Category Archives: Social Media

‘Vast Wasteland’ Stakes Claim for News Credibility

By Casey Bukro

Americans rank the three major major traditional commercial broadcast television networks—ABC, CBS and NBC—as the most credible news sources, according to a poll that explored the credibility of 13 print and digital news sources.

Newton Minow.
Newton Minow, as head of the Federal Communications Commission, called television a “vast wasteland.” Wikipedia photo.

“Despite the proliferation of coverage of fake news and historically low opinion of the media, a majority of adults think most cable news networks and major newspapers are credible,” reported morningconsult.com, a nonpartisan digital media and survey research company based in Washington, D.C.

“Television news gets the highest number of people saying they are credible, with major newspapers such as the New York Times not trailing far behind,” wrote Laura Nichols. While the three major television networks took the top three slots, the Wall Street Journal and the Times followed immediately after them.

Historically speaking, this is an interesting turn of events. Fifty-five years ago, Newton Minow, then chair of the Federal Communications Commission, described television as a “vast wasteland” in speech at the 1961 National Association of Broadcasters convention.

Despite such poor expectations, television news has grown into a giant. As technology improved, it became more ubiquitous, even intrusive. And the medium proved itself able to show and tell complicated issues, in documentaries and far-ranging reports. Even the humble smartphone records news events, turning everyone into a television photographer.

Clearly, the medium is a crowd-pleaser. Critics might argue television reports serve largely as a headline service. But the format has won public favor. Even Minow, who continues to be asked his opinion of television, appreciates today’s “wider range of choice.”

The Pew Research Center reports that in 2016, Americans express a clear preference for getting their news on a screen—either television or digital—although “TV remains the dominant screen.”

Continue reading ‘Vast Wasteland’ Stakes Claim for News Credibility

Digital Journalism: Another Failed Business Model?

H. Iris Chyi.
University of Texas media researcher H. Iris Chyi says heavy shift to digital news was a mistake. Chyi photo.

By Casey Bukro

Here’s an interesting idea: The rush of newspaper management from print to digital journalism was a terrible mistake.

Cyber media was supposed to be the next big thing, the answer to plummeting circulation, advertising and readership. Soon it became clear that digital journalism got off on the wrong foot with a “bad business model,” this new way to get the news for free. That set an expectation of reluctance to pay for it.

“What if almost the entire newspaper industry got it wrong?” asks Jack Shafer on Politico.com.  He is Politico’s senior media writer.

“What if, in the mad dash two decades ago to repurpose and extend editorial content onto the web, editors and publishers made a colossal business blunder that wasted hundreds of millions of dollars? What if the industry should have stuck with its strengths–the print editions where the vast majority of their readers still reside and where the overwhelming majority of advertising and subscription revenue come from–instead of chasing the online chimera?”

Fascinating speculation, and Shafer admits it’s a contrarian viewpoint, but he bases it on a study of 51 U.S. newspapers by two University of Texas researchers, H. Iris Chyi and Ori Tenenboim. They published a paper in Journalism Practice, an academic journal.

That paper, said Shafer, “cracks open the watchwords of the newspaper industry to make a convincing case that the tech-heavy web strategy pursued by most papers has been a bust.” That strategy, Shafer adds, “has been a losing proposition for most newspapers.”

Come to think of it, history shows an “all eggs in one basket” strategy can lead to disappointment. The U.S. economy’s reliance on petroleum led to high costs and disruptions by unreliable sources. The electric power industry relied heavily on coal until air pollution and other problems forced the industry to turn to alternative and cleaner energy sources, like solar power. Nuclear power was heralded as the technology that would turn deserts green, but safety concerns derailed some of those hopes.

Continue reading Digital Journalism: Another Failed Business Model?

In Trump’s Locker Room Culture, Billy Bush Caught the Fungus

By Casey Bukro

Usually, a journalist at the center of an explosive story would be congratulated. Not Billy Bush.

Billy Bush.
Billy Bush suspended in wake of Donald Trump making lewd comments. Wikimedia photo

He’s the one cackling and giggling in the background of the 2005 tape as Donald Trump brags about kissing and groping beautiful women. “I just start kissing them,” Trump says. “It’s like a magnet. I just kiss. I don’t even wait.”

