Monday, November 29, 2010

Checkbook Journalism- Paying for Sources

For my presentation I looked at the ethical issue of journalists/networks/newspapers/magazines paying for information to get an exclusive on a story. Although journalist organizations and committees have guidelines there are no set laws allowing issues such as this to occur. It is our responsibility as professionals to obtain and report accurately and fairly, and not to "bid on news."

Through all the research I found that this trend is growing and is being used more than we all think. The money that is being spent is rising and these outlets are not shy to pay riches for reports. Media organizations such as Fox, ABC, NBC, The New York Times, LIFE etc have been accused of paying for news, but is it right?

The main case I covered was the ongoing trial of 24 year old Casey Anthony, accused of murdering her 2 year old daughter in 2008. This trial has made national attention very quickly and ABC jumped on board to make sure it would be ahead of the pack. ABC paid the Anthony family $200,000 for home videos and photos, making no attempt to make a public announcement while they were covering the case. Casey's attorney revealed the information in court, which brought many red flags to ABC. Many organizations like the Society of Professional Journalists commented that this sort of reporting is unethical and should not be tolerated, but it is happening so often and with all the money these companies have, is there a way to stop it?

ABC claimed the money was spent for the defense of Casey and not for an interview.

Not sure if we need to have our opinion but looking at this in a realistic manner, I believe that at this point there is no way to battle this sort of beast. Information is pricey and if someone wants the story bad enough it is going to get paid for by someone. I feel that as more people ask for big bucks the prices for news will continue to increase. I don't feel that a story is worth $200,000 but I don't have that type of cash either. Overall I feel that this issue is less harmless than some issues happening today.

Questions to consider

is it ethical to pay for information?

has journalism become more of a business?

how do you control something like this? Or can you not control it?

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Reporter involvement with subjects

Hello everyone,

Sorry this took a while to get up, I lost the invite for the blog post. Anyway, I hope you all had a wonderful and amazing break with your loved ones.

To do a quick recap of my presentation, I talked about reporter involvement in subjects, specifically the case of Kevin Carter, a South African photojournalist who took a controversial photograph during the 1993 famine in Sudan. Carter, and colleague Joao Silva had only been on the ground for 30 minutes when Carter heard a whimpering coming from a nearby clearing. Upon investigation he discovered a young girl in critical condition. She was so weak she had lost control of her legs, and was attempting to crawl to the nearby village, where a food center had been set up to feed victims of the famine. A vulture landed behind her, and Carter instinctively snapped a few frames of the girl. However, rather than helping her, Carter instead waited for 20 minutes and then chased the vulture off, leaving the girl. He sat under a tree and cried. His reason for not having helped the girl was because photographers in the region at the time were not supposed to touch famine victims, for fear of spreading disease. The photograph won Carter the Pulitzer Prize, but he took a barrage of criticism in the wake of the award. Sadly, the guilt of having taken the photograph, as well as the backlash he received for it was too much for Carter. In June of 1994 a depressed Carter committed suicide in his car.

Carter was someone who had seen a lot of violence and gore. He previously had covered the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa, and had photographed many things there from shootings, to public executions. He had suffered from depression in the past.

A few questions to consider:

Do you think that Carter should have helped the child? Or do you think that his job was to merely cover, but not actively help victims of the famine? Another thing to think about was that the girl he photographed was one of hundreds of other people in similar situations Carter encountered that day.

How involved should journalists be with their subjects?

Do you think we have an obligation to be journalists first? Or do you think that people are more important than pictures or stories?

This is just some food for thought for you guys. I hope you enjoyed my presentation.



Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Airing of Graphic Material

So in class I specifically looked at the video (and case) of the death of Nodar Kumaritashvili at the 2010 Winter Olympics and the ethics of TV stations airing and posting the video of his death.

