Category Archives: Case Study

Crime Coverage Guidelines

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By Casey Bukro

Ethics AdviceLine for Journalists

As crime soars across the United States, the Radio Television Digital News Association (RTDNA) issues new newsroom guidelines for covering crime, with four key areas of consideration.

Not only rising gun violence, but a wave of “smash and grab” store invasions by mobs of thieves present challenges to the nation’s media to report crimes ethically.

“If the last couple of years have taught journalists anything, it’s that great care and considered judgment must be used when making decisions about how to cover crime,” said Dan Shelley, RTDNA executive director and chief operating officer on its website. “More than ever before, reporters and news managers should be hypersensitive to societal and other equally important concerns. These new guidelines will help them do that.”

Key areas of concern are mugshots or other images provided by law enforcement, descriptions of suspects or persons of interest, reporting the names of suspects before they are charged and having in-house guidelines for publishing digital content.

RTDNA suggests considering ways to update or remove digital archives when charges are dropped or for other reasons, including passage of time.

Nationally, preliminary data for 2021 show violence crime rising, with homicides up by nearly 30% in 2020. Overall violence and assaults also increased during a surge in police officers leaving law enforcement.

Chicago is an example of how this trend translates locally. Through Dec. 14, 2021, the city recorded 775 homicides, which is 4% higher than the year before, and a staggering 61% over the 479 murders during the same period in 2019. At least 4,328 people were shot in Chicago this year, compared with 4,013 in 2020 and 2,556 in 2019. Carjackings were up 31% to 1,707.

Rising crime and “skyrocketing” commercial property taxes trouble the city’s business leaders, especially crime, said Jack Lavin, president and CEO of the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce. Chicago’s business community, he said, is clamoring for a “strategy for the short and medium term for how we’re going to reduce retail theft, carjackings, shootings and who is prosecuted.”

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The Ethics AdviceLine for Journalists was founded in 2001 by the Chicago Headline Club (Chicago professional chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists) and Loyola University Chicago Center for Ethics and Social Justice. It partnered with the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University in 2013. It is a free service.

Professional journalists are invited to contact the Ethics AdviceLine for Journalists for guidance on ethics. Call 866-DILEMMA or ethicsadvicelineforjournalists.org.

A Hate Group Chat

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By Casey Bukro

Ethics AdviceLine for Journalists

A staff writer for a southern arts and entertainment magazine learns that the publication’s columnist spoke to a racist hate group on how to get their message out through media.

Fearing this violates ethical standards, the staff writer brings her concerns to an editor, who becomes angry for “bringing him problems without offering solutions.” The columnist who spoke to the League of the South did so without management’s knowledge, and contends she did not know about the neo-Confederate organization’s mission and reputation.

The staff writer comes to the Ethics AdviceLine for Journalist asking how she should deal with this situation, since she is not sure she wants to work for a publication that employs people who appeal to racist groups. What advice would you give to the staff writer?

The Society of Professional Journalists code of ethics encourages journalists to “remain free of associations and activities that may compromise integrity or damage credibility.” It also tells journalists to “support the open exchange of views, even views they find repugnant.”

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The Ethics AdviceLine for Journalists was founded in 2001 by the Chicago Headline Club (Chicago professional chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists) and Loyola University Chicago Center for Ethics and Social Justice. It partnered with the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University in 2013. It is a free service.

Professional journalists are invited to contact the Ethics AdviceLine for Journalists for guidance on ethics. Call 866-DILEMMA or ethicsadvicelineforjournalists.org.

Cuomo Conflicts

By Casey Bukro

Ethics AdviceLine for Journalists

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If Chris Cuomo considers himself a journalist, he forgot who he’s working for.

Journalists work for the public interest, not for conflict of interest favors for his brother, Andrew, the former governor of New York who left office amid a flurry of sexual misconduct allegations by 11 women.

A CNN superstar broadcaster, Chris Cuomo admits to a “family first, job second” ethical standard that led him to strategize a defense with his brother, while allegedly using his media contacts and helping the brother to dig up information about one of the female accusers.

For that, CNN placed the star anchor on indefinite suspension from the network because “he broke our rules.”

Acknowledging his suspension on a radio program, Chris Cuomo said: “It really hurts to say it, it’s embarrassing, but I understand it and I understand why some people feel the way they do about what I did. I’ve apologized in the past and I mean it, it’s the last thing I ever wanted to do was compromise any of my colleagues and do anything but help.” He has called his actions a “mistake.”

Cases like this tend to convince the public that journalists have no ethical standards, and smear journalists who recognize they have a calling that requires them to act with high standards, and abide by them. The Society of Professional Journalists code of ethics spells out those standards. Journalists should:

*Avoid conflicts of interest, real or perceived. Disclose unavoidable conflicts.

*Expose unethical conduct in journalism, including within their organizations.

*Abide by the same high standards they expect of others.

Margaret Sullivan, the Washington Post’s media columnist, points out that some observers sympathize with the “family first” defense, but she is not impressed.

