Category: Ethics

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Journalism Matters

Over on Google+ today, Alex Hernandez reminisces on 2015’s closing by looking at content from years past. Among them: Dan Lyon’s February 2012 missive “Hit men, click whores, and paid apologists: Welcome to the Silicon Cesspool“. Hey, I vaguely remember that indictment of Silicon Valley journalism. Alex, who runs tech-news site Techaeris writes in response to the nearly four-year old story:  “I’m working really hard to not be a ‘Valley Press’ site—as Scott Wilson rants about often—and after reading this and a few other articles today, I may be reforming the way we approach things.

Jack Weisz mentions me in a comment, to which I responded and to another from Alex. While both responses reiterate principles posted to this site many times before, end-of-year reflection is good time to present them again. 

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Responsible Reporting Section 3 ‘What You Must Do’: Chapter IX

I owe you an apology. Months ago I promised to finish serializing my ebook Responsible Reporting: Field Guide for Bloggers, Journalists, and Other Online News Gatherers, before releasing it into the public domain. The last installment was in mid-October, with one chapter and the Afterword remaining. As I prepare for the New Year, not leaving loose ends is top of mind. Thus, with a huge sorry, this evening I present the closing chapter (but exclude the outdated March 2014 Afterward), The book will release into the public domain to start 2016.

I have posted from Chapter IX before, on Dec. 30, 2014: “You Could Study Journalism, or Learn as Much Watching These Five Films“. Each movie teaches lessons about responsible reporting—some by illuminating irresponsible and/or unethical behavior. The last in the list expresses in an exchange between characters something that should be embedded into the synapses of every 21st Century news gatherer: 

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The ‘Cesarean is Safer’ Lie

So I’m sitting at McDonald’s with my 93 year-old father-in-law, who likes to eat from the all-day breakfast menu for lunch. Behind him, across the aisle, sit three elderly gents who don’t look to be quite as old but nevertheless it’s a 70-plus group. They gather daily apparently.

One man announces that he can’t make lunch tomorrow. “My daughter is having a baby”. When, another geezer asks. “At 9:30 in the morning” is the answer. “How do you know?” I could answer that one, and the reason why. I lean forward and listen with greater focus. “She’s having a Cesarean”, the man answers. What he says next chills my bones and inflames my anger: The doctor says that the procedure is “safer” than natural childbirth. 

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credit: Roger H. Goun

Reporting Accuracy Starts with Responsible Sourcing

If you’re a blogger or journalist and read nothing else this week, make it New York Times story “Paris Attacks Give Rise to Fakes and Misinformation“. The Nov. 16, 2015 postmortem shows why, why, why I constantly harp about responsible sourcing. The Internet is not a reliable news source. You must corroborate and should, never, never, never second source anything you can’t confirm independently, or, in the case of breaking events, you can trust reliably.

I’ve been bitching on this blog since posting, in May 2010, “The Difference Between Blogging and Journalism“; September 2011 followup: “Single Sourcing is the Source of News Evil“. Or you can refer to the chapter on sourcing from my ebook Responsible Reporting: A Field Guide for Bloggers, Journalists, and Other Online News Gatherers

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Where No Values Have Gone Before

For more than two weeks I have kept open in a browser tab essay “How Star Trek Explains the Decline of Liberalism” by Timothy Sandefur. Someone shared the story in one of my social feeds in mid-September—and apologies for not recalling whom. I don’t agree with the title, set against the writing, but I do largely agree with the analysis about Star Trek’s reflection of our society over the course of 50 years.

I loved the original series, which aired in 1966. Much as I liked, and even imitated Spock, Kirk’s bravado and moralism rapt my attention. He acted rather than hesitated. Meanwhile, series creator Gene Roddenberry and his producers, directors, and writers used the storytelling as metaphors and allegories commenting on American society and its values. I aspired to be like James Tiberius Kirk: Do the right thing, for the greater good of all, regardless the risk. 