Egged on by Bush, Trump adds the remark about grabbing women by the genitals, using an obscene term, saying, “I can do anything.”

Released on the eve of the 2016 elections, the tape has been played countless times as commentators speculate about its likely impact on Trump’s chances of being elected president as the GOP contender.

No need to wonder about Bush, Trump’s enabler in that episode. NBC suspended him as a co-host of the “Today” show.

Bush was co-anchor of “Access Hollywood” at the time the tape was made. NBCUniveral Television Distribution, with NBC-owned station KNBC, has been solely responsible for producing “Access Hollywood” since 2004.

Bush was a rising star until the video train wreck. It might be a stretch to call him a journalist.

Television personalities often consider themselves entertainers or performers who want to put on a show. Brian Williams, for example, gave himself credit for doing things he did not do, making his reports more exciting until NBC learned of his fabrications, then suspended and reassigned him. Makes you wonder if these guys ever heard of journalism ethics.

William Hall “Billy” Bush is the nephew of former President George H.W. Bush and cousin of former President George W. Bush and former Florida Gov. John Ellis “Jeb” Bush.

The website MediaShift says Bush’s story “should serve as a cautionary tale for our modern age of journalism, where social media and reality television have oblitered the line between reporting the news and becoming part of it.”
Continue reading In Trump’s Locker Room Culture, Billy Bush Caught the Fungus

Bankruptcy Ends Gawker’s Stare

Gawker.com
Gawker’s slogan: “Today’s gossip is tomorrow’s news.” Gawker.com image.

By Casey Bukro

On the Chicago police beat, which I covered at the City News Bureau of Chicago, legend was that police sometimes arrested suspicious characters for mopery with intentions to gawk.

By definition, a gawker is a person who stares openly at someone or something. To gawk is to gape, stare or rubberneck without trying to hide that you’re doing it. A gawker also can be an awkward or clumsy person.

So when Financial Times reporter Nick Denton launched Gawker.com in 2003, I figured I knew what to expect. The website described itself as a media news and gossip blog, one of its goals being to “afflict the comfortable.” Gawker Media became a network of blogs, including Gizmodo, Deadpan, Jezebel and Lifehacker.

Farhad Manjoo, in the New York Times, called Gawker Media “the first publisher that understood the pace, culture and possibilities of online news. And it used that understanding to unleash a set of technical, business and journalistic innovations on the news industry that have altered how we produce, consume and react to media today.”
Continue reading Bankruptcy Ends Gawker’s Stare

British Journalists Chastened on Ethics

newsofworld

Ethics violations close Britain’s News of the World. itv.com photo.

“Let not England forget her precedence of teaching nations how to live.” —Milton

By Casey Bukro

British journalists are more likely to pay sources for information than American journalists, but journalists in both countries agree that providing reliable information is their chief goal.

These are among the conclusions of a survey of 700 of the United Kingdom’s almost 64,000 professional journalists, by the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism at the University of Oxford.

On ethics and standards, said the report:

“There is a close correspondence between U.K. journalists’ views on ethics and their professional codes of practice. However, they are more likely to find justification for ethically contentious practices, such as paying sources, than journalists in the United States.

“Rank and file journalists in the U.K. push ethical boundaries more than their managers, and 25 percent of all journalists believe it is justified, on occasion, to publish unverified information.”

As for misrepresentation and subterfuge, U.K. journalists expressed mixed views about whether claiming to be somebody else is acceptable. Fifty-four percent believe it is never justified and 46 percent think it is justified on occasion. U.S. journalists, according to the study, are more disapproving, with only 7 percent agreeing that misrepresentation is justified on occasion.

Continue reading British Journalists Chastened on Ethics

Teaching the Agony of Ethical Dilemmas at DePaul

NBC 5 photo
Carol Marin in center of NBC 5 staff viewing the Laquan McDonald shooting video as it arrived before airing. (NBC 5 photo)

By Casey Bukro

“There is real agony to ethical dilemmas as we strive to be both competitive and excellent,” said Carol Marin, one of Chicago’s most respected journalists, as she launched DePaul University’s Center for Journalism Integrity and Excellence.

Marin will be co-director of the new center with her longtime television producer, Don Moseley. Both recently won Peabody Awards for their coverage of the police shooting of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald, the third Peabody for Marin and the second for Moseley.

