Journalism Ethics: Why I’m Joining Poynter Institute

Hey, I just joined the Foundation Board of the Poynter Institute because of my interest in protecting journalism ethics. 

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As a Board Member, I’ll support the Institute as an advisor, an ambassador, and try to be a useful resource. I’m doing this work because Poynter Institute’s the real deal, they’re a bridge between journalism’s core values and its innovative digital transformation.

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Joining this board’s a big deal since it already consists of folks who really care about good journalism and its role as the heart of democracy and its mission of seeking truth and building trust.

I really just want news I can trust.

Couple years ago, I blurted out that “the press should be the immune system of democracy.” And I still believe that.

Turns out that what we have now are a lot of ethics codes and policies, but very little accountability. This is something I often discuss when I talk about trustworthy journalism in a fact-checking-free world.

I’ve already been heavily involved in Poynter, promoting their new book about journalism ethics, emphasizing the importance of using accountability to expose the bad guys, helping spread the word about restoring trustworthiness to news, and I sponsored their conference about the restoration of journalism ethics.

I’m really thankful to join a board of really great folks for a good cause. More to come…

 

The Real Meaning of Journalism Ethics

Folks, journalism ethic’s really important to me. It’s why I’m really involved in the Columbia Journalism Review and Poynter Institute. I figure if we don’t have good news, how are we going to help others? To me, journalism ethics is about trustworthy news and exposing the bad guys.

But, because I’m not a journalist, I wanted to reach out to someone who’s doing this work daily. I asked Kelly McBride, of Poynter Institute, a few questions to talk more about the real meaning of journalism ethics.

Do you think journalism ethics is about exposing the bad guys?

Yes, and much more. But exposing bad guys is part of holding the powerful accountable. It’s not easy though because there aren’t always clear-cut bad guys. So in addition to exposing bad guys, journalism is about exposing flawed systems, incompetence, and unintended consequences.  Take the recent data that demonstrates and black children are expelled from school, even preschool, at higher rates than white children. There is no one bad guy here. But there sure as heck is a bad outcome that has to be remedied. Journalism has a role to play in holding the factcheckpowerful accountable that goes way beyond figuring out who the bad guy is.

What do you think is at stake for journalism and for journalism ethics?

Journalism is such a big tent, it’s hard to say what’s specifically at stake for the entire profession of journalism. But if you want to narrow that tent a little to, say, the journalism that strives as its primary mission to inform citizens and hold the powerful accountable,  I would say that this: What’s at stake is the ability of citizens to take information seriously. The marketplace of ideas is going to go in one of two directions. Either citizens will doubt everything, all sources.  Or citizens learn to distinguish information by certain markers like brand or transparency. Journalism organizations want option B and they want to be among the trusted sources. So really what’s at stake is whether we can continue to have a participatory democracy as our form of government.
What are the consequences of truthiness in journalism?

Truthiness is a bad thing. It’s when you repeat a fiction or a distortion over and over again until people believe it’s a real fact. So the consequence of truthiness not being in journalism would be a good thing.

How reliable do you think citizen journalism is?

Like all journalism, it runs the gamut. There are great examples of citizens filming police officers abusing their power, or evidence that governments have lied to their people. The thing about information generated by citizens is that usually only the good stuff rises to the top. So I’m not that concerned about the bad stuff.

What’s your best advice for factchecking and doing it the right way?

I like that fact checking is usually part of the production of every piece of journalism, as well as a separate act of journalism. All journalists fact check. And then more recently we have developed a discipline of fact checking things that politicians and pundits say. This recent development was necessary because of the proliferation of voices, as well as the proliferation of social media, which allows individuals to distribute a lot of information without going through professional journalists.

 

If this topic’s important to you, take a look at these 4 factchecking sites that’re the real deal. And I’d really like to hear what journalism ethics means to you, and your take on what Kelly had to say.

 

Does Journalism Need New Ethics?

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Folks, here’s an excerpt of a blog post I wrote for Poynter. Please click here to read the whole story.

