Tag Archives: Chicago Sun-Times

Is Buying Twitter Followers Unethical?

Is buying Twitter followers unethical?

News organizations rarely confronted that question before, writes Paul Fahi. The New York Times found the practice is widespread, and the Chicago Sun-Times suspended its movie critic for padding his follower count.

A critic says a falsified follower count is like a newspaper inflating its circulation figures.

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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

Undercover Investigator Insults Journalists

By Casey Bukro

David R. Daleiden said he misrepresented himself and falsified his identification while investigating Planned Parenthood because that’s what journalists do.

What an insult to journalists! Ethical journalists know that telling lies and deception while covering the news destroys their credibility. Who would believe a journalist who lies, cheats or steals?

That’s why the Society of Professional Journalists code of ethics clearly states: “Avoid undercover or other surreptitious methods of gathering information except when traditional open methods will not yield information vital to the public. Use of such methods should be explained as part of the story.”

True, there’s a qualification. And journalism lore is rife with tales of Hollywood-style derring-do, with reporters pulling off grand deceptions.

The Mirage tavern, a study in journalism deception.
The Mirage tavern, a study in journalism deception.

In 1977, the Chicago Sun-Times bought a tavern and staffed it with reporters and photographers to show the extent of corruption and shakedowns by Chicago city inspectors and others who took $10 or $20 payoffs to ignore safety or health hazards. Then the Sun-Times published a 25-part series that documented the abuses and crimes in the Mirage tavern.

You’ll still get an argument from some journalists who say it was a terrific story and resulted in major city, state and federal reforms. The talk at the time, though, was that the series failed to win a Pulitzer Prize because the investigation was based on deception, and that was wrong.

Continue reading Undercover Investigator Insults Journalists

Take This Job and Shove It

 

Dave McKinney

 Dave McKinney

 

By Casey Bukro

 

Once again, one of Chicago’s top journalists is telling his bosses  to “take this job and shove it.”

The latest example is Dave McKinney, a highly respected  Chicago Sun-Times political reporter and Springfield statehouse bureau chief.

McKinney complained of being “yanked from my beat” and placed on temporary leave after staffers for Bruce Rauner, candidate for Illinois governor in an election that was only weeks away, made accusations against McKinney and his wife “in a last-ditch act of intimidation” trying to kill a story about Rauner.

McKinney pointed out that the Sun-Times editorially endorsed Rauner’s run for governor.

“Readers of the Sun-Times need to be able to trust the paper,” McKinney wrote in his resignation letter. “They need to know a wall exists between owners and the newsroom to preserve the integrity of what is published. A breach in that wall exists at the Sun-Times.”

Journalists were quick to come to McKinney’s defense.

The Chicago Headline Club, with a membership of about 500 journalists, said it was “shocked and disappointed” at McKinney’s treatment, and called it “a sad day in the history of the Sun-Times and Chicago journalism.”  The news spread fast.

In response, Jim Kirk, Sun-Times publisher and editor-in-chief, called McKinney “among the best in our profession,” but his leave was intended to “ensure there were no conflicts of interest……” Kirk denied that the newspaper’s ownership and management had any role in the matter. He took responsibility for the decisions.

Chicago tends to take its journalism, and sometimes its journalists, seriously.

The last time such an open conflict over news ethics erupted was in 1997, when Carol Marin and Ron Magers quit as evening co-anchors at WMAQ-TV Channel 5 over management’s decision to hire trash talk host Jerry Springer as a commentator on their news broadcast. Springer was known for hosting a show that featured raucous domestic disputes.

Marin and Magers considered Springer’s role on their broadcast “an affront to their credibility and integrity.”

On the day she quit, Marin had a story in the Chicago Sun-Times, where she is a political writer, with the headline: “Credibility, Thy Name Isn’t Springer.”

The decision to hire Springer turned out disastrous for WMAQ-TV. Not only did it lose two admired co-anchors, its 10 p.m. newscast ratings plunged 13 percent.

Robert Feder, a media columnist for the Sun-Times at the time, wrote that Channel 5 executives admitted that hiring Springer was a mistake after losing the anchors and “sending thousands of viewers fleeing in disgust.”

Springer also quit WMAQ after only two nights on the air, saying “it’s gotten too personal.”

Television viewers often form bonds with TV personalities, who are usually attractive and friendly. It’s as though those people on TV are personal friends, sometimes.

Those kinds of bonds seldom form with the largely invisible newspaper writers and reporters, who sometimes describe themselves as “ink-stained wretches.”

In this multi-media world, McKinney did appear on television via Skype broadcasts, reporting on political developments in Springfield. But it’s unlikely that readers will flee from the Sun-Times over the McKinney affair, as viewers fled WMAQ over the resignations of Marin and Magers.

In one of those strange twists, Carol Marin collaborated with McKinney on the Rauner investigation. Marin responded, saying the Rauner investigation was fair and accurate, although a “scorched earth” philosophy is not unusual in a political campaign.

“And so the Rauner team went over our heads to our bosses at NBC5 and the Sun-Times….” with untrue accusations, she wrote.

Hardball is the way the game is played in Chicago in both cases. But the basic issues are the same: Ethics, credibility and integrity.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Picture This, A Newspaper With No Photographers

By Casey Bukro

Journalists are hardened by now to the continuous drumbeat of layoffs and cutbacks ripping through journalism these days, so it’s not easy to shock them.

But many were shaken by the news that the Chicago Sun-Times laid off its entire staff of 28 full-time photographers, planning to use freelance photographers and reporters to shoot pictures.

It’s ironic, really. The Sun-Times is a tabloid, dating to 1844, which built a powerful reputation on the smart and creative use of photos. Of the eight Pulitzer Prizes won by the paper, two were for photography. It was known as a picture newspaper.

What was management thinking? In a statement, it said the “business is changing rapidly and our audiences are consistently seeking more video content with their news.” Their vision is a video newspaper. Management usually has the final word in such matters.

Sun-Times reporters joined the laid-off photographers in a peaceful demonstration outside the newspaper building. The Society of Professional Journalists code of ethics says everyone, including our colleagues, is deserving of respect.

The laid-off photographers are taking it like the professionals they are.

But how many set-backs can a great newspaper take?

When Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. bought the Sun-Times in 1984, it was recast in the gaudy Murdoch image, complete with bikini-clad pinups. It was his idea of what sells newspaper. Murdoch seriously misjudged Chicago, thinking it was a blue-collar town of steel workers. Some of his star columnists defected in disgust. And they keep going.

After selling off assets, Murdoch sold the Sun-Times and left it weakened.

In 1994, the Sun-Times was bought by a company controlled by Canadian-born press baron Conrad Black. In 2007, Black was convicted of fraud and stealing $60 million from company stockholders, and sent to jail.

And now, new management is set to work its magic. Let’s hope the Sun-Times catches a break this time. It could use one.