Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Online Journalism and Bad Ethics

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I used to use Yahoo! for the majority of my news gathering. It usually gave me interesting news and different kinds of news. It was easy and right there to use. But I recently stopped using Yahoo! at all. One of the reasons was that I've found more news on Twitter (Twitter is apparently a hive for journalists) and its more immediate. But the biggest reason I stopped reading Yahoo! was due to the lack of professional standards I started seeing in their journalists. 

I'm not sure if Yahoo! wants to be more of a blog than a real news organization, but I have a problem when people who call themselves "journalists" (i.e professional journalists) start to turn the news into their own personal blogs and to further their own personal agendas. 

I saw it in other stories they reported on, but the ones I saw this the most in was in their reporting on LGBT stories. Now I'm fine reading these and was interested in them because its now a "hot button topic". Its big news and journalists are capitalizing on LGBT stories. 

See, these journalists when reporting on the topic would often insert their own personal opinions into the story and I finally got fed up when I started seeing them call people who disagreed with them, "bigots" and all sorts of other things. 

I'm not okay with this. Because Yahoo! doesn't clarify if this is really news they're presenting or opinion pieces. If this is a blog within the organization I'm reading, or if their editors are somehow letting this slide as an actual piece of news. 

I'm not okay with this because 1) the very first thing you learn in journalism classes (I should know, I'm a journalism student) is to NOT insert your opinions into a reporting piece (unless you're writing an opinion piece), 2) you shouldn't be calling your readers bigots in the first place on a professional website. Its not good PR, I believe. 

Now I know online journalism is usually written in a more "conversational" style, but that still doesn't mean that you can totally forgo all professional standards. If you want me to take you seriously as a reporter, then you have to act like a professional. 

According to my journalism textbook, The Society of Professional Journalists' Code of Ethics is considered a standard for most media professionals. This code of ethics rules that journalists should: 
  • Examine their own cultural values and avoid imposing those values on others.
  • Support the open exchange of views, even views they find repugnant.
  • Distinguish between advocacy and news reporting. Analysis and commentary should be labeled and not misrepresent fact or context.
  • Avoid conflicts of interest, real or perceived.
  • Remain free of associations and activities that may compromise integrity or damage credibility.
  • Deny favored treatment to advertisers and special interests and resist their pressure to influence news coverage.
And while there's no clear code of ethics for online journalism itself, the Poynter Institute has recommended a set of rules for online journalism.
  • Journalists should avoid conflict of interest. 
  • News Organizations should clearly label news and opinion. 
  • Journalists who work for news organizations may keep personal blogs, but they should discuss their plans with an editor to avoid potential conflicts. 
 I don't care what you're writing, but if you're a journalist and you're writing actual news, leave your opinions out of it. If you want to write your opinions into something, clearly state that this is an opinion piece or get a blog.

So I even took the liberty of emailing SPJ's Ethics Hotline (you can also call them, but since I was writing this over the weekend, I emailed them) and the Vice Chair of their ethics committee emailed me back, agreeing that opinions should be kept separate from news and that opinions in news stories should be labeled as such.

So, have you seen other examples of bad journalism in the media lately? (I would show you the article I'm talking about and a few others but unfortunately, I didn't save them).


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