At the time, Kumaritashvili was ranked 44th out of 65 luge competitors in the 2009-2010 World Cup season. His father, David Kumaritashvili, is a veteran luger who previously won a USSR Youth Championship (when Georgia was still part of Russia). His father’s cousin, Felix Kumaritashvili, is the head of the Georgian Luge Federation. Nodar was also related to Aleko Kumaritashvili, the founder of organized sledding sports in Georgia. As you can see, Nodar came from a long family history of luge competitors and influencers.

The incident itself was the fourth time an athlete has died during the Winter Olympic preparations and Kumaritashvili is the 6th athlete to die at either Olympics. Officials say that the death was the first luge fatality since 1975.

The president of Georgia, Mikheil Saakashvili, said in a news conference following the accident that officials should have listened more carefully to athletes’ concerns about the safety of the track. “I don’t claim to know all the technical details,” he said. “But one thing I know for sure, that no sports mistake is supposed to lead to a death. No sports mistake is supposed to be fatal."

Tony Benshoof of the United States was the first slider down the hill following Kumaritashvili’s death. He was adamant that the nature of the sport is very risky and said: “Luge is a tough sport. It takes a long time to master. That’s the bottom line. We could hash over it for hours. But at the end of the day, we’re going 95-98 miles an hour and we’re six inches off the ice. We get down a mile of track in 45 seconds. There’s an inherent risk.”

There’s been a lot of debate following the death on whether it was the dangerous track or the luger’s lack of experience that led to his death.

Whether or not the accident should be blamed on the athlete or the track will continue to be debated with no exact answer. What I would like to examine now however is the ethics of the coverage if this tragedy.

In the hours and days following Kumaritashvili’s death, all of the major networks (ABC, CBS, and NBC) aired the video captured of the luger losing control, leaving the track and striking a metal pillar. The graphic footage of the death naturally was all over the Internet before the International Olympic Committee (IOC) finally stepped in to claim copyright infringement and take it down. It’s still easy to find the footage, but Google agreed to remove it from YouTube and they’ve blocked it from showing up in searches.

Obviously the footage is very heart-wrenching and offensive to certain people, specifically friends and family of Kumaritashvili. His father will not view the video. Nino Licheli, a student from Kumaritashvili’s hometown, told reporters: "It was horrible to watch his death on television, this is such a tragedy. Our whole family was crying when we watched what happened."

News outlets will claim that the footage is simply part of the story and that newsworthiness of the story warrants the accompanied video when telling the story. Media claim that the “need to inform” outweighed their need to minimize harm and show compassion. However, many people are disgusted and offended by the media’s immediate reaction to show the footage without hesitation.

In my opinion, the video is completely unnecessary and tasteless to show on television. The IOC was correct (albeit a little slow) to request that the footage be removed from the Internet. The story can be told, and is still tragic and headline-worthy, without publicly airing the athlete’s final moments of life. The video adds nothing to the story factually and is simply used for “shock and awe” purposes. I would have run the story without the video in respect to the luger’s friends and family and anyone else upset by the footage.

  • Would you have aired it? Why or why not?
  • Was it necessary to show to tell the story?

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Journalist Expression of Personal Beliefs

Hey Class,

Last week I presented an ethical dilemma involving journalist expressing their personal beliefs. On October 13, NPR's Senior vice president Ellen Weiss sent out a memo to the staff banning them from attending the Rallies to Restore Sanity/Keep Fear Alive hosted by Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert if they were not sent to cover the event. The memo was sent because staffers were asking whether a rally hosted by comedians is considered political. NPR decided the rallies were political.

The rallies, which were held at the National Mall in Washington D.C. October 30, drew an estimated 215,000 people over twice as many as Glenn Beck's Restoring Honor Rally in August. Along with NPR, The New York Times, CNN and The Washington Post all agreed that the rallies were political and attending would show basis. On the other side, Arianna Huffington, head of The Huffington Post, rented 200 buses to bring people from New York City to Washington D.C. for the rallies. Each publications reactions to the rallies brings up interesting questions about the extent to which journalist can attend rallies and show opinion.

