Articles about "Ethics"


CNN Photo by Brandon Ancil

CNN sheds light on family’s harrowing experience, Alaska’s highest rape rate

CNN Photo by Brandon Ancil

Convicted sex offenders are American pariahs, kept at bay by law and stigma. In the Alaskan wilderness, however, an experiment is underway to keep these criminals close to their communities.

“The Rapist Next Door,” by CNN.com columnist John D. Sutter, describes the approach through the harrowing prism of one family: a wife, daughter and the husband who raped the child. This remarkably detailed story blends a family’s tragedy and startling response with a policy-driven look at the state with the country’s highest rape rate, accompanied by absorbing videos. In an email interview for the Poynter Excellence Project, Sutter reveals how he reported, structured and wrote the story, grappled with ethical dilemmas, why he employs first-person storytelling and describes CNN’s unusual approach to choosing such stories. Read more

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**FILE** An Amtrak train arrives in Portland, Maine, in this Dec. 14, 2007 file photo. Amtrak must spend tens of millions of dollars to replace defective ties on the heavily traveled Northeast Corridor or risk delays and loss of business, the railroad warns. The concrete ties were purchased beginning in the 1990s and have already begun to crack, Amtrak spokesman Cliff Black said Wednesday, Feb. 27, 2008. Concrete ties normally last about 50 years. (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty, FILE)

Journalists should pass on free Amtrak tickets

Freelance writer Jessica Gross just has a thing for writing and trains. So when Amtrak offered her a free $400 roundtrip train ride from New York to Chicago, she hopped on board. Now, hundreds of writers, musicians and journalists are on Twitter asking Amtrak to consider them for a free ride, too.

She writes for a wide range of clients. “I write for the New York Times Magazine,  I interview writers about literary things,” she explained. “I am not really a travel writer.”

The notion of an Amtrak “writer-in-residence” started in a Twitter exchange, one of those “I wish..” musings. Novelist Alexander Chee was asked in a December interview the location of his favorite place to write. He responded, “I still like a train best for this kind of thing. I wish Amtrak had residencies for writers. And after trains, libraries at night, especially empty ones.” Read more

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Poynter/Sandra Oshiro photo

Five questions answered about reporting on your local confession site

Confessions sites are popping up in teen communities all over the country. There is a Twitter feed called yococonfessions, targeting the community of York County, Pa. A post about a weapon on the Facebook page, Amherst Regional High School Confessions, closed the high school for a day.

Sometimes confessions sites disrupt schools, making it likely that local reporters will pay attention. Here are five questions to consider when writing about confession sites: Read more

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Lessons learned from Grantland’s tragic story on Dr. V

By editor-in-chief Bill Simmons’ own admission, ignorance was the biggest mistake Grantland made in reporting and publishing the story of Dr. V and her innovative golf putter. Ignorance about one of the most vulnerable minority groups — transgender people.

Plenty of writers have dissected Grantland’s mistakes in reporting a story about the entrepreneur with a checkered past who happened to be transgender.

But this case need not only be a tragic example of what can go wrong. This can also be a moment for news organizations to learn how to get smarter, make stronger ethical decisions and compensate for weaknesses that can lead to harm. Read more

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Washington News Council logo

New executive director sought for last U.S. news council; only gutsy need apply

The Seattle-based Washington News Council is seeking a new executive director, and wants one with nerves of steel, strong values and digital acumen.

The search comes at a turning point in the history of the nonprofit news council, which is the last in this country taking complaints from readers and viewers and, when needed, holding hearings to air issues about media fairness and accuracy.

John Hamer, the council’s president and executive director, is retiring after 15 years. He and others founded the news council in 1998 and, while the organization has survived, other local and regional news councils as well as the national council that operated in 1970s and 1980s have not.

A key factor in the Washington News Council’s survival has been Bill Gates Sr. The father of Microsoft’s founder has contributed roughly half a million dollars to the Washington council over its lifetime, Hamer told Poynter by phone. But that funding may dry up as the elder Gates steps back from an active role in philanthropic activities.

