“My view is that we have to keep the long run in mind,” Washington Post Executive Editor Marty Baron tells the Poynter Institute’s Journalism Ethics Summit. Scott Nover reports on trust in the media and other big stories in the Trump presidency.
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.
“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.”
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.
Not many codes of ethics urge journalists to “take all possible measures to mitigate the odds of a crash.”
But the Professional Society of Drone Journalists code does that, and says its guidelines “should be viewed as a layer of additional ethical considerations atop the traditional professional and ethical expectations of a journalist in the 21st century.”
Drones can provide images and data for “immersion journalism”, according to a blog post that predicts virtual reality tools will allow audiences to experience the sights and sounds of news events as if actually there.
The door to this future is slowly opening as the Federal Aviation Administration works to strike a balance between assuring public safety and supporting the commercial drone industry.
The Killeen Daily Herald in Texas reports that the FAA has acted on more than 3,000 petitions seeking approval for U.S. drone operations.
Section 333 of the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012 gives the FAA authority to grant certificates for the commercial use of small, unmanned aerial vehicles. Journalists already use drones to cover newsworthy events, the newspaper points out.
The FAA, meanwhile, is moving cautiously. Each month, it says, the FAA receives more than 100 reports from pilots and others who see what appear to be unmanned aircraft flying close to an airport or manned aircraft.
“It’s become a serious safety concern for the agency, and a potential security issue for the Department of Homeland Security,” the agency said in a statement. As a result, the FAA is working with other agencies to develop technology to detect and identify “rogue drones” and their operators.
A 2014 FAA report denies that the U.S. lags behind other countries in approving commercial drones, adding: “we want to strike the right balance of requirements for (unmanned aircraft systems) to help foster growth in an emerging industry with a wide range of potential uses, but also keep all airspace users and people on the ground safe.”
The Professional Society of Drone Journalists claims members from the Boston Globe, ESPN and Reuters in its global ranks, along with freelancers and academics. “Established in 2011, PSDJ is the first international organization dedicated to establishing the ethical, educational and technological framework for the emerging field of drone journalism,” its mission statement reads. “We develop small unmanned aerial systems (sUAS) for journalists, and explore best practices to deploy them for a variety of reporting needs, including investigative, disaster, weather, sports and environmental journalism.”
Its membership roster includes individuals with an interest in drones, and companies that manufacture them. So what is it primarily, a group that represents drone manufacturers or a drone advocacy group?
“I am under the impression it is an advocacy group,” said Mark LaBoyteaux, owner and operator of Hawkeye Media based in the Dallas-Forth Worth area. “But I haven’t heard from them for two or three years,” adding “I thought it evaporated.”
It started, he recalled, when a group of journalists who wanted to use drones for news photography sought permission from the FAA. Instead, the agency sent cease and desist letters to them.
“I got a letter from the FAA,” said LaBoyteaux. As a result, “they wanted to form a group that could work legally with the FAA and use photography for news gathering.”
LaBoyteaux uses five “multi-copters” for aerial photography and video photography. He understands that the FAA is relaxing its rules on drones “to let them be used for commercial purposes.”
On its website, the Professional Society of Drone Journalists espouses a “layered approach” to form its code of ethics, including traditional journalism ethics, privacy, sanctity of law and public spaces, safety and newsworthiness.
Drone operators must be adequately trained, according to the guidelines, and the equipment must be suitable for safe and controlled flight in adequate weather conditions.
Newsworthiness is the foundation of the group’s “hierarchy of ethics.” Drones should be used only after careful deliberation. “The investigation must be of sufficient journalistic importance to risk using a potentially harmful aerial vehicle,” the statement says. “Do not use a drone if the information can be gathered by other, safer means.”
“Our aim is to get beyond hobby-grade equipment and to establish what options are available and workable to produce high quality video journalism using various types of (unmanned aerial vehicles) and camera setups,” CNN Senior Vice President David Vigilante says in a statement.
FAA Administrator Michael Huerta adds: “Unmanned aircraft offer news organizations significant opportunities. We hope this agreement with CNN and the work we are doing with other news organizations and associations will help safely integrate unmanned news gathering technology and operating procedures into the National Airspace System.”
With this kind of high-level cooperation, drone operators might declare they have liftoff.
Chicago Police Officer Jason Van Dyke shot 17-year-old Laquan McDonald 16 times, and every second of that fatal shooting was recorded by a police car dashboard camera in the middle of a Chicago street.
That video has been broadcast countless times, showing every twitch of the body and what appear to be puffs rising from McDonald’s body as bullets strike.
It’s gruesome, but it shows exactly what happened. The video is compelling evidence to disprove early police accounts that McDonald, who was black, was walking toward police with a knife in his hand and menacing police.
The video indicates that McDonald was walking away from police when Van Dyke, who is white, opened fire with a barrage that caused McDonald to twirl around, drop on his backside and roll to his right. Van Dyke kept shooting as McDonald lay in the street Oct. 20, 2014.
An autopsy confirmed that McDonald was shot 16 times. Van Dyke was indicted on six counts of first-degree murder and one count of official misconduct.
Police misconduct in shooting deaths in the United States is a major story propelled by television, a visual medium.
The use of phone video or dashboard cameras are recent developments that make it possible to show what happened, rather than rely on police or witness accounts. Technology is playing a bigger role in proving guilt or innocence.
But how many times is it necessary to show McDonald striding toward police, then falling to the ground as Van Dyke shoots him? Sometimes the whole scene is broadcast, sometimes it is edited so that it shows McDonald walking toward police.
Since all the Ethics AdviceLine for Journalists consultants teach on campuses across the country, it seemed logical to ask them how they and their students reacted to events that played out at the University of Missouri over press freedoms and protests over racial tensions.
An earlier AdviceLine blog post focused on what appeared to be an attack on First Amendment press freedoms when faculty member Melissa Click attempted to banish two student photographers from the protest scene, for which she later apologized.
Hugh Miller, assistant professor of philosophy at Loyola University Chicago, took what he called a contrarian view.
“I disagree,” said Miller, citing a lawyer friend who pointed out that the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution “is a restriction imposed upon the state, not upon individuals…. It imposes no restrictions on individuals.
“Reporters are perfectly free to jam a microphone in my face – no government authority can prevent them from doing so. And I am perfectly free to tell such reporters to get stuffed if I don’t want to talk or have them around. In so doing I do not violate the First Amendment. The First Amendment is not, IMHO [in my humble opinion], a license for journalists to demand, and get, access to coverage.
“Whether the contested access is on public property makes little difference to the First Amendment issue (though it may be important in a property rights sense). Nor does the First Amendment impose duties or obligations upon individuals to afford journalists the opportunity to cover them.
Amid the chaos of student and faculty protests over racial tensions at the University of Missouri, student photographers Tim Tai and Mark Schierbecker stood out as young men who understood their First Amendment rights to photograph and videotape the historic event in a public place.
Sadly, Tai and Schierbecker were badgered, harassed and bullied by students and faculty while trying to do their jobs.
Schierbecker videotaped Tai as he was harangued, surrounded and pushed by a crowd of students and older individuals who held their hands in front of his camera and would not allow him to move forward.
“We will just block you,” says one. “You need to go.”
Others chanted, “hey, hey, ho, ho. Reporters have got to go.”
Another says, “You gotta go, bro. You lost this battle, bro. Just back up.”
To his credit, Tai stood his ground and explained patiently, “The First Amendment protects your right to be here and mine.” He added, “I’ve got a job to do.”