To continue the discussion from class, here are a few specific questions to think about:
Can journalist attend political rallies? If they can, then to what extent? Also, is Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert's rallies considered political?

Here is the link to the memo:

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Sports Reporting and Homerism

Hello classmates!

As you undoubtedly remember, I gave my presentation on sports reporters going "to bed" with the teams they cover, also called Homerism. There were a couple of examples I gave but the big one at the top spurred the most debate. Here is a recap of the events of that first example:

In 1995, the University of Nebraska won the National Championship. Championships are a big boon for a coaches recruiting process and head coach Tom Osborne was excited to start this recruiting season. As national signing day (Feb. 1st) approached however, Osborne had a problem, the Omaha World-Herald (Nebraska's largest newspaper) was set to publish a story that showed that 13.2 percent of the players on his team had committed misdemeanors and/or alcohol related incidents while a study showed only 6 percent of non-football undergraduates were accused of the same. Osborne was obviously not thrilled and asked the newspaper to "soften" the story and push its publishing date back after signing day. The paper said okay...and hid the front-page story in the sports section, moved the lead to the 15th paragraph, and published it 3 days after national signing day.

So that's a cool little story that spurred some debate amongst all you splendid students.

While it seems like an easy issue at first, (I mean seriously...who wouldn't have just published the story?) we then talked about how news organizations can have their hands tied financially with the teams they cover. Lots of money goes into those TV contracts and making those people mad is bad for business. Not only is management scared...but sports reporters are constantly in a world of being part of the "in-group." If you're not in...the team wont talk to you and you then become the worst sports reporter in town.

Basically what the discussion came down to was the acceptance that homerism is a problem in today's sports reporting world, sports is a different bread of news, and maintaining objectivity is hard, but also a must. However, my naive mindset says that if you're honest and forthright from the get-go, they can take your criticism without punishing you. Any thoughts on that? Any more examples of homerism you've seen?

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Media Coverage & Human Suffering

Hello fellow bloggers,

Thank you so much for your all of your engaging comments and questions this morning on my presentation, "The Ethics of Media Coverage and Human Suffering." I genuinely learned a lot from hearing your perspectives this morning on this topic, as well as other topics in former presentations.

To refresh you on the presentation, the purpose of it was to delve into the ethics of media coverage and human suffering by looking into a few Pulitzer Prize-winning photographs. The image (displayed on the left) was taken by the Boston Globe photojournalist Stan Grossfeld who was sent on assignment to cover the Ethiopian famine of the 1970s and 1980s. "Ethiopian Famine" shows a mother holding her emaciated child at a food station in the Tigray Province of Ethiopia during the famine. An hour after the exposure, the child died. "You try to be a technician and look through the viewfinder; sometimes the viewfinder fills up with tears," said Grossfeld. In the end, 500,000 to 1,000,000 died due to the famine. Covering such events raises so many ethical questions. We, as journalists, must look into the how and why of reporting human suffering in order to understand the intention and outcome of the story.

Why do we cover human suffering to begin with? Do you believe Grossfeld's photograph should of been released, published, awarded? And where is the line between objective coverage and pure sensationalism?

In other words, How do we proactively fight this desensitization and inform people?

For instance, how much of a reaction do we have when we read an article on a car bomb in Iraq, Afghanistan or Pakistan that killed upwards of 50-100 people? Or a woman being oppressed, raped or stoned in Saudi Arabia for something as petty as leaving her home without a Burqa? Or Grossfeld's image portraying a famine that killed hundreds of thousands of people?

Chances are, we’re not collectively having the kind of response we should have. Meaning, we’re, at some level, calloused to human suffering. Isn't it problematic for even the storytellers to be jaded? So how do we remedy this as the Fourth Estate?

Here are some links to articles relating to this topic:


Sunday, November 14, 2010

Who is responsible for Hannity's hack job?

