process rooted in journalistic values — because public interest is a moving target. Some newsrooms claim public interest when information is merely interesting, funny or salacious. The article about Channing Tatum’s goofy email might fall into that category.

BuzzFeed’s look at Maureen Dowd’s practice of allowing prior review, which Dowd denied, could be in the public interest because Dowd is a powerful columnist at a powerful newspaper that influences public opinion. Read more


Video: The implications of the Rolling Stone UVA rape story

Roy Peter Clark, vice president and senior scholar for the Poynter Institute and reporter Lauren Klinger discuss Rolling Stone’s blockbuster article on rapes at the University of Virginia and the decision to publish the controversial article and the decision to apologize to the readers for possible misinformation.

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Should student newspapers name fabulists and plagiarists?

Last October, Megan Card searched through more than two years’ worth of stories in University of South Dakota student paper The Volante. She was following up on a tip, looking for proof that a student on the paper was making things up.

Card, then the paper’s editor-in-chief, found that reporter Joey Sevin had cited several sources — 10 in all — that couldn’t be verified using university records.

“You read about people like Jayson Blair and you think, it could never happen,” Card said in a recent interview. “And then you go through a similar situation and you realize the kind of mentality people have to have to just go completely against everything you learned in journalism school.”

She fired Sevin. But then, she took another step: she identified him in an editor’s column. Read more

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.
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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.

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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.
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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.
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