Marin and Moseley were among the speakers at a reception celebrating the launch. The new center is dedicated to turning students into investigative reporters who dig hard, but with compassion for those afflicted.

Journalists do not always recognize or honor that delicate balance. In her remarks, Marin cited the McDonald case as an example of how hard it was to strike that balance at NBC-owned WMAQ-Channel 5.

“When the video of that night was finally released by the city under court order, we at NBC 5, from the president of the station all the way down to the working ranks of the newsroom, stood at the assignment desk together and watched it,” Marin said. “Saw the officer fire 16 shots. Saw an explosion of droplets fly out as the bullets hit. Saw Laquan McDonald spiral and fall to the ground.

“The pressure of being first to report is a real pressure,” she said. “But better to be late than be wrong.”

Continue reading Teaching the Agony of Ethical Dilemmas at DePaul

Photo of Halloween Display Challenges Editor’s Ethics

Halloween display at Fort Campbell taken down after complaints.
Halloween display at Fort Campbell taken down after complaints. Contributed photo from clarksvillenow.com.

By Casey Bukro

Lynching is no joking matter in the United States. News manager Robert Selkow found himself in the middle of a controversy over a Halloween display featuring three figures hanging from a tree.

“I got a photo on a smartphone,” recalled Selkow, who is site manager and news director of clarksvillenow.com, an online hyperlocal website affiliated with six radio stations serving Middle Tennessee and southern Kentucky.  “It looked like a scene out of (the movie) ‘Mississippi Burning,’ black figures being hanged.”

He said it turned out to be “the most powerful image we ever published.”

Selkow contacted Ethics AdviceLine for Journalists in facing this sensitive issue, and agreed to discuss details of the case publicly.

The offensive Halloween display was in the residential area of the Fort Campbell military base on the Kentucky-Tennessee border near Clarksville.

Continue reading Photo of Halloween Display Challenges Editor’s Ethics

Shifting Views on Naming Sexual Assault Victims

Media Matters for America illustration
Rolling Stone retracted its 2014 article about an alleged campus rape. (Media Matters for America illustration)

By Casey Bukro

A ban on naming sexual assault victims has been one of the ironclad ethics rules in journalism. Why inflict more pain on an innocent person?

The Society of Professional Journalists code of ethics says: “Be cautious about identifying juvenile suspects or victims of sex crimes.”

Yet even this rule is coming into question as people decide what rules they want to follow.

For example, Stephen J.A. Ward, a media ethicist, points to the trial of Jian Ghomeshi, a former Canadian Broadcasting Co. radio host. Ghomeshi is charged with sexual misconduct involving three women in 2002 and 2003.

One woman insists on being identified. The others’ identities are protected under Canadian law.

“So what should newsrooms do if the complainant insists on being identified?” asks Ward. “It’s a complex legal and ethical decision.”

Ward described how identity bans work under Canadian law. But two trends complicate the issue.

“One trend is the growth of media beyond the mainstream journalism that was the original focus of the ban,” he writes. “Social media, bloggers and others may ignore the ban. The second trend is that some people want to be named” and “may use social media to identify themselves as a complainant.”

Once the name is ‘out there’ in the media world, it’s very difficult to erase.

One of the central rules in journalism ethics is minimizing harm. Ward reasons that this means explaining consequences, to make sure complainants give informed consent to the use of their names.
The problem prompted the Canadian Association of Journalists ethics committee to release guidelines. The committee suggests journalists take specific steps to ensure informed consent:

  • A journalist should explain that, once a complainant’s name is made public, other media likely will use the name too.
  • A journalist should explain that that the name likely will be used on social media, over which the journalist has no control. Individuals on Facebook, Reddit or other social sites will post comments. Some of them “can be vile.”
  • A journalist should explain that, once the name is “out there” in the media world, it’s very difficult to erase.
  • A journalist should not pressure complainants to make their names public.
  • A journalist should explain that, given the nature of search engines, the sex crime report might be the first thing that appears when someone does an Internet search of the complainant’s name. Has the complainant thought about the information being available indefinitely when applying for jobs, entering into relationships or having a family?

The guidelines report also advises journalists to give complainants a day or two to think about their decisions before making their identities public.

“Taking that time up front will almost certainly reduce the likelihood of ‘source remorse’ and the possibility of an unpublishing request later.”

