Tag Archives: Media Ethics

Troubling News Source

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By Casey Bukro

Ethics AdviceLine for Journalists

The Minnesota reporter said she had a “strange and not-disclosable” relationship with a news source, but it was not sexual, not even a friendship.

The source, an elected official, gives the reporter insights into stories on the county beat, but the reporter is conflicted over where to ethically “draw the line” when using the source. She is becoming uncomfortable with the nature of the relationship and is not certain she can remain objective if the source is part of the story.

Told of this conflict, the reporter’s editor suggests taking the reporter off the county beat, or having someone else cover a story that involves the problematic source.

The reporter called the Ethics AdviceLine for Journalists, asking what she should do.

Take a moment and reflect on what you might suggest to the troubled reporter. She wants to be objective, but feels she is being drawn into a relationship she has trouble defining, and one that could lead to a more serious ethical dilemma in the future.

The Ethics AdviceLine for Journalists advisor recognized that the reporter wants to do the right thing, but is reluctant to give up the source or the county beat, where she has deep experience. She values the “inside” information but has used the source so often, the relationship has become ethically uncomfortable. She fears a time might come when she might be required to report unfavorably on the source.

The safer course, reasoned the advisor, would be for someone else to interview the source when necessary, with the reporter’s coaching, rather than abandoning the county beat. The advisor complimented the reporter for her self-examination in trying to reach an ethical solution to a matter that was bothering her.

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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.

Roe vs. Wade Leak

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By Casey Bukro

Ethics AdviceLine for Journalists.

A soothsayer warned Julius Caesar to beware the ides of March, sometime around 44 BC.

Daniel Ellsberg leaked the Pentagon Papers to newspapers in 1971, revealing that the Johnson administration had systematically lied about the United States’ political and military involvement in Vietnam from 1945 to 1967.

WikiLeaks, launched in 2006, publishes news leaks and classified media provided by anonymous sources. The international non-profit organization said it released online 10 million documents in its first 10 years.

Leaks of sensitive, sometimes shocking, information are a time-honored tradition in history and the United States. It’s done, often by whistle-blowers, who believe the public is entitled to know something that is being kept secret.

The latest example is the explosive report by Politico that a U.S. Supreme Court draft opinion proposes to overturn the landmark 1973 Roe vs. Wade decision that made abortion legal in every state. Politico reported: “No draft decision in the modern history of the court has been disclosed publicly while a case was still pending.”

The 98-page draft was written by Justice Samuel Alito, who says abortion is not mentioned in the U.S. Constitution. This argument might appeal to constitution originalists, although the high court rules on cases involving jet planes, which also are not mentioned in the constitution.

That might be among the many issues the revelation unleashed, including highly emotional protests that largely eclipsed news about the Russian invasion of Ukraine for a day or two. It opened layers of concerns about legal abortion availability, the honesty of justices who said they supported Roe vs. Wade as established law at their confirmation hearings and the authenticity of the draft opinion. A day after the disclosure, Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts confirmed that the leaked draft ruling was authentic, but did not represent the court’s final decision in the case.edia ethics

Among the troubling concerns raised by the leak was how Politico obtained the draft ruling, and from whom. This is in the realm of journalism ethics. The Society of Professional Journalists code of ethics cautions journalists against using undercover methods to obtain information, promising anonymity, favors to news sources or paying for information.

“The ethics behind Politico’s decision to publish the document will likely become a case study for future generations of journalists,” writes Kelly McBride, senior vice president of the Poynter Institute, a journalism school in St. Petersburg, Florida. “Politico offers very few details about how they got the copy…..(and) what the newsroom did to confirm that it’s real or even if it’s the most current draft.”

Politico reporters Josh Gerstein and Alexander Ward said in their 2,500-word story that Politico received a copy of the draft opinion from a person familiar with the case along with details supporting the authenticity of the document. They did not elaborate.