Hey class,
We were discussing the fallout of Sean Hannity's involvement with the Tea Party movement. The fact is, it wasn't really a "movement" until he got involved, so is what he's done ethical. In other words, if he is playing the role of a responsible journalist, is being the cause for a rally to gain attention and, ultimately, influence, stepping over the bounds of the journalist's job?
It seemed that the class all agreed that Hannity had, in fact, overstepped his role, if he were, in fact, a journalist. But, his stance within the world of news is shaky. The role he plays is neither reporter, nor editor; columnist or pundit. He is, quite simply, a talking head. Whether or not Fox News should have people who are simply talking heads - whose job it is to hike ratings - is another topic altogether. Hannity, on an individual level, is charged with the task of inciting rage in the viewer. And he did just that.
Now, the class argued that he should be held to the same standard of accuracy as any journalist if he is to broadcast on a "news" outlet. Thus, his blunder with switching footage to make the first Tea Parties seem larger would be outrageous. However, upon further examination, it is clear that he is NOT in fact the executive producer of the Sean Hannity Show. In fact, he has no role in it, whatsoever, other than to be the face.

The Fox News website lists the staff of the show as such (they do not provide last names):

James: Executive Producer
Greg: Engineer
Elisha: Senior Producer
Eileen: Affiliate Relations Director
Lynda: Associate Producer
Eric: Talk Programming Director

So, it's entirely possible that Hannity had no idea that the footage was fake. Of course, we will never know who made the final decision and who really has the power (I'm sure Hannity is given a measured amount of decision-making power for the sake of keeping the talent happy) but, it's safe to say that the decision to switch footage was not entirely up to him.

Friday, November 12, 2010

The Photoshopping of Katie Couric

Hello there!

I gave my presentation about the photoshopping of Katie Couric. I specifically asked the class if they thought it was ethical to photoshop a news personnel. And whether they thought the person loses credibility. As we all know, photoshop is becoming a part of our daily lives. But as a journalist is it really ethical to photoshop? Even if you are a celebrity journalist, is it ok to be in magazines that will photoshop pictures of you? Especially when you are on television on a daily basis, and everyone knows what you look like. Let me know what you guys think!

Here's a few videos I found on photoshopping that I thought were pretty crazy!!

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Sports Journalists?

My presentation was on the theory of sports journalism, more specifically if sport journalists are called to the same code of conduct as standard news journalists. I talked specifically about the Player X article on and how the anonymous players made pretty bold claims at times but there was no journalists credibility behind those claims. Some people could make the case that since this is a blog, it's ok to allow some claims of this nature to be made. But others would still say that since it is on a news site, the writer of Player X should write to the same standards as the writer of the front page article. The issue with sources also touched on the Brett Favre situation and how there are potentially huge consequences for a claim that could turn out being fake anyway (but evidence doesn't look good for poor Brett).

For further discussion, take a tour of some of the sports blog type news sites such as and let me know if you think sports journalists should be allowed some slack, or if they need to be by the book as well?

Monday, November 1, 2010

The Outing of Mayor Jim West

Hey guys!

So my presentation was on the outing of Mayor Jim West in Spokane by the Spokesman-Review. The ethical questions come when you start to talk about sting operations involving newspapers because the Spokesman-Review actually hired a forensic computer analyst to pose as a 17-year-old boy online to get Mayor Jim West to talk to him. After saving all of his chat logs and getting Mayor West to think that they were having online sex, they posted a front page article about it. The EVEN MORE unethical thing is that they said he was tied to sex abuse in the '70s and '80s even though there was barely any proof of it. The proof that was there was almost not even alleged, so the posting of that information by a publication is illegal.

What do you guys think? There's a fantastic documentary on PBS Frontline that you can watch for free online. The documentary is called "A Hidden Life".

What do you think? Was the Spokesman-Review just doing good investigative journalism or were they overstepping the bounds of journalism and going into the realm of private investigation to create and publish a story? I think it was the latter, personally.