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University of Wisconsin–Madison

Category: Events

Recap: Ethics and Election 2016

More than 170 people joined us at the Overture Center on Dec. 8, 2016 to discuss journalism ethics and the 2016 election with The Atlantic’s Molly Ball, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s Craig Gilbert and UW-Madison School of Journalism and Mass Communication’s Michael Wagner.

Below you will find links to the full video of the panel provided by Wisconsin Eye, two great summaries of the event from local reporters, and a pre-panel interview on WISC-TV featuring Molly Ball and CJE director Katy Culver.

Ethics and Elections Event December 8

Please join the Center for Journalism Ethics December 8 for a panel — “Journalism Ethics & Election 2016” — at 6:30 p.m. at the Overture Center in Madison. We will explore the role of political journalism in the federal elections, particularly the presidential race, covering questions of truth, trust and verification.



Molly Ball, The Atlantic

Molly Ball is a staff writer for The Atlantic, where she is a leading voice in the magazine’s coverage of U.S. politics. She has been awarded the Toner Prize for Excellence in Political Reporting, the Sandy Hume Memorial Award for Excellence in Political Journalism, and the Lee Walczak Award for Political Analysis for her coverage of political campaigns and issues. She appears regularly as an analyst on NBC’s Meet the Press, CBS’s Face the Nation, PBS’s Washington Week, CNN, MSNBC, Fox News, and NPR.

Ball previously reported for Politico, the Las Vegas Review-Journal, and the Las Vegas Sun. She has worked for newspapers in Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Cambodia, as well as the New York Times and the Washington Post. She is a graduate of Yale University and was a 2009 recipient of the Knight-Wallace journalism fellowship at the University of Michigan. In 2007, she won $100,000 on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire. Ball grew up in Idaho and Colorado. She lives in Virginia with her husband and three children.

Craig GilbertGILBERT, NWS, PORTER, 1. - Journal Sentinel Washington D.C. correspondant Craig Gilbert. October 9, 2013. GARY PORTER/GPORTER@JOURNALSENTINEL.COM, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Craig Gilbert is the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s Washington Bureau Chief and author of “The Wisconsin Voter” political blog. Gilbert has covered national and state politics for the paper since 1990, has covered every presidential race since 1992, and has written extensively about the electoral battle for the swing states of the Midwest. He was a 2009-10 Knight-Wallace fellow at the University of Michigan, where he studied public opinion, survey research, voting behavior and statistics, and was a Lubar Fellow at Marquette University Law School, researching an in-depth study of one of the nation’s most polarized places, metropolitan Milwaukee. He previously worked for the Miami Herald, the Kingston (NY) Daily Freeman and was a speechwriter for New York Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan. Gilbert has a B.A. in History from Yale University.    



Photo courtesy of Coburn Dukehart, Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism.

Michael Wagner, School of Journalism and Mass Communication, University of Wisconsin-Madison

Mike Wagner is associate professor and Louis A. Maier Faculty Development Fellow in the School of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He directs the Physiology and Communication Effects Lab. He is affiliated with the Department of Political Science and the La Follette School of Public Affairs. He’s published more than 40 books, journal articles and book chapters in the areas of political communication, journalism, public opinion, and biology and politics, including the book, Political Behavior of the American Electorate. A former radio/television news reporter and anchor, Wagner is an award-winning teacher and adviser. He is the current Forum Editor for the journal Political Communication and a regular guest host on the local radio program, “A Public Affair.”


Photo courtesy of Al Tompkins

Moderator: Kathleen Bartzen Culver, director of the Center for Journalism Ethics.

Kathleen Bartzen Culver is an assistant professor in the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Journalism & Mass Communication and director of the Center for Journalism Ethics. Long interested in the implications of digital media on journalism and public interest communication, Culver focuses on the ethical dimensions of social tools, technological advances and networked information. She combines these interests with a background in law and free expression. She also serves as visiting faculty for the Poynter Institute  and education curator for MediaShift.

Conference 2014 through the eyes of an undergraduate journalism student

As an undergraduate journalism student, I spend much of my time generating stories and little time reflecting on the bigger questions of my writing. Finishing projects under a deadline, or contacting just the right person for a quote often seems more important than debating the pros and cons of drone technology. But working with the Center for Journalism Ethics this spring has made me realize how relevant ethics are to journalism, and that it is difficult (if not impossible) to separate ethical principles from my work in this field.

