Some ethical decisions are pretty easy: turning down gifts from sources. Tweaking a quote to make it just a little more perfect. Pretending to be someone you’re not to get into a trauma victim’s hospital room (yes, this stuff really happens).
Most ethical decisions, however, are tough. They may involve potential harm to one person or another. Often, they’re “damned if you, damned if you don’t” choices.
If someone tells you they can lay out all the right answers for you, they’re lying. The truth is, you’re going to have to build your own ethics decision-making muscle. It takes practice to learn how to think through an ethical challenge.
Here are some questions Poynter put together to help journalists develop a process.
And here’s one more:
10. Can I clearly and fully justify my thinking and my decision? To my colleagues? To the stakeholders? To the public?
Imagine yourself defending your decision — to the public, in particular. It’s amazing how this works. If you can’t find the words, or suddenly find yourself stumbling to articulate your reasoning, it might be a sign that you’re in a pretty risky place. Slow down and think again.
So here’s a chewy ethical question: Should a newspaper publish a standout college athlete’s juvenile criminal history — a sex crime he committed against a 6-year-old girl when he was 16?
The Oregonian did.
The newspaper also published a lengthy explanation for its decision.
Work your way from the top to the bottom of Poynter’s list of questions. We’ll talk about it Thursday in class.
Apologies for the tardy post, but you’ll recall that on Thursday Katherine asked each of you to pick one of the leads that you’ve written this summer and rewrite it to make it better. You might also want to discuss briefly why you thought the original lead just didn’t work that well, particularly in light of the tips and ideas Katherine shared with you last week.
So, please post below the headline for the story you selected, the lead as it ran in your original story, and then the new and improved version.
For extra credit, try writing a tweet (as part of your blog post) promoting your story. Remember that a tweet should do more than say: “Hey, I wrote this story and you should read it.” It should delve a little deeper into the content and share with the reader something they wouldn’t get from headline or the lead. And it should be fun.
Thanks for playing. Go.
Scott gave you two stories to read about the fracking boom. One, ” Y’all Smell That? That’s the Smell of Money,” was published in Texas Monthly in October 2014. The other, “Fracking Boom Spews Toxic Air Emissions on Texas Residents,” was published by Inside Climate News in February 2014.
Here’s what he asked you to do: Look at both these stories and respond in the comments below this post with your observations about the different frames these two stories adopt. Scott says: “The difference between the primary frames — fracking is good vs. fracking is bad — is pretty obvious. But there also nuances within those primary frames that can be analyzed and discussed. What sources do each of the authors use, and how are they treated? Who does the author believe are the stakeholders that have a place in the story, and how prominent are each of those stakeholders? How are the pros and the cons of fracking discussed, if at all? How do the photographs contribute to the frames? In the Texas Monthly example, you might even notice that advertising contributes to the frame.”
You’re about to take the plunge into a completely different kind of class. Come to think of it, “class” might not be the best way to describe the experience you’re about to have. You’re about to become a reporter, with lots of help from lots of people. If you’ve done a little reporting before, that’s great. If you haven’t, do not despair: You’re not alone. And we won’t let you fail.
Unless you don’t meet us halfway.
What do I mean by that? As Woody Allen once said, “Eighty percent of success is just showing up.”
Showing up, in the context of the reporting class, means doing more than just occupying a seat in the newsroom or in class or on assignment. It means really being present, paying attention, and thinking, thinking, thinking. It means: asking for help when you need it, after you’ve done as much as you can on your own:
- (very carefully) reading (not “skimming”) the previous reporting on the topic you’re covering and taking notes on it
- making a list of the people you need to talk to and research you need to read
- making another list of all the questions you need to ask and checking them off, one by one.
Showing up — being present and prepared — will allow us to help you do really well in reporting and walk away with the kind of experience (and clips) you came here to get.
This is the Missouri Method. It’s not just marketing. It really works. If you don’t believe me, I can give you the phone numbers of about 20 people you can talk to — former students — and some of them have already won Pulitzer Prizes. Ask them if this whole thing works.
You might want to know what not showing up looks like:
- Not showing up. I mean, like, physically, because you’re afraid of this whole reporting thing. Understandable, but self-destructive
- Not paying attention in class or in our morning meeting
- Not volunteering for stories
- Not taking advice from editors
- Not making to-do lists
- Not writing down what people tell you
- Not using social media to share your work, others’ work, thoughts and ideas
- Not coming into the newsroom with ideas
- Not thinking like a reporter (“Hey, that might be a story!”).
Good luck. It’s going to be waaaay more fun than you think.
You’ve been a reporter, now, for at least one semester. You’ve called total strangers on the telephone or walked up to them on the street and asked them questions, sometimes sensitive ones. You’ve asked them to share personal stories with you, sometimes painful ones.
You’re still somewhat new to this journalism thing, so you’re (hopefully) not cynical, yet, or not too cynical to have some pretty worthwhile ideas about this battle we’re in right now for the public’s trust, which is closely linked in many people’s minds to the survival and health of our democracy.
So we want to know what you think:
What is the greatest threat to journalism right now?
What we can do about it, and what makes you think that might work?
Oh, and before you write, maybe you want to engage in some useful procrastination. Have a look at this amazing thing The Oatmeal did.
Sorry about the bad words, but this is brilliant. It’s part of the puzzle.
We’ve been reading and talking about C.J. Chivers’ Pulitzer Prize-winning feature, “The Fighter,” and one of the insights you heard was related to his use of first person in the story and the justification of that later, when he plays an active role in the story.
Chivers plays a direct part in getting Sam Siatta out of prison where, arguably, he should never have been in the first place and where he was sure to become more ill.
This is a role that journalism and journalists sometimes play indirectly through the impact of their journalism and/or through their actions as journalists in the service of a conviction that a great wrong has been done.
What if, on a daily basis, we could — through our journalism — engage communities more deeply by framing our stories to include solutions, rather than simply laying out the problem? Journalism often seems to be based on the implied assumption that all we need do is inform people about the existence of a problem. The rest is up to other people to figure out.
What if we’ve been more than half wrong most of the time?
By Tuesday morning class time, I would like you to read this Solutions Journalism Toolkit and get grounded in what solutions journalism is and how some newsrooms have begun to practice it — to eyebrow-raising effect.
I would also like you to save this PDF to your desktop because you will have to use it for a short assignment later this week.
We missed one. Nieman Storyboard didn’t.
What makes it so good?