Friday, October 29, 2010

Suppressing News at Police Request

Thanks everyone for the great questions and discussion on Thursday. You all voiced some intriguing opinions regarding where journalists stand when it comes to withholding information from the public based on police request.

The Raoul Moat case was interesting because of the way Moat specifically mentioned media coverage being responsible for his heightened anger-and the possibility of him killing again. If police shared this information with you, what would you have done? Although it (thankfully) doesn’t happen everyday, in situations like these journalists are faced with enormous ethical and professional questions. What if the media would have continued reporting on Moat’s story? What if someone else (aside from Moat) had been killed? Would coverage of the incident potentially have helped the investigation? What if someone in the public would have been able to identify the killer from news broadcasts and helped police apprehend their fugitive?

A serious conflict of interest is encountered when media outlets need to weigh their responsibility to inform against the potential threat to public safety. And it is often left to journalists and editors to trust their gut, factoring their own morality against their responsibility to report. Newspaper reporter Richard Halicks was told by mentors and editors when weighing the decision to run a story about an attempt on President Bush’s life in 1988, “ ‘Our job is to write and print stories in timely and responsible fashion, not to assist in criminal investigations, nor to anticipate the actions of madmen. If publication hampered the investigation, that wasn’t really the newspaper’s problem,’ they said.”

Not a problem professionally, perhaps. But morally? If someone were to be injured or killed—potentially due to a news outlet’s coverage—can reporters and their editors sleep at night, confident in their decision to run the story and uphold the fundamentals of their profession? I think the best answer varies based on circumstance, and although journalists are reporters with a public duty to inform, they are also human, and constantly need to weigh the impacts of their work on the safety and well-being of the public. Journalists hold a powerful tool in their pens and cameras, capable of not only helping and informing, but also harming. In situations where people’s well-being may be threatened by the publication of information, I think it is an undeniable human tendency to push professional principles aside, consider the circumstance, and take whatever course of action can best protect others.


The article in the UK Guardian announcing the media blackout during the police manhunt for Raoul Moat: Raoul Moat news blackout requested after threat to kill public

And the SkyNews report regarding Raoul Moat's threats against the public, brought on by what Moat perceived as inaccurate media reporting:
Raoul Moat: Secret Death Threats Revealed

Here’s an older, but equally interesting case where reporter Jon Hall for the Miami News was investigating a serial killer in south Florida during the mid 1970s. An excellent example of police requesting the suppression of news—and a journalist’s decision to ignore them.
“Stop this is a warning…Suppressing news at police request.”

The Virginia Tech Shooting

The media played a huge roll in the story of the Virginia Tech Massacre. NBC found them selves’ part of the story when the shooter, Seung-Hui Cho, age 23, sent a package full of pictures, letters and videos of himself to NBC’s headquarters, between his two shootings on the Virginia Tech campus. NBC turned over all of the evidence to the police after they made copies for themselves of all the evidence. NBC aired a little over a minute of the 10-minute video rant of Cho talking. They also aired some of the photos that Cho took of himself holding guns and pointing them at the camera.

• If you were an editor at NBC when all this happened how would you have handled to situation?

• Would you have turned over all of the evidence to the police?

After all of information surrounding this case started to come out, parents were informed that students were not notified of the first shooting until after classes had begun for the day. Two of the families from the 32 students that were killed that day filled for a lawsuit against the state in hopes to revealing all of the facts on the day of the shooting. The two families that did not taking a settlement from the university are of Julia Pryde and Erin Peterson, who were both killed by gunman Cho. These two families presented enough facts that the university may have acted with gross negligence the day of the shooting.

The 46 families out of 48 gave up their right to sue when they signed the $11 million settlement, which included financial compensation, health benefits and meetings with university and police leaders and the governor. It also required the university to create an electronic archive with documents related to the shootings and make it available to families.