Hamer said he’ll be “brutally honest” with job applicants: “This is kind of like a startup. You have to raise new funding.” But he points out that Seattle is home to many potential sources of funds, including Amazon, Starbucks and new high-tech companies that have sprouted elsewhere in the Northwest.

Beyond mediating complaints about the press, the news council awards scholarships to promising young journalists and holds forums on media issues. A project called the TAO of Journalism recruits media members to take a pledge promising to practice transparency and accountability. The program has drawn high interest and pledges from around the world, Hamer said.

Fundraising is just one of the challenges the new WNC executive director will have to tackle. The minimum qualifications for the job listed on the council’s website begins with this: WARNING! THIS IS DEFINITELY NOT A JOB FOR THE FAINT-OF-HEART. Skills sought for the next leader offer not just a window into the position itself, but the state of nonprofits and the media industry generally:

  • imagination and drive to “reboot” WNC in digital age
  • strong commitment to first amendment/free press
  • belief in holding news media publicly accountable
  • equanimity in face of skepticism from journalists
  • ability to raise own salary and operating expenses

A major task for Hamer’s successor will be to manage the council’s digital transformation. That could mean running the complaint, response and mediation procedures online rather than holding live hearings, a change that would open up the process to more citizens.

“Everyone is trying new things in journalism, why not us”? Hamer asked.

The deadline for applications is March 15. Details are provided on the council’s website.

“It is a chaotic, transformative time in the news media,” Hamer said. “Everyone is throwing things up on the wall to see what works.” Read more

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chat green glossy icon on white background

Understanding opportunities and challenges in sponsored content (Replay chat)

Shane Snow, cofounder with two friends of Contently, manages a network of 25,000 freelancers. According to Contently’s website, the sweet spot where these freelancers thrive is creating content for “brands, nonprofits, and lean new media companies.”

Snow and his team, described as a mashup of journalists and nerds, are on the front edge of branded content or native advertising.

Forbes, a Contently client, recognized Snow this month in “30 under 30: These People are Building the Media Companies of Tomorrow.”

Snow joined us for a live chat on the opportunities, challenges and values of sponsored content.

Participants asked Snow about the ins and outs of branded content.

Twitter users can participate in any Poynter live chat using the hashtag #poynterchats. You can revisit this page at any time to replay the chat after it has ended. You can find the archive of all past chats at www.poynter.org/chats.

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Handcuffed (Depositphotos)

College papers dropping arrestee names from crime blotters

Those arrested on the University of Connecticut campus this academic year may not feel lucky, but actually they are catching a break. Their arrests are being published in the student-run campus daily newspaper as has been typical for decades, but their names are not being made public.

In the fall of 2013, UCONN student editors ended — at least for this academic year — The Daily Campus’ long-standing practice of publishing names in its regular Police Blotter feature.  The change elicited some sharp questions from members of the paper’s board of directors, some head-shaking and exasperation from the journalism faculty and an apparent tweet by a former Daily Campus staffer who labeled the change as “lame.”

Emotional responses and resistance to change notwithstanding, UCONN’s student journalists are far from alone in considering whether to follow past practices when the Internet has bestowed immortality and eased access to all types of information. Read more

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Journalists continue to rank low in public trust. (Depositphotos)

Still slip-sliding: Gallup poll ranks journalists low on honesty, ethics

Gallup released a poll on “U.S. Views on Honesty and Ethical Standards in Professions” Monday, and journalists rank pretty low.

The poll, conducted Dec. 5 through 8, used telephone interviews with a random sample of more than 1,000 adults in the country.

Their findings: just 21 percent of the people surveyed ranked newspaper reporters with high or very high honesty and ethical standards. Next came lawyers, tying with 21 percent, followed by TV reporters at 20 percent, then advertisers at a miserable 14 percent. Read more

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AP655650698147

Newtown’s media blackout forces journalists to do their jobs

The one-year anniversary of a tragic event is a significant moment. But for journalists, such moments too often become opportunities for emotional exploitation rather than real journalism.

