Tag 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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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.

Are We More Informed With Real Time Journalism?

Friday afternoon I was asked to join a conversation that had started on Twitter.

Here are the initial questions:

Needless to say, there was plenty of discourse about this. There were comments from journalists, public relations professionals, and others.

My response was:

I also added: “Too often what’s reported is scanner traffic, rumor or just simply not true. Then it gets RTed (re-tweeted). Not good for anyone.”

My point is, it’s great to get real time information, but before you blast it to the world — and these days with Twitter, Facebook, blogs and even basic websites it’s easy to do — make sure it’s right. Do some fact checking. Call more than one source. See if the person/group/company behind the news will comment.

Maybe you don’t have time for all of that initially, but it is your due diligence to make sure what you are sending out is accurate. Hint: Scanner traffic isn’t always accurate.

I used an example of when Tom Brady got into his accident. There was so much misinformation being spread, mostly via Twitter, that it was laughable. Only it wasn’t, because what happens is those messages get posted over and over again on hundreds of people’s accounts. So soon enough thousands of people see what is incorrect information and think it’s true.

I came back to this discussion a full four days later because this morning I found out the man who owned the Segway company died while riding a Segway.

As a Manchester, New Hampshire native, I am keenly aware as to who invented the Segway. His name is Dean Kamen. He is not the same man who died while riding the Segway.

However, there were plenty of people posting on Twitter that “the Segway inventor died.” No, he’s alive and well.

Even Roger Ebert got it wrong (and his message was retweeted 100+ times):

He at least used the name and the article to which he linked calls Heselden the “tycoon that took over Segway firm.” But that just goes to my point even more.

It’s about details. You need to pay attention to them. Yes, it’s great to be the first person with the message, but not if it’s wrong. That’s simply irresponsible.

Do you think real time journalism has made us better informed?

To show, or not to show

Yesterday marked the first day of the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver. It was supposed to be a day of joy, excitement, and celebration. Instead, it was marred by the unfortunate death of Georgian luger Nodar Kumaritashvili. At just 21, Kumaritashvili wasn’t as experienced a luger as some of his competitors. He lost control of his sled, and slammed into a steel pole. Though crews tried to resuscitate him, Kumaritashvili died.

The International Olympic Committee has very strict rules about how video and images can be used. In our newsroom, we got a very explicit email regarding such rules. But the video and images exist; and as is typical these days, they can be easily retrieved legally and illegally.

Here in the US, most of the Olympic coverage you will see is on NBC, the network that bought the rights to air the Olympics. Elsewhere, you will generally see still images. But the luger’s death was caught on video, and every network had a copy of it. Last night, just hours before the Opening Ceremonies, all three networks, NBC, ABC and CBS decided to air that video. They each gave warnings before the video rolled, cautioning viewers that the video was traumatic. But still thousands, even millions, of people saw it.

The reaction was immediate. NBC received phone calls, Twitter was full of comments, and people could be heard asking each other, “Did you see the video?” In my newsroom, our news director decided not to use the video during the half hour special Olympic Zone show airing just before the Opening Ceremonies. However, we do not have any control over what NBC does. And just minutes after our show ended, we once again saw the image of Nodar Kumaritashvili dying.

I asked on my Twitter and Facebook pages whether people found this appropriate. “Distasteful,” wrote Litho Ruksznis. “It was gratuitous,” wrote John Olore. But then Suzanne Spruce wrote, “It’s sad, but that’s the way it is. I would have more of a problem if resuscitation efforts were aired repeatedly.” And Stephen Cannon, Jr wrote, “Why hide from the truth?”

Clearly there are arguments for both sides. “It’s part of the story.” “Think of his family.” Every time something tragic happens, and a newsroom has video or images of it, those questions are — or should be — asked. Conversation is good. At no time will everyone be happy, but to do the least amount of harm while telling the story is our goal.

Join in the conversation. Log on to my Twitter page or Facebook page and leave your comments.

Also, a note from Associated Content:
Google pulled the luge crash video Friday from YouTube after receiving a request from the International Olympic Committee (IOC). Since the footage is copyrighted material and subject to broadcast approval from NBC and the IOC, Google complied, blocking all videos of the crash on their site, which, in turn, also blocked any that were embedded on a host of other sites.


At 7:12 p.m. EST, NBC Nightly News sent out a message on Twitter reading: Nightly News will no longer be using video of the luge crash.