When I saw a story recently in the New Republic asserting that Silicon Valley has become one of “the most ageist places in America,” I was taken aback.

As far as I can tell, there is discrimination against older people in the business world, but it’s no different from what I’ve seen through a 38-year career. It doesn’t surprise me, since I’ve faced what might be ageism (I’m 61), but maybe I have been discriminated because I’m balding, short, and pudgy.

Still, I have concerns that readers might take this particular story about ageism as proven fact — even though the reporting seems to be mostly anecdotal.

The story characterizes a group of maybe a million people based on a small sample size and, to me, a handful of the anecdotes seemed not so good, not so trustworthy. As a very literal guy (nerd) I assume that the headline and the body of the article are telling me that the vast majority of folks in Silicon Valley are guilty of a form of bigotry.

In the middle of my reflection, I read an interview with Aron Pilhofer from the Tow Center for Digital Journalism. Pilhofer runs a newsroom team at The New York Times that combines journalism, social media, technology and analytics. Some of his comments about data journalism, culture and going digital, seemed to echo my criticism of the New Republic’s piece on ageism.

“Journalism is one of the few professions that not only tolerates general innumeracy but celebrates it,” said Pilhofer in the interview.

“It’s a cultural problem. There is still far too much tolerance for anecdotal evidence as the foundation for news stories.”

Pilhofer’s comments confirmed what I was already thinking, that anecdotes are great clues as to what might be going on, but sometimes they are cherry-picked to confirm what a writer already believes. That’s to say that they can reinforce truthiness and preconceived notions.

I view hard data as complementary to anecdotal evidence. We need to balance both. If somebody asserts something factual, I want them to back it up with more than anecdotes, so that readers can trust it.

I turned to friends I’ve made in the journalism world for their opinions. Since I’m just a news consumer, not a professional journalist, I wanted their expert opinions. I asked them each to respond to this question:

When is anecdotal reporting enough to support broad conclusions without concrete data? This recent article on ageism in Silicon Valley seemed to paint an entire group of people based a handful of examples. Is that fair?

You can read folks’ responses over on Poynter. And, I’d like to hear what you think, too. Please share your opinions in the comments below. And be sure and check out the Harvard Business Review article How Old Are Silicon Valley’s Top Founders? Here’s the Data.

Craig Newmark’s big issues for craigconnects in 2013

Hey there folks, I’m figuring out what’s my deal, what do I spend time doing, and what’ll be my main focus for 2013. This seems to be the shortest version which makes any sense to anyone else.

A lot of this involves quiet, back-channel communications, which I might never go public with. Sure, sometimes I gotta be a squeaky wheel, or sometimes I need to be annoying enough to motivate people, but will do so reluctantly.

You’ll see a focus on matters in the here and now, looking to help solve problems that exist now, while learning how make things work better in the longer term by motivating people in increasingly large numbers.

That includes figuring out how to get people to work together, particularly the people at groups with similar goals. Nonprofits with common goals normally find it really hard to collaborate, and that begs for a solution.

Anyway…

craigslist customer service is something I’ve got a hard commitment to, only as long as I live. I got only lightweight stuff to do these days, which is a big deal since:

  • it reminds me of what’s real, when I hear from people who get food on the table via our site.
  • it reinforces my emotional investment in operating from the grassroots level on up, in identifying with the grassroots, and in viewing life from the bottom up.

Also, there’s my craigconnects.org stuff, which includes a number of areas, but the two big areas are military families/veterans issues, and journalism trust/ethics issues.

If someone’s willing to serve overseas and risk taking a bullet for me, I should give back at least a little. Also, everyone should remember that it’s not only a troop serving, it’s also his or her family who give up a lot for all of us.

1. There are networks of military spouses, often linked by the mailing lists (listservs) where spouses at specific bases help each other. Multiple spouse organizations maintain their own networks. Finally, the senior-most spouses talk with each other. If they would work with each other, and supported each other, they could get a lot more done, including much of what follows this item.