University officials from Virginia Tech disputed a U.S. Department of Education report that found the school in violation of a federal campus security law. The school did not notify students in a “timely manner” according to the Clery Act. The Clery Act was created in 1990 in memory of 19-year-old Jeanne Ann Clery, who was raped and killed after having been asleep in her dorm room at Lehigh University. The law requires colleges and universities to disclose information about crimes on or near their campuses.

There was also a new law that was put into effect after the Virginia Tech shooting. The new law authorizes up to $1.3 billion in federal grants to help states improve their background checks, National Instant Criminal Background Check System, on people who are purchasing guns, so people who are mentally unstable like Cho, are not able to purchase guns.

"The Virginia Tech killer should have been stopped at the gun store," Paul Helmke of the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence said. "He was a prohibited purchaser. He had been found a danger to himself and others because of mental illness. Virginia did not send that information in."

Do you think the increased amount of funding for better background checks is going to be effective in future shootings?

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Facebook Ethics

Have you checked your Facebook today? Well, most likely the answer to that question is yes. In fact, you may be so hip that you just do it constantly because it's on your phone.

For some reporters it's a valuable communication tool. They use it to get story tips, search out folks or share facts with their viewers. This does not seem to be the case for all journalists as some fill their page with unprofessional personal opinion.

Peter Horrocks BBC Global News Director
- read up on his thoughts about embracing social media sites

The way I see it, it would be in the best interest of all news outlets to put pen to paper and prepare a code of ethics for social media. With help from the Poynter Institution ethics group leader Kelly McBride, the Virginia newspaper The Roanoke Times did just that.

Random side note.. in attempts to find out if KPAX has a code of ethics I stumbled across Jill Valleys blog and it made me think twice. To go through a fight with cancer would be so difficult in the first place, but to do it in front of all of Missoula county shows true colors.

Sunday, October 24, 2010


Hey guys. Thanks for the comments and questions Thursday. I think the paparazzi are definitely seen as parasites in photojournalism world, yet it is undeniable that they make a huge impact on society. Two of the more controversial paparazzi cases involved either Princess Diana or Britney Spears, and in the two cases, the paparazzi most likely contributed to the downfalls of both.

I'm curious if any of you find paparazzi tactics ethical or journalistic. Would any of you sell a photo of a celebrity? Would any of you decide to be a paparazzo if it was more financially secure than a more "ethical journalism" job?

Below are some interesting links I used to research the paparazzi:

Videos on celebrities and the paparazzi:

Princess Diana:
Britney Spears:


Paparazzi Salaries:

Also big are celebrity-focused blogs such as Perez Hilton's blog and, my personal favorite, Go Fug Yourself.

Misuse of Graphs and Statics in Media

The Misuse of Graphs and Statics continues to call in to question ethical action of the 24 hour news cycle and how they produce statics.

The use of For profit polling and statics companies means that over a period of time the New source can flex that company to produce results they want rather then results then create an accurate representation of a population.

Further more the use of interactive polls, such as online or text in polls, that are used to as a traditional poll only reduce the effectiveness of actual scientific polls. And once again Journalism takes a hit in and the industry looses in the end.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

the Kobe Bryant case was a very interesting case to evaluate. Rape Shield Laws are meant to protect the victims of sexual assault, but they can also allow a victim to hide behind the truth. I don't want everyone to think that every piece of journalism that came out of the Bryant case was bad. There was a lot of good journalism that brought up questions in the accuser's past while keeping her name of record.

Most of the unethical journalism in this case was in the blogs online and over the radio. Bloggers really destroyed this girls life for a period of time with the false accusations and rumors they posted. However, reputable news organizations did a great job of protecting her privacy while still reporting what they felt to be a false claim.

here are some links that can help you better understand the case and the federal and state Rape Shield laws.


Here are some links to some info on the Kobe Bryant case.


This link has a lot of articles pertaining to The Kobe case. if you keep following the links you should get to the article you want.


This explains Colorado's state rape Shield law in full. You can also find federal laws.

