Monthly Archives: March 2012

Journalism and Faith

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What is the big deal about journalism and religion?  Here is the problem… we cannot ignore religion, because obviously it exists everywhere and it is a big deal, but it is also a very touchy subject to cover; so we must be extremely careful. In the minds of the public, there are also many misconceptions about religion.  People are very defendant about their religion, yet critical to the beliefs of others.  This is a problem because not only are there many different views, but people are passionate about their religion.  For a journalist covering certain faiths, there is really no way to be objective.  Religion is opinionated (for the most part), and there is no real proof about certain religions; religions are usually based on faith which cannot be proven.

“Journalism and religion is a tough mix. Religion depends on faith, and journalism demands proof.” –Jim Robertson, Columbia Daily Tribune

As far back as journalism and religion go, there has always been a tension between the two subjects and probably always will be.  The group which presented on this subject had many good quotes, one in particular fits perfectly with the point of objectivity in covering religious matters:

“It’s false that a reporter can unplug his ideology and somehow become neutral.” –Mattingly

This statement is completely true.  As hard as a journalist tries to become unaffected by religion, it cannot be done.  The principles you learn and grow up with stick with you and become a part of you.

So what do we do about this objectivity in religion problem?

The book recommends that we remember that the context is the key to the complete reporting of a story. For instance, if you are writing from a certain religion’s point of view or on a certain religion’s event, you can write about what they believe.  We must just make sure to let the public know it is in that specific point of view.  A journalist reporting about religion must shed light to the religion.  Let people know what the religions believe; clarify the misconceptions, but remember to report it as a news story.  We must not ever generate heat.

Another good bit of advice is to go directly to the source.  Reporting on a certain religion should require insight by a member of that specific faith.  Rumors start through the grapevine, so we must remember not to report on things we hear word-of-mouth.

If the public wants a specific religion’s point of view, there are places they can go for that.  Resources for religion writers include the RNA (Religion News-Writers Association), and Poynter Institute, and more.

In reality, “all news is religious news.” Religion is everywhere and impacts everyone.  A University of Rochester study found that religion is mentioned far more than it is in the subject of a story.  Religion is even used as criterion to identify people, like the press identifying a quote from Mitt Romney by saying, “Mormon Mitt Romney.”

Does all this talk of religion as a source of identification cause a stereotype?  Depending on how the audience receives the information, it can cause a stereotype.  Unless the public is more educated in aspects of religion, people will be affected by how people in a specific religion behaves, even if it is not in accordance to their faith.  That is where the journalist comes in: to shed light on the source of religion and clear the mixed air.

Although it is extremely difficult to write on a subject you may not believe in, sometimes that is what journalism requires.  I hope that a journalist can write religious stories based off of the view of the members of the faith instead of his or her view; that is the only way to make it non-biased.

A journalist must keep individuals and their actions separate.  If a religious purpose is a motive for somebody’s action, report it.  If it is not, leave religion out.  Nonetheless, we cannot ignore religion.  Simply state events as they are and be careful where boundaries lie.  If religion is involved, report it, if it is unimportant for a story, leave it out. This is how we avoid stereotypes and anger towards journalists.

Should a journalist be able to reject writing a story about anything they do not believe in? If the subject matter would cause the journalist to be biased, they should have every right to refuse the story.  A journalist should be expected to write it even if they do not agree, but if the journalist knows they would not be able to, that is their right to refuse–which would actually benefit the public as well.  Journalists must take themselves out of their own shoes and step into the shoes of others in order to understand and inform.

The fact is, religion exists.  Reporters must report on it, they cannot ignore it.  This is why journalists must be objective, informed, and understanding, in order to properly inform the rest of the world.

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Journalism as a Public Forum

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The 6th Principle of Journalism is:

Journalism must provide a forum for public criticism and compromise.

Kovach and Rosentiel went further and stated that the sixth principle of the press is “an essential obligation of the craft, second only to telling the truth.”

What exactly is a public forum?  To be honest, I was not so sure at the start of this lesson, but I have learned that a public forum is  a place open to public expression and assembly.  This goes along with the 1st amendment. 

