Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Informed Decisions

In an article on Poynter Online done by Leann Frola, Christopher Ritter, Virginia Tech's The Collegiate Times' Director, said on the day of the shooting, he made a point to only put out facts a few times an hour, rather than overload with analysis. He said, "After we got the information out, then our reporters would do a story on it." I believe this was an excellent move. Ritter saw that in this case, it was journalism's duty to the public good to only produce immediately useful factual information so that V-Tech students could make informed decisions quickly without sorting through outside analysis that might not be relevant. Perhaps the main-stream press can look to Ritter for guidance on the issue of producing purely objective pieces following tragedy so that the public may gain knowledge to form opinions rather than deciding opinions off of other opinions. For example, in the case of the War in Iraq, the press, as told by writer Gary Kamiya, relyed on governmental officials and the existing public opinion to report, anaylize, and write on the War rather than grinding out the bare facts to shape public opinion. Traditionally in the United States, the public has relyed on the press to watch-dog the government and gain first or second hand information that is not available to the general public. If the trend that started with the war in Iraq continues, then the checks and balances system that has gauranteed democracy in years passed might cease to exist--returning to the old regime of three governmental branches: Judicial, Executive, and Legeslative (currently, the fourth is seen as the Press). The press must realize that opinions are not the point of reporting, they are the point of editorials. If the press continues to evolve into a model of opinions, I believe they will have failed their duty to Democracy and the American people.

Monday, April 30, 2007

Tragedy Coverage

In the midst of tragedy, decisions are often made when circumstances are largely unknown and information still lingers outside the grasp of the masses. For this reason, it is critical for the media to produce as much information as quickly as possible so that the public sphere has the knowledge necessary to make informed decisions related to the tragedy. However, some information is better left dead--at least for a while. Starting in the 1990's and continuing into the new century, school shootings have rocked our nation in unprecedented frequency. This most horrific trend is too complex for a journalist such as myself to accurately dissect, but I believe that the shootings themselves are a sick response to our nation's declining morals. Blame, outside the shooters themselves, cannot be placed on any one entity, but the trend itself may, in my opinion, be a combination of three things: one, that our society's digression into the commonplace of pervasive violence in all forms of media; two, that the violence shown in the media isn't coined as "bad"; and three, of which this post will be centered around, there is a disconnect between the shootings and mass society. Furthermore, on this third point, I believe our nation does not know how to handle such tragedy, and the lack of that specific knowledge has led to the development of a sort of copy-cat effect in which these shootings occur again and again because the media, in a way, glorifies the shootings and thinks little of the traumatic emotional damage inflicted on the victims. For example, in this most recent and tragic Virginia Tech shooting, NBC displayed the shooters video diary for all to see over the Internet—I didn't see this video on TV—NBC defiled the University and it's many victims when they decided to show this video. I can recall one police authority saying that the video re-attacked the victims involved in the incident. Blame cannot be placed on NBC though. Blame can only be placed on those who knew better--who knew? I don't believe our nation, as a whole, has any idea how to act in the following weeks of these shootings. Moreover, I don't believe we have devised ways in which to prevent these shootings in the future. It is a great deal harder to prevent these tragedies in our country than in most others because we have the right to bare arms as well as the right to free expression (media's violence). NBC, as well as the rest of the media, needs to rely on the voice of experts when dealing with tragedies and not their own ideas of news coverage in cases such as these. The video could serve the public in no way, especially in the way it was displayed. Maybe it could be used as an example of warning signs to look out for in the future, but the way they put the shooters face on seemingly countless screens is completely disrespectful to the victims and their family and friends. This is the video NBC should have focused upon:

Sunday, April 01, 2007

The Potter Box

The Potter Box allows for clear decisions in terms of deciding loyalties when a specific and conclusive definition of the event being evaluated is established, but is this also the case when the event's definition is unclear? For instance, in the case of many international events, facts can be confusing and hard to understand because of different cultural norms and the issue of specifics being lost in translation. Is the potter box still useful when this is the case? I believe so. Taking as much information as possible into consideration in order to formulate the most accurate description as we can is often the best we can do. Even when we can't confirm the exactness of our definition we must move forward. When looking at what Hume says about the distribution of information--that it is better to get information out sooner, even when that information isn't guaranteed to be accurate, than to wait for a sure thing at which time the information is no longer relevant or useful--we can make the same assumption about deciding loyalties. Sometimes we must arrive at a conclusion before we can be sure of what exactly happened. The truth is elusive and waiting around for a sure thing is unrealistic. We must take the facts we have and use our common sense to best judge the situation. As reporters, this means we try to get the facts and we always aim for the truth, but when we can't get the sure thing, we must still act. We have decisions to make and deadlines to meet--sometimes we have to take the shot without knowing exactly what we will hit. This is the nature of the business. Asking a stock broker to predict the market's future would be foolish, such is the case with asking a journalist to print only the unwavering truth. Back to the Potter Box--asking ourselves to make decisions and decide upon loyalties only when we can be certain every aspect of the situation is far from realistic. We aim, fire, and hope for the best. The best, in terms of truth, is not the truth--it is as close we can come to it. A reporter's duty is to work towards gaining truth. It is not the reporter's duty to be the truth.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

The Master Narative

In reviewing some materials on the Master Narrative, it seems that the "fair and balanced" model has become set in stone. Obviously, using competing sources and opposite sides to compare and contrast events is one way of assembling a product rooted in objectivity, but is making it the standard model of journalism really necessary--or right? Just as the standard economic model of supply and demand has shown to be less and less conducive to the changing times of a class divided society, showing all sides of a story as a way to balance opinion and fact in journalism seems to be equally limited in serving the general public. There are winners and losers in journalism and--even though they aren't as obvious as the winners and losers of economics, i.e. the rich and the poor--we can see an increase in the pervasiveness this trend. No longer is the pure and unaltered truth relevant in the media today, instead we see stories that balance boulders and pebbles on a troubling teeter-toter of fairness. Take this story on geoengineering.
In this story we see three sides to an issue when reporting was only needed on one. This piece, which in my opinion should have been largely informational in order to get the facts out to the public about certain less-well known responses to global warming (called geoengineering), has to share the floor with its competitors and quickly becomes a piece where geoengineers have to defend their position before the ever have a chance to state their position. I'm still not sure, beyond some crazy sounding idea titles such as "giant artificial 'trees,'" "'solar shade,'" and some sort of man-made volcano, of the exact stance of the geoengineers. However, this story flies because although most facts and evidences are neglected by the piece, the opinions involved are "balanced" and multiple sides are considered. This is similar to the horse-race type of election coverage in the US today where the issues and evidences are largely ignored, but the opinions about the candidates from experts are balanced and there for, an "objective" press is achieved. Objectivity has become code for 'neglecting the truth' in my opinion and I feel we should evaluate our present press system in which we have traded truth for trust. http://sfgate.comcgibin/article.cgi?f=/n/a/2007/03/18/national/a105406d42.DTL

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

An Ethical Lie?

is it ethical to lie about a source for his/her protection?

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Ethical Image?

Ethical of SF Chronicle/Gate putting a mountain lion maul victim on SF Gate Cover Page?
here is the site:

I believe so. But what about the kids?

Monday, February 05, 2007

Civilian vs. Expert

In the reading, it is prescribed that a reporter should only give the facts (no opinions) of a story and then the reader can interpret those facts as he sees fit. However, what about the role of source opinions in the paper, do they or should they have a spot? An expert surely has a role, as he/she has the first hand experience that could be deemed factual, but what about a mere civilian onlooker who has an opinion on some event or situation? I believe that it is the reporters duty to decide what should go into a story and what should stay out, but I believe that more often than not, the civilian voice should be left out and the discussion should be left to the experts. What do you think?