There is a PDF that is too long to post on here, but Aviva Orenstein's Special Issues Raised By Rape Trials is the best article I found on the Bryant case.

Here is my powerpoint if you want to look at it again: file:///Users/tr112095/Documents/Kobe%20Rape%20Case.pptx

Monday, October 18, 2010

Journalism Junkets

First of all I would like to thank everyone for participating in what I thought was a great discussion on Thursday. I am still interested to hear more people's personal experiences and how they handled them. Also, we had a bit of a sarcastic tone when it came to taking "freebies" but this can be a serious issue. For those of you that said you take things and it depends on the situation, have you thought about it more and have any more thoughts on the issue?

And we didn't really discuss how we would feel if we found out a report or story we read had a journalist who took free stuff from their subject. What if you read a great piece and found out the journalist had taken freebies, would it take away from the story? Or would you say, "Hey it's all situational and I'm sure the journalist took the freebie because it was ok and didn't effect the writing."

From our discussion it's pretty obvious junkets are quite prevalent in the journalism world, so how many of you think this is a major problem in journalism today?

Here are some of the links to the sites where I got most of my info.

Sunday, October 17, 2010


Hi, everyone. I promised some links to the pages I pulled info from during my presentation, so here are few you may want to check out.

The photographs taken by Vernaschi can be found here

Vernaschi's statement (on the Pulitzer Center's site) can be found here

The Pulitzer Center's official response can be found here

Anne Holmes of the Vigilante Journalist wrote about why she retracted a previous interview with Vernaschi here

This Lightstalkers debate about Vernaschi's methods is interesting.

An article on dvafoto about the ethical transgressions in Vernaschi's coverage can be found here transgressions-in-marco-vernaschis-coverage-for-the-pulitzer-center-on-crisis-reporting/

And finally, the Guardian's Roy Greenslade wrote an article about Vernaschi here

I also just came across this while looking for photos from other photojournalists who were there at the same time.

Andre Liohn was one of the photographers who had been there around the same time. He criticized Vernaschi based on several ethical issues having to do with his methods of reporting and the nature of his photographs.

This topic was a difficult one to read about due to its sensitive nature. Any time children are involved, it seems difficult to remain objective during a debate. I took issue with Vernaschi's methods of gathering information, but was disgusted by his insensitivity. My personal feeling is that any time money changes hands, a journalist's integrity is at stake. No matter how much Vernaschi wanted to help the family in question, he should never have given them money. Our job as journalists is to bring a story to the world without becoming involved in it ourselves. I am not questioning Vernaschi's intentions, because it is certainly understandable that he could have pitied this unfortunate family and hoped to ease their burden. However, ethical guidelines are clearly set out for us to follow in our professional work and Vernaschi failed to do so.

As far as the photograph of the three-year-old boy who was genitally mutilated, I think that is more an issue of personal taste. I feel that Vernaschi went too far and his photographs were bordering on sensationalism. He could have captured the essence of the horrible circumstance in a more tasteful way. Surely he could have captured a moment with the young boy that was not set up, rather than requesting that the boy undress completely for the photograph.

I am still searching for more photographs to share with you, but if anyone comes across any please share the link with us. I hope to get some dialogue going regarding your thoughts on Vernaschi's methods and his ethical standards. Please feel free to ask any questions as they come up. I will check up at least once a day to see what you guys have to say.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Integrity in the World of Social Media

Hey all,

Like others, I'm not entirely sure what I should be posting up here in respects to my presentation. So, below you'll find my research paper in its entirety with links at the bottom to most of my sources. Also, here's the link to the video which I showed a clip of in class the other day:

And here's the full story:

       In an age when the internet has become the new information superhighway, that old adage that you can't always believe what you read appears to ring more and more true. Conspiracy theories manifest themselves at every turn, government cover ups are exposed on cites like Wikileaks, videos and photographs are often doctored to portray an event that is far from the truth. And the word spreads fast: social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter can turn anything from a news story to a rumor into common knowledge within minutes. This was the lesson that Washington Post sports columnist Mike Wise learned when he fabricated knowledge about Pittsburgh Steelers' Ben Roethlisberger's suspension using his Washington Post Twitter account. What supposedly was supposed to be a lesson about how easy it is to spread inaccurate information, however, backfired and left Wise desperately trying to maintain his own credibility as a journalist.
       On Monday, August 30, Wise used his Twitter account, which directly affiliated him with his job as a sports writer at the Washington Post, to spread the rumor via Twitter that Pittsburgh Steelers' quarterback Ben Roethlisberger's six game suspension for misconduct at a nightclub would be scaled back to five games. The Twitter post simply said “Roethlisberger will get five games, I'm told.” Several reporters, including those from the Miami Herald and ProFootballTalk, ran with Wise's report, posting stories citing Wise's tweet as fact. Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk wrote:
          “So it would be a surprise if Roethlisberger gets more than four games. According to Mike Wise of the Washington Post, however, a surprise could be coming. Wise says, via Twitter, that Roethlisberger will get five games.” 1
       Wise revealed about an hour after his initial tweet that his post had been a hoax, which he claimed he had fabricated in hopes to test the accuracy of social media reporting and the dangers of using social network sites such as Twitter as accurate sources of news. In other words, he deliberately put out false information in order to see how far his story would make it without being fact checked.
        The revealing of Wise's hoax created an uproar within the journalism community, especially amongst the writers that had trusted his information. Florio attacked Wise's deliberate fallacy, and wrote: “Everyone in this business is wrong at some point. The greater the volume of content (and we have 50 or more posts per day), the greater the chance for errors. Still, everyone in this business aspires in every instance to be right. Or so we thought.”2 The Washington Post's own Andrew Alexander wrote: “Wise wasn't reporting. He was fabricating, which is the greatest sin in journalism.”3
        The Washington Post issued a month long suspension for Wise, which he announced on his Tuesday morning radio show, along with a lengthy apology. I’m paying the price I should for careless, dumb behavior in the multi-platform media world,” said Wise. 4
Severe critics of Wise's error have called for the Washington Post to release him completely. Florio wrote: “a semi-competent lawyer (or me) would have Wise admitting within five minutes or less that his employment should be terminated for cause.” 5 Washington Post's own Andrew Alexander wrote: “The Post's internal rules say explicitly that when using social media, 'we must remember that Washington Post journalists are always Washington Post journalists,'” and continues to say “Wise was lucky he wasn't sacked.”6
       Comparisons have been made between Wise's actions and other instances where papers fired writers for flagrant mistruths, such as the Boston Globe firing Barbera Stewart for reporting about a seal hunt that hadn't actually happened due to being canceled because of bad weather, or the Los Angeles Times' firing Eric Slater after errors in an article about university hazing led them to believe he'd never actually visited the university There is a big difference between these cases though: these examples are ostensibly cases of laziness, whereas Wise's carelessness was essentially a lesson that backfired. Unfortunately for Wise, that makes publishing and promoting misinformation as a journalist no less of an error.