As citizens, we have a right to speak up and have our opinions heard.  In regards to the press, they work for us–so that means they must act as a public forum.  The principles of journalism all intertwine with each other to create the perfect source of news and public opinion.  There is so many different opinions in the world so how does the journalist handle all these views?  A journalist’s job is to be the mediator.  The process is as follows:

–> Journalists report news and information–> People start thinking–> the public reacts–> Community is filled with public voice–> Public voice is heart by people in power–> People in power understand and act on public opinion. (Then it goes back to the top).

By now, we all know that journalists must be objective.  Journalists’ objectivity help them to be the mediator or compromiser, just as the rest of the principles go hand-in-hand.  As a public forum, journalism must stick to these principles in order to stay factual and verified and reach out to everybody’s concerns. This is where journalism as a public forum becomes a bit more complicated–it must reach out to the broad areas of agreement, where most of the public resides and solutions can be found.

The reason journalism as a public forum is found more difficult today in particular, is 4 specific reasons:

  1. Talk is cheap.  Today, there are more talk shows than there are news rooms because talk shows are cheaper to broadcast and run.  Forums are being distorted as time goes on; blogs and comments are getting in the way with what people believe.  We need to remember to take blogs and rumors or opinions as opinions, not fact.
  2. Expertise is devalued. The example this group gave was of the public recognizing Ryan Seacrest as the new “New Year’s Face” instead of Dick Clark.  Years from now nobody will remember the legends as well as they remember who is popular now for their entertainment.
  3. Poor Media Diet.  The bulk of media that people consume is from entertainment.  This is why public forums are also devalued because it seems as though people simply do not care anymore.  News is not as cared for, or possibly just not believed.
  4. Nature of discussion. When people do talk, they tend just to argue.  The forum is not getting anywhere it is only causing disagreements.  This nature of discussion has changed over the years as people become more stubborn or opinionated, or both.

Journalists are concerned with the way news is headed.  People are more concerned with delivering the news instead of gathering it first, so facts are not checked to be valid.  Polarization is another problem because the spectrum of opinion seems to be extremist.  For example, the Crossfire Syndrome–what once used to be debate now shut down because they were not addressing the middle ground people. Previous to this class, I did not realize there was such a problem with journalism, or even how difficult true journalists are to find.  Journalism is a hard job.  This world is corrupted with fake journalists and mistaken facts for truth.  The internet can be a tool for journalism or a hinderance.  Technology has spread news to parts of the world it could not reach previously, but  it also causes confusion by the false sources.  The internet is based off of opinions, which is why it realistically is making journalism more confusing and difficult.

So why do we care?

If we do not verify our subjects of check our facts, we will be left with cyberspace chatter–simply empty talk.  There will be nothing to talk about with meaning or value, and then what will society become?  Facts will be mistaken for lies and lies will be taken as truth.  There is nothing we can do about the internet problem, but we can make sure all we write and do is following the truth.  As future journalists, we must remember to compromise!  Use journalistic principles! Journalism must act as a public forum.

Matthew 5:16

Who let the Watchdogs Out?

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“The watchdog is unlike any other role. For all that is similar to all other journalism, it requires special skills, a special temperament, a special hunger.  It also requires commitment of resources, a desire to cover serious concerns, and a press independent of any interest except that of the ultimate consumer of the news.” —Elements of Journalism

What exactly is watchdog journalism?  It is pretty self explanatory, making the affairs of powerful institutions more transparent to the public.  It is “watching over the powerful few in society on behalf of the many to guard against tyranny.”  Not only do watchdogs keep on eye on what is going on for warnings, but they must praise institutions for the good too, not only the bad.

Journalists are the watchdogs to the public.  Their purpose is to “monitor power and offer voice to the voiceless,” as the book Elements of Journalism statesJust as a watchdog guards their property for intruders or suspicions, as does a journalist protect the public from things they could not see.  Watchdog journalists, like the quote above states, must be dedicated to their job; they must be willing to go to any length to find the news the public needs to know.  It is believed by 9 out of 10 journalists, that the press keeps political leaders from doing things they should not do.  If watchdogs do their job right, the government cannot become corrupt.  This ties into how important journalism is–remember journalism as the fourth estate.