The citizens of Newtown, Conn., and the families of the Sandy Hook Elementary School victims have drawn a hard boundary around their homes. No media, they’ve said to the outside world. Don’t talk to the media, they’ve said to the 28,000 people who live in the community.

In doing so, they’ve deprived newsrooms of the easy visuals and rote storytelling that have sometimes substituted for meaningful journalism. And that’s good: It forces journalists to do the hard work they should be doing on the first anniversary of the mass shooting that killed 20 first-graders and six adults.

In a way, it’s a gift to the audience everywhere that Newtown is spurning public events. Without requisite sights and sounds such as flickering candles, tolling bells, and names read aloud, journalists have to do something other than tap into the grief and rehash the horror of that day.

But it would be wrong to leave the anniversary itself unnoticed. Anniversaries, especially the one-year mark of a tragic event, are sometimes the best opportunity to gain a fresh perspective on the world. This is why counselors tell grieving people not to make major decisions for the first year after a loved one dies. A year later, the world looks much different — maybe not better, but certainly not as fuzzy as it looked then.

Here’s what the best anniversary stories will look like:

  • Many will offer updates on the national debates we are having about guns and mental health. Sure, these are obvious subjects. But done well, they can advance the conversation by describing the likely paths forward. And the best stories are those that bring new data or studies into the narrative. USA Today’s Behind the Bloodshed interactive graphic is a particularly good example, while this New York Times update on gun laws and Frontline’s look at the gun lobby are both sobering.
  • Any perspective from the families will come through newsrooms that have established strong ties with the families of the slain children and teachers. This blog post by Emilie Parker’s mother is a strong example, and this AP story is particularly well done.
  • Outside essayists will offer their thoughts in a variety of op-eds and columns.
  • The journalists who do go to Newtown will have a plan. They will document the town and its people from a distance, instead of fighting with each other to interview everyone and anyone. And I’m OK with that. I don’t want to live in a world where journalists are afraid to cover important stories in ways they think serve the story. I want some journalists to be in Newtown, just not hundreds of them.

How to cover the Newtown anniversary depends on your audience. Local news providers need to focus on local stories, turning to their own communities. The wider your audience, the tougher the task of finding a relevant story.

Finally, here are a few things to avoid:

  • Gratuitous use of images from that day. This may be tempting given the absence of fresh visuals, but using the image of the children in a line rushing from the school or the crying woman on the phone will likely cue the audience to move on.
  • Political grandstanding. It’s possible that politicians and pundits will try to use the anniversary of these deaths to make a political point, and that cable news, talk radio, or other media with lots of time but few resources will allow them to do so. But let’s hope not.
  • Oversimplification. It’s tempting for journalists who are used to making sense of complicated things to try and make sense of this. But some things defy such efforts, however well-intentioned. And trying to change that causes us to fall back on clichés about good and evil that will never be universally embraced.

We live in a media world of excess. With self-discipline, restraint and a sense of service to our audience — rather than to our ratings or web metrics — journalists should be able to provide meaningful stories a year after Newtown. And possibly such efforts can set the tone for future tragedies.

* * *

“The New Ethics of Journalism: Principles for the 21st Century” is now available. The book is a compilation of essays and case studies edited by Kelly McBride and Tom Rosenstiel, with a foreword by Bob Steele, for use in newsrooms, classrooms and other settings dedicated to a marketplace of ideas that serves democracy. You can find more information about the book here. Read more

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PoynterVision: White House photo practices break promise of open government

Kenny Irby, senior faculty at Poynter, advises the public to critically analyze photos from the White House Press Office, particularly as it routinely denies photojournalists access to the president.

Founder of Poynter’s photojournalism program, Irby says he doesn’t believe the Obama administration is living up to its promise of “open government.”

Irby argues White House chief photographer Pete Souza‘s role is more that of a “propagandist” than a photojournalist since his job is to make the president “look good, make the president look presidential.”

In the past week, several news organizations, including the McClatchy newspapers, USA Today and the AP have said they will not use handout photos originating from the White House Press Office, except in rare circumstances.


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