McBride wrote further: “Editors at Politico would help dubious readers if they explained why they are so confident the document is real and how they made the decision to publish it. When confronted with an unprecedented leak like this, news consumers are understandably skeptical in this era of mis-and disinformation. When journalists behind the work don’t signal that they have gone through an ethical process, consumers may conclude that ethics don’t matter to journalists.”

But McBride had no doubts that it was newsworthy. “Clearly, “ she wrote, “an unprecedented leak that could overturn a five-decade-old divisive national issue is news.”

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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.

Ethics and Algorithms

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By Casey Bukro

Ethics AdviceLine for Journalists

George Orwell was right. Big Brother is watching, only now they are called algorithms, the list of instructions and rules that a computer needs to do a task.

In Orwell’s book, 1984, Big Brother included totalitarian forces that governed the thoughts and actions of people living in a dystopian science fiction society under mass surveillance and regimentation. In Orwell’s imagined future, Thought Police persecute individuality and independent thinking. Big Brother is the dictatorial leader.

Now, 73 years after the English writer’s book was published in 1949, rigid and mindless computer algorithms do the job of governing human behavior. But now it’s not science fiction.

Orwell might be surprised to learn that Big Brother became senile.

Here’s an example: On April 6, I posted on Facebook a report explaining how an ethicist tells the difference between a genuine ethical dilemma and a difficult ethical choice. This is about ethics in journalism. I tried to boost that report, aiming to get a bigger audience through advertising.

The response from Meta for Business, the new corporate name for Facebook, said: “Your ad was rejected.” It went on to say the ad was rejected “because it doesn’t comply with our Cheating and Deceitful Practices policy.” Imagine that. Meta considers a report about ethics, the study of right or good conduct, as cheating or deceitful conduct.

Meta algorithms must have overheated a circuit or two to arrive at that conclusion. Or Facebook and its algorithms are unfamiliar with the term “ethics.” That might be the reason, a year ago, the CEOs of Facebook, Twitter and Google faced congressional lawmakers who criticized them for algorithms that promote misinformation and online extremism, such as baseless election fraud claims and anti-vaccine content.

Back to the issue of ethics being cheating or deceitful conduct, Meta stated further: “Ads may not promote products or services that are designed to enable a user to engage in cheating or deceitful practices.” The rejection notice gave eight examples of cheating or deceitful practices. None of them mentioned ethics.

One of the prohibited examples: “Ads many not promote fake documents, such as counterfeit degrees, passports, immigration papers, or fake currency.” Another discouraged “Incentivizing or soliciting reviews in exchange for free products.”

None of them seemed to justify banning an ad about ethical practices intended to help journalists.

It appears Facebook and its algorithms need to be smarter about ethics, including the welfare of their users.

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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.

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.

Crash Photos Debate

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By Casey Bukro

Ethics AdviceLine for Journalists

A small Illinois daily newspaper routinely publishes photos of vehicle crashes that meet its standards: No blood, no bodies or other graphic imagery and no license plates shown.

The editor contacted the Ethics AdviceLine for Journalists saying some readers complain that such photos should be omitted because crash vehicles can be identified by relatives of the driver. Other readers say that such photos have news value.

What do you think? Omit crash photos, publish them or display traffic accidents in a different way? What would be the most ethical thing to do, especially since this controversy is happening in a small community where many people know each other? Consider community values.

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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.

Decade of Media Ethics

Decade of media ethics: Sydney Smith gives an overview of major issues and trends from 2010-2019.

The term “fake news” rises in political reporting. Hoaxes, lawsuits, retractions and firings crop up in covering the president.

The last half of the decade saw an apparent decrease in plagiarism and fabrication cases.

 

Media Bullying

Media bullying: Alexandria Neason and Nausicaa Renner comment on media intimidation of Prof. Christine Blasey Ford.

“Journalists spend much of our professional lives wading through justifications for our subjects’ behavior and asking when has it crossed an ethical line,” they write. “This hearing shows the urgent need for us to examine our own.”