14094959746_83f6f24040_bParticipating in a national conference much like the annual ethics conference at UW-Madison is often the best way to learn about the newest trends and research in journalism. I enjoyed learning about commercial data sensors from John Keefe, and was shocked to discover how much data these tiny yet extremely cheap and accessible devices can capture. Although these devices could be useful for many journalists, they could also make the public even more distrusting of the media (or even be confused for some kind of explosive device). I also thought that the new database technology several of the panelists discussed was fascinating. It has become more common for news organizations to create searchable and user-friendly databases, which if done well, are heavily used by the public. I myself have used many of these databases when completing class projects or research, but never thought about the journalists who perhaps created them. And if I didn’t already know it yet – I should probably make my passwords more secure. Apparently the most common online password is still “123456.”

Although I learned about new technologies for journalists, the conference also left me with the impression that many “older” ethical issues still exist. For example, the surveillance panel discussed the ethical problems of journalists telling people that they are collecting data for one purpose, but using it for another. While technology has allowed this kind of dishonesty to be more pronounced, the choice of a journalist to mislead sources has been an issue for many years, and still continues to be. “New” media ethics regarding digital technologies will continue to be important, but perhaps it is still too early to dismiss these ethical concerns.

14137961843_1b50557909_bThe conference also left me with the impression that thoughtful journalism requires a great variety of backgrounds and educations. Although a journalism degree is often the foundation for an aspiring writer or media professional, it’s also important to develop skills in statistics, math or science. In the breakout session I attended, Alexander Howard discussed the manipulation of graphs and charts by journalists, noting that many journalists falsely represent data (check out this link for some interesting examples). While its true that some journalists may intentionally manipulate data to fit their agenda, others may simply be lacking a basic understanding of how to use and treat numbers. Requiring journalists to develop these skills may not only enrich the value of their stories, but also ensure that fewer incidents of data misrepresentation occur. I won’t become a “math person” overnight, but attending this conference made me realize that I too may need to acquire skills other than writing in order to be successful in this industry.

My experience at the Center for Journalism Ethics conference made me excited to see what the future of journalism will bring. The attendees and speakers at the conference were all actively engaged in the issues they discussed, and genuinely interested in media ethics. I had the opportunity to ask questions and have dialogues with some of the most preeminent experts in their fields, which is a rare occurrence for an undergraduate student. I hope to implement some of what I learned in my own work, and that I am able to attend similar events in the future.

[Photos by Jentri Colello for UW Center for Journalism Ethics].

Conference 2014 keynote: Media Minefields: Journalism, National Security and the Right to Know

Eric Lichtblau, a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter in the Washington Bureau of The New York Times, challenged government pressure and prosecution of journalists in the name of national security, and instead encouraged journalists to continue publishing stories to widen the ongoing debate regarding national security, in his keynote address Media Minefields: Journalism, National Security and the Right to Know at the University of Wisconsin-Madison Center for Journalism Ethics 2014 conference.

keynote wideLichtblau highlighted the increasing pressure on journalists by the government to keep national secrets and other “embarrassing” information from reaching the public by referencing The Guardian’s controversial 2013 decision to publish information provided by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden about the NSA’s private security information mining process.

As the whistle blower style of national security narrative increases, Lichtblau said, reporting like The Guardian’s Snowden coverage, which incited the U.S. government to label the journalists as “co-conspirators” or “disgraces,” poses a larger issue regarding the widening gap between what the government is willing to tell the public and what the public “has a right to know.”

Sometimes the government “over-classifi[es]” information, not to protect national security, but instead to hide politically problematic or embarrassing information from the public, Lichtblau said.

Despite government pressure to keep journalists from publishing “politically unflattering” or, even, illegal activity, Lichtblau stressed that the First Amendment allows journalists to legally publish classified information. Furthermore, it’s the media’s responsibility to push back and, in some cases, allow for public scrutiny.

“[Journalists] still have the right and responsibility to report aggressively on national security measures,” Lichtblau said.

key2In his recent book project, Lichtblau discovered dozens of files detailing the U.S. government’s protection of Nazi officials after World War II which were still labeled as classified over 60 years later.