There are 3 types of investigative reporting (Watchdog reporting):

  1. Original Investigative Reporting–Which is the journalist alone, finding something out and letting the public know.  Any good journalism is truly investigative.
  2. Interpretative Investigative Journalism–The journalist put more careful thought into their work and piece the news together to put into context. An example is the Pentagon Papers.
  3. Reporting on Investigating–The news is already out, but then these reporters further report on what is already known. It could be scary because of so much skepticism of the reporter involved.

Looking at these ways to report the news, there is a question that rose from this group’s presentation which was, is it okay to be one-sided?  Is advocacy journalism tolerated?

In my last blog post, I stated how journalists cannot be tied down by restricted laws although they must be ethical.  So now I am going to further support that by saying that journalists can be one-sided. The reason is only because journalists can write about anything as long as the public knows why they are writing in a certain tone or it is made known their view is one-sided.  There must be no secrets in journalism.  After all, that is what communication is all about.

Like everything else that fades over time, the watchdog role is being weakened.  Since there is now a blur between the lines of entertainment and news, that obstructs the watchdog journalism duty.  This is a problem because watchdog journalism is what shaped journalism in the first place!  We must do all we can as future journalists to preserve their original role.  Why does it matter to other people who aren’t future journalists?  I will tell you why.  It is because this is what the people ask for.  Watchdog journalists give people the news they need and desire to know.  Without that role, there is no difference between entertainment and news.

Ethics in Journalism

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“You cannot legislate a journalist” –Quote from Presentation

This statements required me some thought to understand.  The way I took it, is that the country cannot give laws to journalists restricting them from writing certain things because it is their ethical duty to expose the truth.  If journalists are required to possibly be unethical in order to get an important story, it could be worth it.  On the other hand, journalists must play with the circumstances.  For example, it was not extremely necessary for reporters to scope out when and where Whitney Houston’s body would be brought.  Many citizens became upset about this and for good reason.  It is an invasion of privacy and a personal time for her family and close friends.  Reporters must judge rightly when is appropriate to go undercover and when it is simply unethical.

The Society of Professional journalists have a code of ethics.  Is it unethical of journalists if they do not follow the code?  When journalists are working for a certain news company or SPJ for example, they must abide by the code of ethics given to them in order to stay on good terms with the company and keep their job.  The SPJ’s code of ethics is just vague enough and broad enough for journalists to completely obey.  This code is very well created because it gives the journalist freedom, while making sure they are maintaining their benevolence. I believe if journalists are given restrictions and an important story is found while a journalist breaks that restriction, the news company will always find a reason to let this case slide.  Truth for the public to know cannot be given restrictions.

Media is powerful.  We can see examples of this in every sort of media: television, radio, movies, etc.  Media can cause people to react or think in certain ways they normally would not.  There are six specific effects and theories describing how media can influence people, which are listed below.

Magic Bullet/hypodermic needle theory: which suggested that when the mass media send out a message and people react to it immediately.

Limited Effects Theory: Media has conditional effect on people

2-Step Flow Theory: Suggests that ideas flow from mass media to important opinion leaders, and from them it is spread to the wider population.

Spiral of Silence Theory: Claims people will not state their opinions if they feel they are in the minority.

Agenda Setting Theory: Media does not tell us what to think, but they tell us what to think about.

Third-person Effect Theory: The likelihood that people who view certain media, assume that the media has more of an effect on other people rather than themselves.

If media can cause people to do all the strange things these theories suggest, then it is a bigger deal than once thought.  Also, think of how long theses studies would have taken to conduct and conclude scientifically with these theories as their answer; nobody would waste their time on that if media was not such an influential factor.