The CAJ report also reminds journalists that they are obligated to tell the whole story, not just the complainant’s viewpoint. The 2014 Rolling Stone magazine story about an alleged campus rape turned out to be bogus because it was based on the allegations of one person. Sex crimes often involve conflicting viewpoints.

The Canadian ethics panel suggested, as an alternative to an “all-or-nothing approach,” considering refusing to share a story through social media channels, not archiving stories that name victims or removing names from a story. But these actions could raise more ethics concerns.

The Bill Cosby case is an example of the complications in alleged sex crimes. Controversy can simmer for decades. Journalists and authorities have been accused of protecting the popular entertainer. Some women kept silent in the belief nobody would believe them. Years later, some identified themselves as women who were allegedly drugged and sexually assaulted.

Years ago, sexual assault was a crime that people hesitated to talk about under social norms. That has changed. Television and the online media discuss and show sexual situations openly. It’s the new norm.

Still, it’s a good idea for journalists to keep in mind the golden rule: Minimize harm.

Edited by Stephen Rynkiewicz

Sean Penn Touts Experiential Journalism on ’60 Minutes’

60 Minutes

Charlie Rose on CBS’ s “60 Minutes” broadcast.

By Casey Bukro

Sean Penn told “60 Minutes”, the CBS television news magazine, that he was practicing “experiential journalism” when attempting to interview Mexican drug lord Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman.

Penn admitted he failed. His article, based on an encounter with Guzman in a Mexican jungle and published in Rolling Stone magazine, was intended to spark a public discussion about U.S. policy on the war on drugs.

How could he succeed? When Penn actually had a chance to confront Guzman face to face, instead he asked Guzman if he has visited his mother and whether he knows Columbian drug lord Pablo Escobar. These are not penetrating questions that could trigger public discourse.

What he did was not experiential journalism. He knows the phrase but he doesn’t know what it means.

American Journalism Review uses the phrase to describe “How Virtual Reality Could Depict News in 3D.” In this case, newsrooms attract young users with in-the-round video on the Oculus Rift gaming platform: “Strap them in vision-encompassing helmets and let them experience the news like a video game.”

A Nieman Journalism Lab report names experiential journalism as one of “The Five Es of Journalism in 2016.” Neiman Lab is a Harvard University project aimed at discovering where the news is headed in the Internet age.

“Journalism has always been about more than just the facts,” according to the report. “There is a place for informational news but also for experiences that immerse the audience in the narrative.”  It cites the New York Times’ “Snow Fall” feature, “an attempt at using words, graphics, video and interactivity to have readers feel the story.”

Continue reading Sean Penn Touts Experiential Journalism on ’60 Minutes’

What the Ethical Robo-journalist Needs to Know

The ethical rob-journalist.
(Shutterstock photo)

By Casey Bukro

Can machines learn ethics?

The Associated Press already uses an automated platform capable of producing up to 2,000 stories a second. This is especially handy when companies issue quarterly earnings, which can be drudgery for a human reporter who scans the reports for meaningful numbers and statistics.

The robotic journalist crunches those numbers in seconds and spits them out in readable form, not in Pulitzer Prize-winning style but adequate.

Robo-reporting is especially handy for business and sports stories heavy on numbers and scores.

Northwestern University was among the pioneers in using machine learning, or pattern recognition software, to assemble the basics of a news report. A 2009 student project created software to write a headline and story from a baseball game’s box score. Two NU professors in 2010 started a Chicago company, Narrative Science to find commercial uses for the technique.

Stories written by robots have a lot of potential for the news business, and a few issues that need to be hammered out. Like ethics.

Computers, for example, could become plagiarists.

“Just because the information you scrape off the Internet may be accurate, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you have the right to integrate it into the automated stories that you’re creating — at least without credit and permission,” said Tom Kent, Associated Press standards editor, in a Digital Journal article, which cited comments Kent made to the University of Wisconsin Center for Journalism Ethics.

“I think the most pressing ethical concern is teaching algorithms how to assess data and how to organize it for the human eye and the human mind,” said Kent. “If you’re creating a series of financial reports, you might program the algorithm to lead with earnings per share. You might program it to lead with total sales or lead with net income. But all of those decisions are subject — as any journalistic decision is — to criticism.”

Continue reading What the Ethical Robo-journalist Needs to Know