However, Lichtblau explained that classified information should not be published without first gauging public interest and safety.

He pointed to the AP’s decision to hold a story (which was awarded the 2014 Shadid Award for Journalism Ethics at the conference) for three years about the CIA’s involvement in the case of a missing agent in Iran to ensure the story did not compromise the agent’s safety as an excellent example of ethical responsibility from a news organization.

However, in the age of citizen journalism, Lichtblau admits he is unsure how entities like Wikileaks, which do not have internal policies or self-censorship practices regarding public safety in place like journalists, can guarantee ethical practices.

Basically, Lichtblau said, ethics regarding national security reporting boils down to: “when to publish and when to sit on a story.” But, he argued, that should be the journalist’s, not the government’s, decision.

“Do you want the government making the decisions, or do you want the media making the decisions?” Lichtblau asked.

keyscottWhile the Obama administration promised to be the most transparent administration thus far, its increased prosecution of journalists who publish classified information is alarming, Lichtblau said.

Government officials gave one of Lichtblau’s sources a “Draconian” ultimatum, in which he was forced to either agree to stop talking to Lichtblau or he would lose his security clearance.

Lichtblau stressed that in cases of national security journalism, sources are at an increased risk. Therefore, reporters need to use extra caution when protecting them.

“Obviously, there are secrets that have to be kept,” Lichtblau said regarding some cases in which unveiling federal secrets could lead to the endangerment or death of a person.

However, the practice of government secrecy is often worse than the actual substance of secrets, Lichtblau said.

“We have to be the check on the government,” Lichtblau said, closing his address by encouraging journalists to publish hard-hitting national security stories in an effort to widen public debate about government secrecy.

[Photos by Jentri Colello for UW Center for Journalism Ethics].

Prof. Ward edits new book on global ethics

On March 18, Wiley-Blackwell will release “the first full-length, truly global textbook on media ethics,” edited by Stephen J.A. Ward. Global Media Ethics: Problems and Perspectives brings together scholars from diverse backgrounds and cultures, who offer real-world insight into the unique challenge of fostering responsible journalism in a changing media world. Continue reading

Friday, April 5 – save the date for our 2013 conference!

The center will hold its 5th annual journalism ethics conference on Friday, April 5, 2013 on the UW-Madison campus.  This year we’ll take an in-depth look at “Who is Shaping the News?”  Our keynote speaker will be investigative journalist Lowell Bergman, who brings decades of knowledge about the inner workings of mass media and their influences.   Check back for more details in the weeks and months ahead!

Belgian scholar argues for “noiseless journalism”

Communications scholar Francois Heinderyckx has some advice for mainstream news media: If they wish to survive the roiling media revolution, strive for ‘noiseless’ journalism.

That is, distinguish yourself in a noisy world of multiple channels by focusing on high-quality news and analysis.

photo of Francois Heinderyckx

Francois Heinderyckx

Instead of cutting newsroom staff, and spending on dissemination technology, invest in “intellectual capital” – the experience and expertise of your journalists. Journalists should consider informed news content as their “brand” – a brand that people will pay to receive.

Prof. Heinderyckx, who is director of the Dept. of Information and Communication Sciences at the Free University of Brussels, expanded on his concept of noiseless journalism during a talk at the UW School of Journalism and Mass Communication on Sept. 28.  His visit to the campus, where he also taught senior undergraduate classes, was co-sponsored by the CJE, the Center for European Studies, and the School of Journalism.

Using examples from European news media, Prof. Heinderyckx challenged common assumptions among news editors and media owners – that “more” media is better than less media, and that “being fast” (or the fastest) is crucial to the future of news media. Journalists make the mistake of thinking that just because a new type of media makes possible a new activity, such as scanning dozens of wire services, then everyone will want to do that activity.

Amid so much “raw” data, mainstream media can help citizens understand the confusing avalanche of information by providing smart summaries and analysis of the meaning of the information.

A fuller understanding of his notion of noiseless journalism can be obtained by reading his “Striving for Noiseless Journalism.”

Prof. Heinderyckx is president of the European Communication Research and Education Association and is president-elect of the International Communication Association.  He teaches media sociology and political communication. His research interests include journalism, audience research, political communication, and media literacy.