Friday, September 09, 2005

Ethics at Poynter

September 6, 2005
Tampa, Florida
4:41 p.m.

I did not study journalism but I always wanted to become a writer.

For more than ten years now I have been dreaming of studying journalism at Poynter Institute. When the internet reached the Philippines in the early 1990s, one of the first sites I visited was Poynter. I dreamed of studying there.

I was at Poynter today and discussed Ethics in Media with Kelly McBride, head of the institute’s Ethics Department. She talked about the importance of ethics in all aspects of media – writing, reporting, editing, broadcast, management, etc.

She talked about ethics as a craft of decision-making in journalism especially with online journalism. She talked about the important role of images, which are often put out of context and which have the great potential to “miscommunicate.”

She said online journalism has given images an important, if not a disproportionate role. Words are many in the internet that’s why images have become powerful. People tend to look for images. Images, McBride said, also raise the risk of simplifying complicated stories.

In making decisions involving ethics, journalists must always identify alternatives, she said. “If you have only two choices, you haven’t gone through the whole process.”

She cited as example a report about a five-year old child who was arrested and handcuffed by the police for misbehavior.

We had a short workshop. We identified the stakeholders in the story. Should the child be named? Should her picture be used? How does one display the pictures and write the cutlines?

It doesn’t take long in making an ethical decision in the newsroom, McBride said. A deadline is not an excuse for doing unethical stories. She advised that rather than creating rules (Code of Ethics that are not used or ignored), a newsroom can come up with a guideline that will steer journalist to ethical decisions.

She encouraged educating the audience. Journalists must provide readers reasons to trust the media.

On blogging, she said it can be a big problem especially for journalists who do blogs about their beats. She said journalists must maintain ethical standards – objectivity, fairness – even in their blogs. News organizations that sponsor journalists’ blogs can be liable to lawsuits for the blogs of their reporters.

She also has an issue on print journalists going on television to explain their stories. Commenting on issues or blogging must go through the same rigorous process of editorial and ethical judgment.

On journalists arming themselves, she said: “They better hire bodyguards.”

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