All posts by Stephen Rynkiewicz

About Stephen Rynkiewicz

Stephen Rynkiewicz is a technology writer and web developer in Chicago. His work has appeared in digital, broadcast and print media, including the Chicago Tribune and Chicago Sun-Times. His 2014 AdviceLine columns were honored in the Sigma Delta Chi and Peter Lisagor awards.

GamerGate Ethics: It’s Not About Scoring Points

Grand Theft Auto 5
Off-the-rails video mayhem in Grand Theft Auto 5 (Rockstar Games)

What’s the point of video game debate? Consumer reviews pose valid ethical issues, but not this one.

By Stephen Rynkiewicz

Critics are prepared to justify their opinions, but shouldn’t be forced to defend their livelihoods, much less their lives. Yet that’s the challenge now facing video game reviewers, and it’s a struggle that tests the maturity of their industry.

Threats against cultural critic Anita Sarkeesian brought the issue mainstream attention. An anonymous email warned Utah State University administrators of a shooting massacre at her speech on women in video games. She canceled the appearance.

It’s hard not to identify with that dilemma. But when I circulated the New York Times report on Sarkeesian’s cancelation, the Twitter response was harsh. “Oh boo hoo,” one wrote, “those terrible, count them, ZERO, attacks on hated busybody con artists.” That suggests the level of the “GamerGate” debate.

No regrets from this editor if the mayhem stays at zero. I’m trained to keep writers safe. Mostly reporters want an editor to check their facts and their logic; reviewers need a sounding board. We may even disapprove of what our critics say. Yet editors defend their right to say it. Must we defend to the death?

Continue reading GamerGate Ethics: It’s Not About Scoring Points

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Cited Out of Context: Reporting Data With Integrity

 Samia Malik (left) compares notes with technologists at the Chicago School of Data conference.

Samia Malik (left) compares notes with technologists at the Chicago School of Data conference.

A Medicare database, second-hand stats and social-science findings shed light on how to handle data with care.

By Stephen Rynkiewicz

Journalists look for reassurance in data, as a way to validate what their sources tell them. Scientists aren’t so sure – they joke about “data” being the plural of “anecdote.” Two sources are better than one, except when they’re both wrong.

“You can really jump to the wrong conclusions if you don’t have an understanding of the background of the data,” says Matthew Roberts, informatics manager for Chicago’s health department.

Researchers make a familiar complaint about their data: Getting quoted out of context. The issue’s playing out in a Medicare database of payments doctors took from medical suppliers. Both groups found errors in the data, and payments on research in progress were withheld.

Before the site launched, Roberts told the Chicago School of Data conference that news media inspecting the raw data were among the first to jump to conclusions.

“They just made some wrong guesses about what the data meant,” he said. The final Medicare database gives companies a chance to comment — to give details that could suggest a productive partnership rather than a conflict of interest.

Continue reading Cited Out of Context: Reporting Data With Integrity

Plagiarism: A Renaissance for Attribution

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Piero di Cosimo, “Young St. John the Baptist” (Metropolitan Museum of Art)

When New York Times critic Carol Vogel previewed an artist’s retrospective, readers were quick to question her report.

By Stephen Rynkiewicz

Renaissance artists might have struggled with the idea of plagiarism. Florentine salons respected tradition and uniformity, and apprentices in Piero di Cosimo’s studio learned by imitating the master. National Gallery of Art curator Gretchen Hirschauer told New York Times critic Carol Vogel that Piero’s work entered American collections partly by accident. It was attributed to other artists.

But the concept of plagiarism has evolved. When Vogel previewed Hirschauer’s retrospective of Piero’s work, a few readers were quick to question her report. It started with a list of Piero’s peculiarities, citing contemporary Giorgio Vasari, who’s still studied in paperback. But the wording was close to an even more common source, Wikipedia. The print passage is shortened online, and ombudsman Margaret Sullivan suggests Times editors might take further steps if a pattern emerges.

The word plagiarism first appears during the Reformation. The Random House Dictionary defines it as “to use the words or ideas of another person as if they were your own words or ideas.” Universities have moved beyond the Renaissance academy, with rules against copying and paraphrasing. The Society of Professional Journalists ethics code simply says, “Never plagiarize.

Yet the practice continues. Evidence of plagiarism in Sen. John Walsh’s Army War College research puts him under pressure to withdraw from the November election. Repeated instances on the website BuzzFeed got a producer fired last month. And delegates to SPJ’s 2014 convention will consider adding another ethics directive: “Always attribute.

Continue reading Plagiarism: A Renaissance for Attribution