        On one hand, Wise had a point to his poorly executed lesson: the reporters that ran with his tweet obviously did no fact checking beyond taking a seven word tweet at face value. There is hardly enough information contained within that tweet to create or add to a story. If I read Wise's tweet and intended to publish something including his information, I would also want more background. Who did he hear it from? What else does he know? How valid is his source? A reporter's real task with processing this information should be gathering additional details, a confirmation of information, additional sources. As writer Milton Kent wrote for Aol Sports: “What Wise was attempting to say, albeit in a ham-handed fashion, was that all of us, including those who gather and disseminate the news, need to seriously consider how we get that information, where it comes from and how much weight we ascribe to that information.”7
        On the other hand, these reporters took Wise's text seriously because they placed faith in him as a fellow journalist. This is where Wise let his fellow journalists and his organization down. Crying wolf in the manner that Wise did only hurt his own reputation and the reputation of the Washington Post. Greg Sandoval wrote for CNET news: “On his Twitter account, Wise identifies himself as a Post reporter. If he were trying to prove that nobody checks out unverified information, he must know that the Post's name automatically lends the information credibility.”8 This event also brings up the question of whether a journalist can ever step out of character and write something that doesn't live up to a strict code of journalistic ethics of accuracy and objectivity. However, this even transcends the argument over whether or not journalists should be allowed to post their own opinions on Facebook and Twitter, because what we're dealing with is not the difference between fact and opinion (after all, Wise, a journalist, has certainly used his platform to voice opinion in a “journalistic” manner), but rather the difference between fact and fallacy. Kent writes: “The one immutable tenet of journalism is that those who practice it cannot lie. Ever. It's the first thing and the last thing they teach you in journalism school, and Wise trampled over it.”9 Journalists should have an overlying dedication to the spreading of truth.
        Wise's editors made the right decision in suspending him for a month. If Wise is telling the truth about his reasoning behind the false tweet, then he was indeed trying to prove a point instead of lying for lying's sake or because of lazy, incompetent journalism skills. Had this been the case, Wise would have deserved to be fired immediately. Instead, a short term punishment for having low regard for the consequences of an ill-executed social experiment seems just.
        As journalists, we need to be aware of the integrity of the messages we spread, regardless of the social medium we use. In an age where the avenues of communication are constantly broadening, our reliability as a source of truth that the general public can depend on does not waver. Unless the information we spread is overtly stated as being fictitious, making up “facts” is inexcusable. Mike Wise learned the hard way that the only thing at stake is our own reputation. As Wise declared in his apology: “Integrity, being right before being first, is the only thing genuine journalists have left in this world.”10
1Mike Florio, Report: Five Games for Roethlisberger, (August 2010).
2Mike Florio, Mike Wise admits to Big Ben hoax, offers lame explanation, (August 2010).
3Andrew Alexander, Post Columnist Mike Wise Suspended for Fake Twitter Report, (August 2010).
4Mike Wise, cited by Andrew Alexander, Post Columnist Mike Wise Suspended for Fake Twitter Report, (August 2010).
5Mike Florio, Washington Post Suspends Mike Wise for a Month, (August 2010).
6Andrew Alexander, The Toll of Mike Wise's False Tweet on Ben Roethlisberger, (September 2010).
7Milton Kent, Mike Wise's Point Buried by Lousy Delivery, (September 2010).
8Greg Sandoval, WashPo Writer Suspended After Twitter Hoax
10Mike Wise, as cited by Andrew Alexander, Post Columnist Mike Wise Suspended for Fake Twitter Report, (August 2010).