Ethics in journalism are then important because media is so powerful.  Journalists must always be careful to not say something wrong or simply rude because they feel like it–that is unethical.  To a certain degree, journalists must have this code of ethics to go by even though journalists cannot be restricted from the truth by jurisdiction.  Journalists must always be ethical people, while (by some peoples’ views) going undercover or doing possible “unethical” things in order to expose the news.  In fact,

“News is what people want to keep hidden; the rest is publicity.” –Bill Moyers

Journalists must be journalists, but they must not step on everybody’s feet in order to do so.  Ethics. If the world were more concerned with themselves doing what is right in terms of morals or ethics, it would be a much better place.  Then again, if only everybody would first have the same view on what ethics are.

Independence

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The group that presented the topic Independence in Journalism quotes:

“Comments are free but facts are sacred”

This is what separates journalists form bloggers: journalists must state the facts without biased opinions, and bloggers can write about whatever they want with as much opinion as they can muster. There is a difference between reporters who add some appropriate emotion to the stories, and biased reporters.  The group gave the example of Walter Cronkite.

When the reporter is expressing some emotion on a serious story, it’s appropriate if it reflects what the subjects of the story (or the public in general) are feeling.  Walter Cronkite showed how amazing the first landing on the moon was by his facial emotions on that remarkable report, which was only appropriate.  The first landing on the moon was a big deal; his emotion did not cause any facts to be different from the story nor did it cause any contention because that is the way everybody felt. I also love seeing this because it shows Walter’s passion for his job.  The bottom line to journalism is that journalists are in their profession because they love it; we must aspire to be like Walter Cronkite and not someone like Maggie Gallagher, who is known for violating the principles of journalism.

Authenticity is a form of honesty:

A news anchor knows things that the public does not know; it is their job to portray the sense of emotion the certain story or event they are covering, so the public can understand fully.

Journalists can be independent from those that they cover, but it is more of a state of mind instead of complete isolation. No matter what background the journalist has, they must be journalists first.   The ultimate goal of the newsroom is to have an “intellectually mixed environment.” We need a richer, fuller, view of the public.

Since everybody does have different backgrounds that can effect the view of a journalist, we must simply make sure that when we state opinions, we don’t give them as fact.  That way, journalists can still be independent because their opinions will be separated from the facts.  We cannot be independent of the person we are.  Ultimately, WE CANNOT BE FULLY INDEPENDENT, BUT WE CANNOT BE DEPENDENT OF FACTION!

What do you think is appropriate for journalists to do outside of their jobs?

Like Linda Greenhouse going to a rally for a certain cause.  Does that mean she is biased in her writing? No.  True, it could matter to some how you publicize your opinion because some people might take you as biased.  Then again, journalists are some of the most informed people in society in all aspects, so it would be a loss to not allow journalists to voice their opinions in the public (not newsroom).

 

The Journalist as an Idealogue

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This particular presentation I won’t lie, caused me some headache and anxiety.  Everybody in the class was becoming so opinionated and I thought to myself: “Chill out everybody!” I may have just been in an anxious mood or have been hearing too much about what a journalist could be, that inside I just cracked; but maybe I’m right.  Every week in Comms 239, we have been learning that a journalist should be objective, detached, impartial, and that their first loyalty is to the reader.  I can tell you for endless hours how a journalist must have credible sources and get their facts strait without being biased.  Their writing must be transparent and original but remember what type of ambiguity your audience needs. So what is the point? Now, I know much better what it takes to be a journalist; however, I still believe my previous thought of what a journalist is–a sense-maker and a writer of important facts.  Truthfully, I believe there is too much contention over what a journalist is or does.  Now that we understand what they are supposed to do, we can be the best journalists as we can, but can we move on?  Journalists know what they must do so lets leave it to that.

What I did like from this week’s lesson, is learning that journalists should use the inference language, which is an interpretation or making a picture of all the puzzle pieces.  Journalists should not just report, but get the down-low of “how” something happened and let the public know.  This is what I loved because it finally made journalists seem more interesting!  The words we’ve learned that journalists should be, makes them seem so boring I couldn’t stand it.  I believe this is a turning point for me and we’re getting into the good stuff.  When I write stories, it must have a purpose; I can’t simply tell a story for the heck of it.  Why does it matter?  The answer to that question is what brings people in.  Stories are communication skills. It is what I want to know so I’d hope that is what journalists can give to the public.

