Powerful men often have a way with words, although not always in the way we might expect.
Mayor Richard J. Daley of Chicago was famous for malapropisms, often saying the opposite of what he meant. He was Chicago’s powerful mayor for 21 years, and an example for journalists taking measure of Donald J. Trump.
Daley was the undisputed Democratic kingmaker in Illinois and beyond until his death in 1976, both feared and respected. Daley was a force in John F. Kennedy’s 1960 presidential victory, leaving lingering hints of vote fraud. A dressing down by Daley could leave his underlings in pools of sweat.
But his speech was sometimes tangled and mangled, often while he was agitated or angry. Such as the time he was talking about the battle being waged by police against street violence during the 1968 Democratic National Convention.
“Gentlemen, get the thing straight once and for all,” the mayor said. “The policeman isn’t there to create disorder; the policeman is there to preserve disorder.”
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.”
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.“
Let’s start with a hoary cliche: A picture is worth a thousand words.
Think of photos that stick in your mind: The Hindenburg zeppelin wrapped in flames; dead soldiers at the Battle of Gettysburg; Robert Capa’s D-Day Invasion images; the Iwo Jima flag-raising by Joe Rosenthal; the Beatles; Muhammad Ali; Marilyn Monroe; Elizabeth Taylor; that Afghan girl with haunting eyes in National Geographic; Einstein and Picasso, to name a few.
They are iconic images, in part because they are believed to be accurate portrayals of people and events. Some of those people are famous because they are so photogenic. You want to stare at them.
That makes the relationship between photographers and their audience important, especially now when pictures are vital to covering the news, and when technology makes it so easy to alter images.
It was not considered a big deal a decade or more ago. But now it is, because accuracy in photography is seen as important as accuracy in reporting.
That point was made by the Associated Press when it cut ties with Pulitzer prize-winning freelance photographer Narciso Contreras for altering a picture. He admitted that he edited out a video camera from the bottom left corner of a photo of a fighter holding a rifle.
The Guardian said the “sacking” seemed “very draconian.”
The Associated Press did not think so. Brian Schwaner, AP bureau chief in New Orleans, said:
” AP is quite strict on its requirements for unaltered material, even photos of only marginal value. For example, a few weeks ago the flack for a political candidate sent us a rather standard mugshot for our files, for use during the election. Our bureau photographer took a look at it and was suspicious. After running some tests, he discovered it had been heavily PhotoShopped. The flack was informed and we rejected the photo.
“So the scrutiny ranges from the basics – like this simple mugshot – all the way up to celeb shots and battlefield photos.”
That’s the way it’s done these days, although, ironically, it’s a time when news organizations cut their photo staffs as a cost-saving measure. That means more reliance on freelancers. Contreras was a freelancer, and maybe that’s part of the message.