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Responsible Reporting Section 3 ‘What You Must Do’: Chapter VI

After a long hiatus, serialization of my ebook Responsible Reporting: Field Guide for Bloggers, Journalists, and Other Online News Gatherers resumes. This chapter, and the last, are the most important for doing what you’re supposed to report responsibly. Major theme last time: The importance of asking “Who benefits?” about everything. Today’s installment turns around concept “conflict of interest” and points the finger back at you. The traditional view about conflict of interest is misguided, and it is fundamentally outdated for online news reporting—or any other.

As Chapter VI explains, I see objects of conflict as mattering much more than traditional concept of conflict of interest. Stated differently: Human relationships are more influential than financial gain. Worse, there is a fairly recent trend where bloggers or journalists post ethics statements, which I view as worse than useless. So-called transparency justifies continued conflicts rather than separation from them. 

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Responsible Reporting Section 3 ‘What You Must Do’: Chapter III

The next several chapters of my ebook Responsible Reporting: Field Guide for Bloggers, Journalists, and Other Online News Gatherers are among the most important for reporting responsibly, ethically, and without conflicts of interest. The themes are recurrent on my website, and any regular readers should immediately recognize them.

Today’s installment explains the importance of audience trust, and builds from previous chapters, particularly  I and II from the same section. But to best follow the logical flow, you should start at the beginning: Foreward; Section 1, Chapters I and IIIII and IVV and VI; Section 2, Chapters IIIIIIIV, and V

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When the Crowd Roars

The Internet backlash against dentist Walter Palmer for killing Cecil the lion is one of the best examples of mob journalism ever. The narrative spreading across the InterWebs is some ways well-meaning but in many more is destructive. Meanwhile, the force of collective-will tempts too many journalists to join the mob opinion, when they should stand aside and offer objective and responsible reporting.

Before writing another word, I must praise National Geographic for the best reporting about this event. The magazine offers broader perspective and, more importantly, puts big game hunting into larger context, while taking an objective tone. The raging mob’s perspective is myopic, and news sites supporting it fail the public good.

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I Should Thank the President

We are solid citizens again, with health insurance in place for the first time since May 1, 2009. Last November, I shared about “My Uninsured Life“. Now that circumstances changed, update is warranted, even if brief. Our coverage started as of Midnight today. We are among those Americans subsidized through Obamacare.

Our monthly family premium is a paltry $101 and some change per month for HMO plan with $500 annual individual deductible. The subsidy rewards the insurer with another $1,100 during the same time period. Someone please explain to me how such a gap doesn’t somehow reflect increased healthcare costs. What the frak? 

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Responsible Reporting Section 2 ‘The New Journalisms’: Chapter V

Last Sunday, we interrupted our weekly serialization of my ebook Responsible Reporting: Field Guide for Bloggers, Journalists, and Other Online News Gatherers, because of Father’s Day. Another interruption comes July 12, during San Diego Comic-Con. This week’s return completes the last of five journalisms, and the one that more than any other can lead to irresponsible news reporting.

Timing is interesting in context of the landmark Supreme Court ruling just two days ago that opens way for marriage between people of the same gender in all 50 states. There is a force of collective will washing across the Internet that could cause some journalists to bow before social pressure rather thcan offer probing analyses in second-day stories. For example, I see lots of quick criticism of the dissenting judges that doesn’t delve into the Constitutional concerns they raise, nor negative implications for rights-gainers with respect to taxes or other legal constructs. How much does the mob’s mood influence followups? My concern is process, and I express here no opinion about the ruling—just timing and context with respect to today’s mob journalism excerpt. 

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Don’t Go There

While sitting with my 93 year-old father-in-law outside the Starbucks in San Diego’s Hillcrest district, I observed a directional sign for two shops, today. Then I read them as a sentence and laughed. Okay, you—think like an imaginative kid and not a stuck-up-the-butt literal adult: Ignore the K. It’s funny, yes?

Strangely, I came to live the sign not long later. As we walked into Trader Joe’s, a neighbor said hello on her way inside. I politely introduced my father-n-law, then she started on about the Neighborhood Watch group that she recently organized. The first meeting went well, but she wasn’t sure how to contact me. That’s when I blew her holy smoke up her arse.