“No, this was about a high-powered media star using his considerable juice to blunt credible accusations of sexual assault and misconduct against the governor of New York,” she wrote. “Even if you accept the idea that Chris Cuomo is less a journalist than an entertainer, the rules of journalistic ethics still ought to apply. He is, as much as anyone, the face of CNN.”

The rules are pretty simple, says Sullivan: “You don’t abuse your position in journalism — whether at a weekly newspaper or a major network — for personal or familial gain.”

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The Ethics AdviceLine for Journalists was founded in 2001 by the Chicago Headline Club (Chicago professional chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists) and Loyola University Chicago Center for Ethics and Social Justice. It partnered with the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University in 2013. It is a free service.

Professional journalists are invited to contact the Ethics AdviceLine for Journalists for guidance on ethics. Call 866-DILEMMA or ethicsadvicelineforjournalists.org.

Violent Stalker

journalism ethics

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By Casey Bukro

Ethics AdviceLine for Journalists.

The editor-in-chief of an Oregon campus newspaper contacts the Ethics AdviceLine for Journalists asking if he should publish a story about a female student being “violently stalked” by her ex-boyfriend.

The stalker did not physically harm the student, but he has raided her bank account and the young woman is under police protection while moving around the campus. She is suffering severe mental stress, recently injured herself and is on pain medication and anti-depression drugs. The stalker is not a student at the campus and was ordered to stay away from her.

The editor-in-chief fears that an article about the situation might cause the female student greater mental pain or cause the stalker to do greater harm to her. Would publicity scare the stalker off?

What is the most ethical decision in this case? What would you tell the editor-in-chief? This is happening in a university community, where students are forming attachments. Would an article serve as a warning against forming harmful relationships.

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The Ethics AdviceLine for Journalists was founded in 2001 by the Chicago Headline Club (Chicago professional chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists) and Loyola University Chicago Center for Ethics and Social Justice. It partnered with the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University in 2013. It is a free service.

Professional journalists are invited to contact the Ethics AdviceLine for Journalists for guidance on ethics. Call 866-DILEMMA or ethicsadvicelineforjournalists.org.

Sparing the Victim

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By Casey Bukro

Ethics AdviceLine for Journalists

Ethical journalism involves more than what you report; it’s also about what you decide to leave out.

The Loudoun Times-Mirror set a good example of that by deciding against naming the parents of a high school sexual assault victim, and refusing to follow the example of other media that did.

The assault occurred in the bathroom of a Loudoun high school, allegedly by a person charged in a separate assault at a second school.

“By using the names of the parents, the original reporting indirectly identified a teen sexual assault victim,” said the newspaper in an editorial. This violated the newspaper’s policy against identifying victims of sexual assault, and was an invasion of the victim’s privacy.

The Loudoun Times-Mirror should be applauded for its sensitivity toward the victim. The Society of Professional Journalists code of ethics says, under a section on minimizing harm: “Show compassion for those who may be affected by news coverage. Use heightened sensitivity when dealing with juveniles, victims of sex crimes and sources or subjects who are inexperienced or unable to give consent.”

The weekly newspaper is based in Leesburg, Virginia, covering news in the area for more than two centuries, says its website.

The Loudoun Times-Mirror editorial went on to say: “The matter was complicated for us when the story was picked up by myriad national and international news outlets, many, if not all of which named the victim’s parents.” The newspaper acknowledged a long history of media abandoning efforts to protect the identity of victims once others have identified them.

The Loudoun Times-Mirror decided to ignore that practice, for which it also should be applauded. Ethics is a matter of coming to your own decisions about what is correct and ethical. Simply doing what others do is copycat journalism, letting others make decisions for you.

The editorial continued:

“In the end if came down to this: While Loudoun has seemingly been under the unrelenting gaze of the national media recently, those organizations don’t have the same ties to this community as we do. These pages are tossed in the driveways of the victim’s peers, and that’s not something we take for granted. If the decision to not name the parents in our reporting can preserve even a modicum of privacy for a person who has endured such a reprehensible crime at such a young age, then that’s a choice we can live with.”

That’s a good choice.

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The Ethics AdviceLine for Journalists was founded in 2001 by the Chicago Headline Club (Chicago professional chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists) and Loyola University Chicago Center for Ethics and Social Justice. It partnered with the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University in 2013. It is a free service.

Professional journalists are invited to contact the Ethics AdviceLine for Journalists for guidance on ethics. Call 866-DILEMMA or ethicsadvicelineforjournalists.org.

TV They-Speak

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By Casey Bukro

Ethics AdviceLine for Journalist

ABC7 Chicago television, they are inventing a new way to speak or mangling the English language.

Listen to the announcers on WLS-TV, a subsidiary of the Walt Disney Company. They include the word “they” in the oddest places. A sports announcer says, “The White Sox, they have been going…….” On a coronavirus story, the reporter says, “Don’t know how many people, they have been sent home.” Even the weather man does it: “The winds, they’ll be strong.”

They. Are they trying to copy the style of foreign languages? Is this a way to turn sentences into barking headlines? Did management circulate a memo mandating they-speak? It interrupts the flow of speech. It’s discordant. And maybe that’s the idea. It grabs your attention, but in an annoying way.

