Category Archives: ethics

Interviewing the interviewers

Last night I had a healthy debate on Facebook with the former chair of SPJ’s Ethics Committee, as well as a couple of other SPJ members, though they may be former members, now.

It all stemmed from an article in The New York Times about NBC News’ and ESPN’s recent interview with Janay Rice, the wife of NFL player Ray Rice. (In case you missed it, there is video of Ray Rice hitting his then fiance, now wife, Janay Rice, while they were in an elevator in a hotel in Las Vegas. Ray Rice was then let go from the Baltimore Ravens, and Roger Goddell, the NFL’s commissioner, suspended Ray Rice indefinitely from the NFL. An arbitrator ruled last week that Ray Rice be reinstated to the NFL, overturning.)

Kevin Smith, the former ethics chair, posted this on Facebook, with a link to the NYT story:

This is a disturbing trend that is greatly undermining the credibility of broadcast new — buying exclusive interviews and allowing sources to audition the outlets that will interview them.

This isn’t about truth. It’s about spin and managing the message and the TV media is buying into it and putting millions in the pockets of these celebrity sources for the privilege of skewing the story.

The news has always been about competition and getting the exclusive interview, but today, network deep pockets and public relations managers are controlling news content and the public is expected to accept this as honest and fair reporting.

Ethical journalists need to rebel. Refuse to audition for a scripted interview that does nothing more than serve as a PR statement from the source. Stop paying for news. Period. How can the public place any trust in a story when they know a network paid hundred of thousands to the person for the “truth”?

The following is posted with permission from the commenters.

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He’s ba-a-a-a-ck!

Keith Law, the baseball writer from ESPN, who had been suspended from Twitter by his employer, is back. And his first tweet is a doozy.

Quoting Galileo in his first tweet back, Law puts back on the table what ESPN apparently tried to take off – a conversation about science.

Translated, the quote says, “And yet it moves.” The story is that Galileo supported Nicolaus Copernicus’ theory that the Earth orbits the sun. Galileo was brought before a Roman Court and found guilty of heresy. After receiving his sentence of house arrest, Galileo looked to the sky and muttered those three words.

In writing them in his first tweet back, Law not only shows he’s a well-read man, but that he’s not going to back down from his stand against fellow ESPN baseball contributor Curt Schilling. Interestingly, Schilling was never suspended for his tweets.

After I posted the original story about Law’s suspension, I heard from my professor, a Red Sox loving, hard-nosed journalist. He wrote, “You ask if an employer can stop an employee from tweeting. I actually think what happened was more pernicious than that. Journalists are required to tweet, and are then hung out to dry the minute they exercise poor judgment. It’s really unfair.”

It will be interesting to see if ESPN ever makes a statement on the whole situation, or if supervisors there hope it can just go away.

Can your employer keep you from tweeting?

twitterApparently in Bristol, CT, yes, an employer can keep you from tweeting. According to Deadspin, Keith Law, a baseball writer at ESPN, has been suspended from Twitter by his employer. It’s unclear why, but there was speculation it had to do with his defense of evolution.

It wasn’t just any defense, though, it was a defense he mounted against Curt Schilling of bloody sock in the World Series fame. Shilling, who unsuccessfully started a video game company in Rhode Island and was recently treated for cancer, is now back at ESPN as a baseball analyst.

Deadspin updated its article with a statement from ESPN stating, “Keith’s Twitter suspension had absolutely nothing to do with his opinions on the subject.” However, it does not give any further information.

Here’s my question, if it wasn’t for his online conversation with a pitching great about science, what was the suspension for? There’s no disputing that Law was suspended, which, in itself is questionable, but no reason given. Ok, it’s a personnel issue, and those are generally kept locked behind a closed door. But how can ESPN say, “You cannot tweet until Monday”? I ask that in all sincerity.

It’s not as though ESPN owns Twitter. And if there were other questionable tweets, why not cite those in a response? I have so many questions after seeing this article, and I wish I could find some answers. But I won’t be going to Twitter to get them. At least not from Law. Until Monday.

When you’re asked to leave, do you go?

There’s a reporter in Milwaukee who’s facing a problem. She’s been asked to leave. Not her job. Not her neighborhood. Her beat.

Erin Richards is the K-12 reporter for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. As she was getting ready for an upcoming meeting, she noticed she was an item on the agenda.