2. Military families sometimes need a hand from one of the tens of thousands of helping organizations around the US. This is what the Joint Chiefs call the “sea of goodwill” and the problem is locating who can help with what. A milfam group has built the beginning of a database and smartphone app toward this end. (Veterans need this also, but spouses groups might just have the lead.)

3. There are specific areas where maybe I can help in very minor ways, for example:

  • schools that serve military kids, at specific bases, are underfunded. A matching grants effort via DonorsChoose.org might be useful.
  • when a spouse moves from a base in one state to another, we need to find ways to make re-licensing fast to avoid loss of income.

4. Spouses and veterans need jobs, and the Veterans Job Bank is a good start. It needs updating, and then, we need to tell people it exists and is useful.

5. It’s really difficult for veterans to express military skills and experience in terms that civilian hiring managers can understand. Better programs need to be developed and they need to be actively used during transition from active service.

6. Troops who transition from active service can have a really hard time getting disability claims approved. The Fully Developed Claims effort needs to be amplified during transition and thereafter. Also, perhaps the Department of Veterans Affairs disability approval backlog can be helped by effectively getting the assistance of Veterans Service Organizations. VSO worker level personnel, maybe working directly with VA disability raters can help accelerate processing in unexpected ways. (Disclaimer: I’ve been personally involved with the VA employee innovation effort which has already helped a little.)

7. There needs to be greater outreach by VA medical centers via social media, and also regarding Blue Button efforts which allow veterans to download medical and work experience while in service.

 

Okay, the other big area I focus on involves journalism integrity and ethics, toward increasing the trustworthiness of news reporting. I really am aware that I’m not in the news industry, and won’t tell people how to do their job.

However, I really want to get news I can trust. After all, the press is the immune system of democracy… or should be.

Toward that end, I’m already working with the Poynter Institute, which is a really big deal in professional journalism. They’ve run a conference on journalistic issues, raising big issues. For example, to maintain a pretense of objectivity, it’s common to bring on a speaker a reporter knows will attempt to deceive the public. In such a case, is the reporter and news outlet complicit in that deception?

Moving forward, I’ll be increasingly involved in publicly raising such issues publicly, with the objective of finding news I can trust. That means working with more news organizations with a history of trustworthy behavior.

Finally, well, I was heavily involving in protecting the rights of all eligible Americans to vote, mostly by supporting organizations with boots on the ground. I figure this is about the values articulated in the Declaration of Independence, in that all are created equal, and that we really can be the “shining city on the hill.”

However, there are people who disagree with universal suffrage, and have taken that to the Supreme Court, so I’ll continue to help.

Anyway …

Please remember that I’m doing this real discreetly, not really rocking the boat except when a little of that is required, just the least amount needed.

Finally, nothing I do is altruistic the way I look at things; it just feels right. A nerd’s gotta do what a nerd’s gotta do.

Poynter conf on journalist ethics: let’s jump the gun

Okay, I’ve been saying that the “press is the immune system of democracy” for a coupla years now.

A lot of this is motivated by conversations with people in media; they’d like to restore trustworthy behavior to news media, not in just a few pockets of it. I remind ’em that I’m not in the business, but I can help, maybe just a little.

Well, the Poynter Institute is a really big deal regarding trustworthy journalism, and they’ll be running a conference on journalistic ethics in NYC this Autumn.  They haven’t announced the date, but I figure this is a big issue, and I’ll do what I can to make it really big, beyond merely funding it.


So, I’ll be posting some of the big issues in journalistic trust and ethics suggested in years of talking with people in the business, using hashtag #PoynterJournoEthics.

For example, I’ve wondered what’s the deal when you can see that a reporter knows when he’s being lied to, but says that he has to “leave it there” and throw it back to the anchor.  That reinforces the lie, not so good.  One of the country’s most trustworthy journalists, Jon Stewart, calls it the “CNN leaves it there” problem, and speaks way smarter about it than me.

more to come…

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