Charlie Hebdo and the argument for ‘slow journalism’


Aidan White

Aidan White, director of the Ethical Journalism Network, will be in class tomorrow morning. He’s in town for the “Nous Sommes Tous Charlie” symposium that takes place later in the day (4-6 PM) in Fisher Auditorium.

White, who is from Northern Ireland, worked as a journalist for many years. EJN, the organization he now heads, partners with other journalistic and non-journalistic organizations around the world to promote better, more ethical journalism. Here’s an excerpt from EJN’s mission statement:

The Ethical Journalism Network promotes ethics, good governance and independent regulation of media content. The EJN was formed in 2011 as a unifying professional campaign bringing together owners, editors and media staff to strengthen the craft of journalism. It works across all platforms and supports partnership at national and international level between media, journalism support groups and the public.

The EJN calls for a new front in defence of quality journalism to counter efforts by governments and special interests to control the work of media.

But as we have all seen with the massacre in the offices of  Charlie Hebdo, there are new, terrifying “special interests” that aim to intimidate practitioners of free speech. The difficulty is in balancing the need for sensitivity to people’s beliefs against the right of the journalist, the satirist, the artist — anyone — to express a point of view that may be abhorrent to some (or many).

Stephanie Chernow with EJN wades into this very difficult gray area in a piece you ought to read on the organization’s website about how news organizations struggled with the question of whether to publish some of the Charlie Hebdo cartoons after the massacre. EJN’s five-point test on hate speech (an infographic) is a great tool for ethical decision-making when every defense seems equal (I saw merits in the arguments for and against publishing the cartoons).

SPJ’s code of ethics is also worth another look as we as journalists formulate our answer, especially this:

Ethical journalism treats sources, subjects, colleagues and members of the public as human beings deserving of respect.

You have an excellent opportunity tomorrow in class to hear the perspective of a wise and thoughtful journalist on what happened in Paris on January 7 (please read Mr. White’s director’s letter, published a couple weeks after the massacre). He advocates the practice of “slow journalism,” at times like these, a term I love because it acknowledges that speed is the enemy of many things — especially sensitivity.

Come prepared with your questions and your thoughts.

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