Saturday, January 27, 2007

Ethics Transparency in Newspaper Journalism

Here's a fascinating link, an "ethics walk" through a sensitive story. Click the question mark and see the rationale! Of course, you can't do this with every story. This is a "one-off" kind of exercise that can get shopworn pretty quickly. How many of these can you do? Newsroom staffs are shrinking. Certainly such an exercise should boost reader confidence -- unless it has the opposite effect if the readers conclude this would be a good idea for every story.

And spending time explaining what you are doing takes away from doing what you are supposed to be doing. Maybe there's less of a problem than I imagine. Maybe doing one or two of these a year reassures readers that such careful decision-making takes place for every story. Yet like so many of the bells and whistles that the Internet enables and by its existence seems to demand -- I think of those carefully coordinated multimedia stories -- it takes "group time" to do all this stuff. And does group time mean the individual reporters and editors and designers accomplish less? (I am thinking principally of the reporters.)

It's a legitimate question, but it may be that news managers have already worked out the calculus, as it were. That I raise the question may simply be carry over from those happy lone wolf days in the newsroom doing what I wanted when I wanted with no one looking over my shoulder.


david silver said...

great post michael.

the postregister's walkthrough is excellent.

i'm not sure it would require much additional time. what if the information underneath the question marks were generated by journalists at various stages of the story? for example, at certain fact checking stages, the journalist (or the editor or the other group member) inputs that information/confirmation into a wiki-like device that, later, spits it out into various informational points?

i love this kind of stuff. smart.

....J.Michael Robertson said...

Of course, a good point. If supplying such information were routinized, if it were expected and thus became a part of the fabric of the process, it would NOT be so burdensome. It would also incorporate ethical introspection into the reporting/writing process. I will speak from personal experience here. With some frequency I simply "did the work" according to what I considered to be the assumptions of the newsroom. Most of the time those assumptions were fine, but sometimes I was more automaton than moral agent. So, it would be interesting to know the degree to which this little Idaho paper has made this sort of introspection and explanation part of every day.

david silver said...

"It would also incorporate ethical introspection into the reporting/writing process."


if it were routinized, you'd get two for one: ethnical introspection and data for inspired web features like this.

michael, how about interviewing the folks responsible and posting the interview to the usf media studies and journalism blog?