The School Board’s President was “…requesting that the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel assign a new reporter who is not biased against MPS to cover MPS.” (See item number 14)

Jim Romenesko was quick to pick this one up. To him, the district referenced an email that had been sent to Richards’ editor citing factual errors and typos as the reason they wanted a new reporter assigned.

Whether any of that is true,  since when does a school board decide who is or is not covering the beat?

An editor can certainly talk with a reporter after receiving a similar email. But reassigning the reporter based on a request from the school board? That doesn’t fly with me.

Freelance journalist Jeff Cutler brought up a valid point on Twitter.

If you were the editor, what would you do?

The FBI goes too far by using Seattle Times dummy page

The Seattle Times is reporting that in 2007 the FBI created a fake news story and made it look like a Times page in order to capture a suspect in a series of bomb threats.

Documents about the case show that the FBI created a story about the recent bomb threats and falsely attributed it to the Associated Press. The bureau then made an email link and sent it to the suspect’s MySpace account.

To say the Seattle Times isn’t happy is a bit of an understatement.

“We are outraged that the FBI, with the apparent assistance of the U.S. Attorney’s Office, misappropriated the name of The Seattle Times to secretly install spyware on the computer of a crime suspect,” said Seattle Times Editor Kathy Best.

“Not only does that cross a line, it erases it,” she said.

“Our reputation and our ability to do our job as a government watchdog are based on trust. Nothing is more fundamental to that trust than our independence — from law enforcement, from government, from corporations and from all other special interests,” Best said. “The FBI’s actions, taken without our knowledge, traded on our reputation and put it at peril.”

The FBI made sure to point out that the article it wrote did not use an actual Seattle Times article, but simply made it look like it was a Seattle Times article.

For the record, that doesn’t make Kathy Best any happier.

An Intern Did It

But was it really the intern? Yes, an intern at the NTSB is getting the heat because s/he confirmed the racially insensitive names of the pilots behind the deadly Asiana Flight 214.

But where did those names come from? Did the intern think them up on his/her own? Or, rather, did someone from the station call or write this person, supplying the names, and asked if those were correct?

In which case, which is more egregious? What the intern did was wrong, and s/he was probably told at the beginning of his/her term to report to a supervisor. There is no question this is a big international event, and therefore an intern should not be the one to confirm any information about the event.

However, the names? If someone at the station supplied those names and thought it was funny, what is happening to that person? That is truly offensive and should not be overlooked.

Editor’s Note: The intern has since been let go by the NTSB, but what about the station – what kind of discipline is happening there?

Editor’s Note: Apparently the station provided the names, but according to a statement on their website never sounded them out. The intern then verified spelling, but the station didn’t ask that person’s title. So where did the station get the names initially?

Enough With The Images

The stories of the survivors of the Boston Marathon bombings are coming out, giving us hope and letting us meet some amazing people.

There is Heather Abbott who was waiting to get into a bar after having gone to a Red Sox game with her friends. There is the mother and daughter, Celeste and Sydney Corcoran, who were at the race that day to cheer on Celeste’s sister. There is college student Victoria McGrath who was told a white lie to get her through the immediate moments after the bombings.

I have read and learned of these stories not through watching the evening news, but seeing them online. I have chosen to digest the news on my terms, to choose the stories I want to see, and only when I feel up to it.

I have clicked on headlines like, “Victims Look Ahead,” and “Survivor to Rescuers: ‘You Saved My Life'” and “Boylston Street Open After Bombing” hoping to see new images of hope and survival.

Instead, within seconds of watching, the images of the bombings are edited into the piece. Each time I have had to stop watching.

No matter what the story is — whether it’s the inspirational story of a woman who decided to have her foot amputated, or the touching story of a man rushing to save the life of a young college student — every one of these stories has used these images.

It doesn’t matter which network or cable station – they are all still using these images, nearly two weeks after the bombings.

What is to be gained by using these images now? Of watching when the bombs went off? Of seeing the moment when people were killed or maimed? What is the purpose?

We know what it looks like. We know what it sounds like. We don’t need to be reminded of it every time we want to be inspired and try to get back to “normal,” whatever that is now.

Imagine how these families and friends of those killed or injured feel every time these stories air. They think, “It’s nice to see how ___ is doing, and what an inspiration s/he is.” And then… that image.

Why is this different from 9/11? Why could it be decided then not to repeatedly show the plane crashing into the second tower, but now it’s okay to show a bomb blowing up and killing innocent people? Because there were three people killed, not 3,000? Because it’s Boston, not New York?

Why? Please, stop using those images of the bombs exploding. We’ve had enough.