In the past, broadcasters were considered paragons of speech, showing how it should be done. It was an exalted position. But they (defined as those ones or people in general, a personal pronoun) seem to be resorting to phonetic trickery.

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The Ethics AdviceLine for Journalists was founded in 2001 by the Chicago Headline Club (Chicago professional chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists) and Loyola University Chicago Center for Ethics and Social Justice. It partnered with the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University in 2013. It is a free service.

Professional journalists are invited to contact the Ethics AdviceLine for Journalists for guidance on ethics. Call 866-DILEMMA or ethicsadvicelineforjournalists.org.

Double Dipping?

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By Casey Bukro

Ethics AdviceLine for Journalists

The caller asked the Ethics AdviceLine for Journalists if it is ethical for a freelance reporter to report the local town news, covering the town council and government meetings, while at the same time being paid to write the mayor’s column.

Anything in the Society of Professional Journalists code of ethics that might discourage that? If you were the reporter’s editor, what would you say about the reporter working for the newspaper and for the mayor too?

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The Ethics AdviceLine for Journalists was founded in 2001 by the Chicago Headline Club (Chicago professional chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists) and Loyola University Chicago Center for Ethics and Social Justice. It partnered with the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University in 2013. It is a free service.

Professional journalists are invited to contact the Ethics AdviceLine for Journalists for guidance on ethics. Call 866-DILEMMA or ethicsadvicelineforjournalists.org.

Covid and Media

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By Casey Bukro

Ethics AdviceLine for Journalists

At a time the Covid-19 death toll tops the fatalities in the 1918-19 influenza pandemic, the nation’s news media workforce is something like 40 percent diminished from a generation ago.

This is something for scholars and medical historians to chew on. How many covid deaths can be linked to a lack of trusted, reliable community news sources when they were urgently needed? A pandemic qualifies as a time when life-saving information is needed.

CNBC reported in September that Covid-19 is officially the most deadly outbreak in recent American history. On October 1, Johns Hopkins hospital reported 699,010 covid deaths in the U.S. The estimated U.S. fatalities in the 1918-19 influenza pandemic is 675,000 Americans.

This comes when the news media complex is probably 40 percent weaker than it was a generation ago, said Ed Wasserman, dean of UC Berkeley’s Graduate School of Journalism, at a 2020 discussion on the role of journalism in a global pandemic.”In many ways, it’s a make or break moment for the media,” he said. The intensity of interest in the story is massive.

The Ethics AdviceLine for Journalists reported in 2020 that just about every generation worries about an existential threat, and lists some of them.

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The Ethics AdviceLine for Journalists was founded in 2001 by the Chicago Headline Club (Chicago professional chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists) and Loyola University Chicago Center for Ethics and Social Justice. It partnered with the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University in 2013. It is a free service.

Professional journalists are invited to contact the Ethics AdviceLine for Journalists for guidance on ethics. Call 866-DILEMMA or ethicsadvicelineforjournalists.org.

Indigenous Invisibility

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By Casey Bukro

Ethics AdviceLine for Journalists.

Chicago has an American Indian population of 13,337.

Roughly half of them are female and half are male, and the median age of both sexes is 30.

Of 4,240 American Indian homes, 2,769 are led by families. The population of those living alone is 1,128. Some of the families are led by females with no husband present, and some by males with no wife present. Three or more generations live in 364 homes.

These U.S. Census Bureau statistics begin to tell untold stories, untold because they are part of a national pattern of overlooking American Indian communities.

This is a story told by Cynthia-Lou Coleman and Jackleen de La Carpe in a Poynter Institute report saying that coverage of indigenous communities “is sporadic, uneven and barely visible.” This invisibility, says their story, “has a disturbing consequence: it becomes a form of erasure.”

The Society of Professional Journalists code of ethics urges journalists to “boldly tell the story of the diversity and magnitude of the human experience. Seek sources whose voices we seldom hear.”

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The Ethics AdviceLine for Journalists was founded in 2001 by the Chicago Headline Club (Chicago professional chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists) and Loyola University Chicago Center for Ethics and Social Justice. It partnered with the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University in 2013. It is a free service.

Professional journalists are invited to contact the Ethics AdviceLine for Journalists for guidance on ethics. Call 866-DILEMMA or ethicsadvicelineforjournalists.org.

Musician or Journalist?

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By Casey Bukro

The violinist for a major orchestra is arrested for having child porn in his house and on his computer.

A professional musician who also does radio reports on the arts beat wants to know if she is obligated to do a report on the porn arrest. “Am I really a journalist, rather than a musician who does a few arts spots?” she asked the Ethics AdviceLine for Journalists.

What would you say to that question? Does she have a responsibility to report on the arrest? Or can she ignore the arrest?

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The Ethics AdviceLine for Journalists was founded in 2001 by the Chicago Headline Club (Chicago professional chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists) and Loyola University Chicago Center for Ethics and Social Justice. It partnered with the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University in 2013. It is a free service.

are invited to contact the Ethics AdviceLine for Journalists for guidance on ethics. Call 866-DILEMMA or ethicsadvicelineforjournalists.org.