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

To Catch a Predator

I found a lot of interesting information researching To Catch a Predator for this presentation.  I was shocked by much of it, and it changed my whole view on the series as a whole and the methods used. I agree with the controversial methods used to catch child molesters.  After reading the detailed chat logs on the Perverted Justice website I think the questionable methods are a justifiable means to an end.  

The Perverted Justice organization is best known for it's work with Dateline, but they are involved in more than television sting operations.  They train law enforcement with their techniques for the benefit of both parties, moderate an online forum for survivors of sexual abuse, and have an internship program for criminal justice students.  Perverted Justice is dedicated to bringing child molesters to justice and helping victims recover.

Perverted Justice has done an excellent job bringing attention to the child molestation problem.  The 11 To Catch a Predator  episodes resulted in huge ratings for NBC.  Some believe NBC disregards ethical journalism for the sake of ratings.  NBC has reported paying an "undisclosed" amount of money to the organization.  According to NBC paid more than $100,000 for their work on the series.  That sounds like a conflict of interest to me.  It's a lot of money to pay for a story. 

NBC employees have had problems with the ethical lapses including former producer Marsha Bartel.  Bartel believes she was let go due to complaints about ethical journalism, but NBC insists it was downsizing.  NBC defends the methods of the To Catch a Predator series.  According to, Stone Phillips refutes entrapment accusations on the Dateline blog.  Host Chris Hansen also defends the media's role in the sting.  He says their role is to get the information to the viewer in a complete fashion. 

Monday, October 11, 2010

Anonymity in the News Media

Greetings fellow seniors!

I'm not totally sure what I should be including with this post, but this blog has to start somewhere, so here goes nothing.

Below you'll find some of the more interesting links I came across in my research into media anonymity. I encourage you to click on them, read them, ponder them, and perhaps even post about them. I'll be checking the comments every day or so, and I'll do my best to moderate things in a timely and intelligent manner.


John Peter Zenger went on trial in 1735 for publishing anonymous attacks against the governor of New York. Andrew Hamilton successfully defended Zenger, and as a result, established a framework for free (and anonymous) press in America.

An analysis of the Zenger trial by Douglas O. Linder, professor of law at the University of Missouri-Kansas City: Zenger's Anonymous Publishing Gives Birth to Free Press


Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, reporters for the Washington Post, changed how anonymous sources are used and perceived with their now-infamous "Deepthroat" interviews. The anonymous "Deepthroat" leak and accompanying story reinforced the idea of truth as a defense against libel. It also showcased the power of anonymous sources.

A four-part story from the Washington Post about the Watergate scandal. Parts one and four are of particular interest: "Deepthroat" Identified as Former FBI Official Mark Felt


In 1980 Janet Cooke fabricated a story about an eight-year-old heroin addict named Jimmy. Jimmy did not exist, many of the named sources she cited did not exist, and, obviously, all of the anonymous sources she cited did not exist. The story "earned" her the Pulitzer Prize for Feature Writing. However, after the story was revealed to be fraudulent, she gave up the prize as well as her job at the Post. Janet's story illuminates how anonymous sources can easily be abused--and also how they can create a snowball effect of fabrication.

The story itself: Jimmy's World

Bill Green, the Washington Post's ombudsman (an internal critic and reviewer), researched why and how the fabrication was published: How She Got Away With It

A recent Washington Post blog article about the anniversary of the story, and its relevance today: Janet Cooke and Jimmy's World


The Obama administration may be taking steps to change the internet's "dog problem"--anonymity.

An interesting article from the New York Times: Who Are You Really?


Meanwhile, China may be taking steps to rid the web of all anonymity.

An article from the BBC about China's steps to make people use their real names: China Targets Online Commenter Anonymity


Lastly, I'll leave you with links to two of my favorite blogs.

One is called "Hipster Runoff"--it's a satire site about all things 'hip,' 'relevant,' and 'alternative.' It's certainly not for everyone, it's certainly NSFW, and it's certainly sloppy journalism (although I definitely read things here that I would not ever see anywhere else). However, it's an anonymous blog, and its style--it's "brand"--is what keeps people coming back. The author is a mysterious person known only as "Carles." The site is an excellent example of how a blog can use anonymity to its marketing advantage.

The other site is a "full-disclosure" blog by New York author Tao Lin. Lin's blog is unique in that he divulges just about every piece of personal information you could ever possibly want to know about him. He does not hide behind the internet at all. His site is an excellent example of how a blogger can use all the details of their identity to their marketing (and "branding") advantage.

Hipster Runoff is a music and lifestyle blog owned, maintained, and operated by the mysterious 'Carles.' It receives thousands of hits a day, sometimes has weird poetry, and sometimes is NSFW: Hipster Runoff

Tao Lin is a published author who lives in New York City and regularly Tweets and blogs about the relatively mundane minutia of his life. Dig around his blog and you'll definitely find "TMI" about him:


Alright, that's it for me. I look forward to reading your comments and watching everyone else's presentations!