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ISOJ 2014

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  1. 1. Getting Past the Future: The Ethics of Inclusion for New Journalistic Forms Journalism ethics and values: Challenges in the digital age ISOJ; Austin, April 2014 Jane B. Singer, City University London @janebsinger
  2. 2. News and the new Whenever something new comes along, ethics typically are used to distinguish the familiar from the unknown. That is, journalists tend to describe their concerns with the new thing in terms of the ethical problems they see it raising. Ethics are used to create a boundary not just between old and new but also between ‘us’ (real journalists) and ‘them’. Sometimes, it must be said, journalists overreact. They delay exploring how the new thing can enhance the work they do while they come up with all the reasons it won’t.
  3. 3. OMG, it’s the Internet! • “In print, we’ve always had the luxury of, well, let’s see if what we have immediately is actually true and the whole story and can be verified. The old adage was, ‘Get it first, but first, get it right.’ Well, now it’s just ‘get it first.’” (US newspaper journalist) • “The Internet works with false information being presented as real. I guess what that boils down to is, who is to be held accountable?” (US newspaper journalist) • “Online, you can choose what you want to read about, and if all you want to read about is guns and ammo, you can do that for the rest of your life, and never even see anything else.” (US newspaper journalist) • “Instead of gatekeepers, we will become doormen and doorwomen, bowing down to every whim of the reader and worrying not to offend them with negative, realistic news events.” (US newspaper journalist)
  4. 4. OMG, it’s convergence / multimedia! • “I went to j-school to be a journalist, not to be a multimedia person, not to be a TV person, not to multitask. … I have never liked TV journalism. I’ve always thought it’s abhorrent, a sub-species” (US newspaper journalist) • “If I have to rush to the newsroom to enter with the story in an hour’s time, I just cannot stay around to get another interview or to do additional research, which I would had done if I were only writing for the newspaper.” (Spanish newspaper journalist) • “If we become a slave to an entertainment medium, maybe we’ve lost something. It hasn’t happened, but I can see the potential.” (US newspaper journalist)
  5. 5. OMG, it’s bloggers! • “It’s vanity journalism. ‘Oh look at me, I can express an opinion on something’. And I’m too much of an old-style journalist, you know I still put value on fairness and balance and everything else. And I don’t particularly care generally what most ill-informed people out there who appoint themselves pundits think. Because basically it’s drinking bath water.” (Canadian TV journalist) • Bloggers “publish because they hear ‘something’ from ‘someone’ who is ‘reliable.’ Sorry, not good enough.’’ (US newspaper journalist) • Blogging is ‘‘little more than hype dished out largely by the unemployable to the aimless.’’ (US magazine journalist)
  6. 6. OMG, it’s user-generated content! • When you have people involved who are not professional journalists, they don’t have a grasp of the ethics involved … You risk diluting the news to hearsay and gossip.” (US newspaper journalist) • “Things can be construed as fact when there’s nothing to back them up as facts.” (US newspaper journalist) • The value of UGC is “disproportionate to the excessive amount of management time which is taken up with trying to ensure it is accurate, balanced, honest, fair and – most importantly – legally safe to publish.” (British newspaper journalist)
  7. 7. OMG, it’s social media! • “Twitter floods the market with private thoughts of public figures, most of which aren’t really worth articulating.” (US alternative journalist) • ‘‘One function of mainstream media journalism is to disseminate information we’ve determined to be reliable. … The reliance on Twitter and Facebook is essentially throwing the doors open to everything and anything.’’ (US radio journalist) • “It’s like searching for medical advice in an online world of quacks and cures.” (US syndicated columnist) • “You have this view that there are lots of other people out there who are your eyes and ears. They can be really useful ... but your vantage point is a computer screen in an office block in London, and as a journalist you always find out more when you’re there. Always.” (British newspaper journalist)
  8. 8. Let’s just take a deep breath … … And look at this another way. It’s good to take the opportunity to articulate our values. And our ethical sensibilities are, in fact, fundamental to why we can plausibly claim to offer credible information and therefore continue to be trusted / needed. And yet. Every one of those innovations has ultimately enabled us to produce better journalism: more engaging, more multi-faceted, more accessible to more people in more ways and more places. So how about if we just skip the angst and get right to it?
  9. 9. Take social media, for instance ‘I’ve seen the future, and it’s mutual.’ ~ Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger As journalists have adapted to social media, we’ve seen: • Renewed attention to, and expansion of, verification processes. • The opening of information to more, and more diverse, views. • The provision of updates, tips and insights that previously were unavailable to all but the most elite (read: well-staffed) outlets. • More direct and overt accountability, such as through immediate communication about errors or ‘work in progress’. • More broadly, a de-emphasis on the norm of ‘objectivity’ (whatever that is) and an increased emphasis on transparency. It’s all good!
  10. 10. Your thoughts? Can we use ethics as a tool for inclusion rather than exclusion…right from the start? Journalism ethics and values: Challenges in the digital age ISOJ; Austin, April 2014 Jane B. Singer