When looking at the SPJ’s Code of Ethics I do believe that the “report now” “apologize later” trend that we are seeing more often by news agencies is having a negative affect on our society and it is a violation of the code of ethics. It causes more harm to fix the information being shown today as it can reach more people faster through the advancement of technology and the Internet. Why not get it right the first time and spend the time investigating your sources than apologizing and spending the time to fix your mistakes?
Last term we were able to read the article Media Outlets Apologize After Falsely Reporting Giffords’ death. The article comments on how many media outlets had reported that Rep. Gabrielle Gifford had died after being shot in the head. In reality Gifford had not died and was in surgery the entire time the reports were shown in the media. Bauder (2011) states:
“Within a half hour, all three cable news networks had bannered the headline of Giffords’ supposed death. Reuters cited NPR in a story that appeared on the front of the Yahoo! News site. CBS broke into the coverage of a women’s college basketball game to report that Giffords had died. NBC had a similar special report” (Bauder, 2011).
Instead of checking their sources and the hospital in which Gifford was staying the media outlets relied on each other for information. They cared more about being the “fastest” when reporting the news. The media outlets then had to spend time apologizing for their mistakes and for hurting the family of Gifford rather than getting their facts right the first time.
This was also evident in this week’s news article The F.B.I Criticizes the News Media After Several Mistaken Reports of an Arrest when speaking about the Boston Marathan Bombings. Carter (2011) states,
“The F.B.I. issued a statement later in the afternoon: “Over the past day and a half, there have been a number of press reports based on information from unofficial sources that has been inaccurate. Since these stories often have unintended consequences, we ask the media, particularly at this early stage of the investigation, to exercise caution and attempt to verify information through appropriate official channels before reporting” (Carter, 2011).
In my opinion the most common violations that are evident in the Code of Ethics in regards to “reporting it now” are as follows:
Seek Truth and Report It—Ethical Journalism should be accurate and fair. Journalists should be honest and courageous in gathering, reporting and interpreting information. [Journalists] should verify information before releasing it and use original sources whenever possible.
Minimize harm—Ethical journalism treats sources, colleagues and members of the public as human beings deserving of respect. [Journalists] should balance the public’s need for information against potential harm or discomfort. Pursuit of the news is not a license for arrogance or undue intrusiveness.
Be Accountable and Transparent—Ethical journalism means taking responsibility for one’s work and explaining one’s decisions to the public. Journalists should explain ethical choices and processes to audiences. Encourage a civil dialogue with the public about journalistic practices, coverage and news content.
(“Society of Professional Journalists Improving and Protecting Journalism since 1909,” n.d.)
In each of these ethical standards the journalist is being honest with their information, they are spending the time to gather their information behind their sources and they are being accountable for their research. In Steve Buttry’s article “Journalists’ Code of Ethics: Time for an Update?” Buttry (2010) states: “Journalists should be just as skeptical of information from social media as they are of information from other channels, such as conversation, phone calls other media and documents” (Buttry, 2010). Since journalists are now adopting this “report it now” trend as a society we need to be more mindful of where we are getting our information from, we should be doing the research of the sources shown in the media and we should be on the look out for full disclosure from our journalists.
Should we be expecting more?
As a society we need to expect more from the content we are viewing through media. In order to be a media literate person in the 21st century you have to be able to have the fundamental skills of understanding media from multiple points of meaning. According to Baran (2015), “Learning to enjoy, understand and appreciate media content includes the ability to use multiple points of access—to approach media content from a variety of directions and derive it from many levels of meaning” (Baran, 2015, pp.22). In order for society to fully enjoy the content they are viewing and derive meaning from it we have to expect more from our journalists and demand more evidence from the information being reported to us. How can we accurately make a decision on something without having all of our facts?
For me personally it has always aggravated me to see one side of a story without seeing all of the facts. This is particularly evident in political news stories and advertising campaigns where news broadcasters use human-interest stories to exemplify a political candidate. According to the article Political News with a Personal Touch: How Framing Indirectly Affects Policy Attitudes Boukes, Boomgaarden, Moorman and De Vreese (2015) state:
“Exemplification applies to news stories in which individuals and their personal experiences are used by journalists to illustrate a broader societal issue, with the aim of bringing a personal angle to the story. These individuals are dubbed “exemplars” and have been found to strongly affect the perceptions of political issues: human examples in news stories mislead recipients to believe that certain problems are occurring more frequently than is the case and, consequently, to perceive these problems as being more severe. The reason is that people tend to generalize exemplar information to broader judgments, which increases the perceived seriousness of a situation and eventually may influence people’s attitudes” (Boukes, Boomgaarden, Moorman and De Vreese, 2015, p.123).
As a society we need to be given the training and resources to recognize the faults journalists and the media use to get the news out to consumers. This should be something that is taught to consumers at a young age. Once we have these tools we just need to spend the time researching our sources before making a decision on media information.
Who is to blame?
This is not an easy answer. I think there are two main reasons why society is viewing false news:
- Society can be the reason to blame because are posting our opinions online without fully researching the sources of our information and we are not questioning the information we are viewing through the media. This can cause people to believe something without fully investigating the facts. According to Kovach and Rosenstiel (2010) “In an age when we are our own editors, in the “show me” versus “trust” me age of information, the act of evaluating evidence falls more directly on us as consumers” (Kovach and Rosenstiel, 2010, p. 98). In order for the “report now” “apologize later” trend to decrease we have to spend the time to distinguish reliable versus less reliable information.
- The pressure to report “faster” comes from the pressure of large organizations looking to be the best against their competitors. According to Baran (2015) “ Often, a media practitioner will face a ethical dilemma at a very personnel level” (Baran, 2015, p. 373). If a large corporate organization is threatening the job of a journalist if they do not report on a story and they are not giving them the time to research the facts this can have a negative impact on the information consumers are receiving. With ethics being mixed with money and the corporate need to make more money, it will be highly important for society to become media literate and look at the validity of stories from all angles.
Baran, S. J. (2015). Introduction to Mass Communication: Media Literacy and Culture. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill Education.
Bauder, D. (2011, January 1). Media Outlets Apologize After Falsely Reporting Giffords’ Death. Retrieved March 26, 2015, from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/01/10/media-outlets-apologize-a_n_806603.html
Boukes, M., Boomgaarden, H. G., Moorman, M., & de Vreese, C. H. (2015). Political News with a Personal Touch: How Human Interest Framing Indirectly Affects Policy Attitudes. Journalism & Mass Communication Quarterly, 92(1), 121-141. doi:10.1177/1077699014558554
Buttry, S. (2010, November 07). Journalists’ Code of Ethics: Time for an update? Retrieved May 14, 2015, from https://stevebuttry.wordpress.com/2010/11/07/journalists-code-of-ethics-time-for-an-update/
Carter, B. (2013, April 17). The F.B.I. criticizes the news media after several mistaken reports of an arrest. Retrieved May 24, 2015, from http://www.nytimes.com/2013/04/18/business/media/fbi-criticizes-false-reports-of-a-bombing-arrest.html?_r=0
Kovach, B., & Rosenstiel, T. (2010). Blur: How to know what’s true in the age of information overload. New York: Bloomsbury
Society of Professional Journalists improving and protecting journalism since 1909. (n.d.). Retrieved May 14, 2015, from http://www.spj.org.ezproxy.snhu.edu/ethicscode.asp