 

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Another subject I’d like to touch on, is the question of a journalist’s complete objectivity.  I do not believe it is possible.  Opinions and twists on stories are what makes a story interesting!  We can be unbiased, but points of view will sneak into a story without even meaning to simply because the writer cannot change their background.  For example, if I just stated the facts of what a journalist should be without explanation or purpose or my idea behind the facts, people would be left wondering why and probably not even read my article. We must make it a story or facts with a purpose!

In the reporting sense, we must remember that your tone of voice can sound judgmental, so we must be cautious! This following link is to a video that shows how body language can effect what you are saying:

Judgmental Thief

I loved learning as well, what values are most important to Americans because, as a whole, the public is usually unaware.  We know very well what we individually think is important, but it is good to know what is important to everyone:

1. Altraistic Democracy 2. Responsible Capitalism 3. Order 4. Moderation 5. Leadership 6. Small-town Pastoralism 7. Rugged Individualism 8. Ethnocentrism.

These values shape our society and are very true to the U.S. They are important overall to the well-being of our country and journalists who know this can better cover their subjects.

Establishing the Truth, and Nothing but the Truth

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The third elements of journalism is: the essence of journalism is a disciple of verification.

Verification is what separates journalism from blogs, propaganda, films, etc. The three main points of verification are as follows: objectivity, transparency, and originality.

What is considered a reliable source? For me, it is when the story is stated as fact, something believable, with credible sources to back it up, and evidence of its occurrence. In the chapter on “Journalism and Verification,” in the book Elements of Journalism, it correctly states how the term objectivity is a misunderstood concept today and is largely lost. Many people think too much on this subject; as long as a journalist writes the facts, the truth will unveil itself regardless if there is a slight unbalanced perspective.  This included not putting emotional spins on a story or assuming anything. Never assume.

To ensure verification and maintain credibility in writing:

1. Never add anything that was not there.

2. Never deceive the audience.

3. Be as transparent as possible about your methods and motives.

4. Rely on your own original reporting

5. Exercise humility.

Humility means recognizing your errors.  We are not perfect; we are only human and we all make mistakes. The majority of the public does not like arrogant writers.  In addition to taking account of your mistakes as a writer, reading an article that is dripping with ego is thoroughly unenjoyable anyway.

“How can you claim to be seeking to convey the truth if your not truthful with the audience in the first place?”       –The Elements of Journalism

Transparency in writing is giving the audience the answers to questions like “How do you know what you know?”

This article gives a different view of transparent journalism, claiming to share personal aspect of your life to the writer. To be a transparent writer, does not mean you must open you personal life to the public.

Transparency in writing shows the writer’s respect for the reader and gives the reader a reason to trust the writer. It allows us to believe certain stories and disbelieve others.  Transparency shows the audience that there are no secrets; simply the facts how the audience wants.  It is called the key to credibility.  A journalist must include as much as possible about how the news organization got their information.  So how do we obtain it?  State both sides of the story, even if you do not have the answer. That exercises humility as well as gaining transparency.  To be more transparent and verified, sources should be made known instead of anonymous if possible. Writers must give reasons behind their actions; leave no secrets.  I don’t know about you, but whenever somebody acts like they are hiding something, I immediately become skeptical and defensive.  I am also so curious I need to find out what they were hiding–we wouldn’t want our audience to find out something we did not tell them.  That wouldn’t look so good.

Originality–another key aspect of verification.

Just like back in the fifth grade, not doing you own work gets you in trouble.  If a writer is not original, why trust them?  Credibility is lost once an esteemed journalist is found to be a fraud. Being original is part of being a journalist.  Do your own work and do it for yourself. Find the facts on your own, find credible sources on your own, and don’t be influenced by other media.

An example of a writer who did not follow these points of verification is Jayson Blair. Obviously he did not give credible sources–they were made up.

As long as we, as writers, follow the objectivity, transparency, and originality points, we can maintain credibility with our audience and change the world one blog at a time.