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Associated Press named winner of 2016 Anthony Shadid Award

The Associated Press has won the 2016 Anthony Shadid Award for Journalism Ethics for reporting that resulted in the freeing of 2,000 slave laborers used by the fishing industry in Southeast Asia.

The award will be presented at the annual conference of the University of Wisconsin-Madison Center for Journalism Ethics on April 29 in Madison by Nada Shadid, Anthony Shadid’s widow.

The center bestows the award annually in honor of Shadid, a Pulitzer Prize-winning UW-Madison journalism alumnus and foreign reporter for the Washington Post and The New York Times. He died in 2012 from health complications while reporting in Syria.

While investigating an Asian “slave island” that provides fish for the American market, AP reporters Martha Mendoza, Margie Mason, Robin McDowell and Esther Htusan realized that any slave who talked with them faced possible execution. The reporters and their editors decided to rescue their sources from the island before publishing the explosive story.

After accepting the award, Mendoza and McDowell will participate in a panel discussion focusing on how they wrestled with the ethical problems they confronted.

“There is nothing unusual about journalists protecting their sources from discovery,” Jack Mitchell, chair of the judging committee, said. “But journalists usually minimize involvement beyond that. The AP defied convention by taking responsibility for the welfare and safety of the slaves, who were willing to face death to tell their stories. The journalists got the men to safety before publishing the stories.”

The AP team was chosen for the award over four other finalists who also demonstrated exceptional commitment to ethical journalism last year. They were:

The Center for Journalism Ethics will honor the AP team at its conference, which focuses on “Race, Ethnicity and Journalism Ethics” this year. The day-long event will begin at 8:30 a.m. at Union South on the UW-Madison campus. It will include panels devoted to ethical issues in representations of race, covering education and criminal justice, and a discussion of how journalism can improve such coverage. Award-winning New York Times Magazine reporter Nikole Hannah-Jones will deliver the keynote address.

Online registration is now open for the ethics conference

Conference tomorrow: Find schedule here

Online registration for the conference is now closed. But, we will accept registration at the door. The registration desk will be near the doors of the Varsity Rooms of Union South’s second floor.

The conference runs from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. April 29 in Union South, Madison, Wisconsin.

The cost is $25, and includes lunch.

The full program booklet is available.

Registration for all students and UW-Madison faculty/staff is free. Email questions to the Center at

8:30 Breakfast and registration
8:50 Opening remarks
9 Keynote address Nikole Hannah-Jones New York Times Magazine
10 Panel — Representing Race: Language, Imagery, Sources and Issues for Journalists Sue Robinson, moderator UW-Madison SJMC
Henry Sanders Madison365
Patty Loew UW-Madison Life Sciences Communication
Alan Gomez USA Today
11:15 Panel — Education Matters: Covering Racial Dynamics and Examining Journalism’s Role Rachelle Winkle-Wagner, moderator UW-Madison Education Leadership and Policy Analysis
Sue Robinson UW-Madison SJMC
Nikole Hannah-Jones New York Times Magazine
Lisa Gartner Tampa Bay Times
12:15 Lunch
12:45 Shadid award presentation Jack Mitchell, Shadid committee chair UW-Madison SJMC
Nada Shadid, award presenter
Robin McDowell Associated Press
Martha Mendoza Associated Press
1:45 Panel — Questions of Justice: Crime, Inequality and News Media Hemant Shah, moderator UW-Madison SJMC
Katy Culver UW-Madison SJMC
Mike Koval Madison Police Department
Matt Braunginn Young, Gifted and Black
Jaweed Kaleem Los Angeles Times
3:15 Plenary Session — Tomorrow’s Work: Moving Forward on Race and Journalism Keith Woods, moderator NPR
Maria Len-Rios University of Georgia
Brent Jones USA Today
4:30 Closing remarks

Engaged journalists need to confront ethical questions

I’ll go ahead and admit it: In early December, as I finished drafting this “Redefining Engagement” series, I began wondering if I’d missed something big along the way.

“I’m still uneasy about some of the implications of this new [community engagement] paradigm,” I wrote in an email to Peggy Holman, executive director of Journalism that Matters. “If journalists are part of this future, what values/roles do they get to bring with them?”

Since launching the series two weeks ago, I’ve made the case for a type of engaged journalism that rebuilds public trust, amplifies diverse voices and bridges the gap between newsrooms and the communities they serve. I’ve written about promising experiments, like The Listening Post in Macon, Georgia, and The Coral Project’s new online comments tool; explored boundary-pushing ideas, like restorative narrative, inclusive journalism and a redefinition of “objectivity”; and tackled some lingering questions about community engagement, like how will the dollars and cents add up?

But even after 10 stories and 13,000-odd words, this series has yet to broach a pretty central concern: If engaged journalism is going to replace existing routines and practices with new ones, will traditional journalistic values and ethics go out the window too? And if they do, what’s left to warrant calling this thing “journalism” anyway?

My hunch is that I’m not the only classically trained journalist who has struggled with this question. Admittedly, there’s something about community engagement that can seem at once inspiring and a tad unsettling. On the one hand, who can argue with principles like “speak truth to empower” or “nothing about us without us”? For my money, those sound like pretty good values to aim for.

But I’ve also wondered how these values relate to other core principles of journalism. Does “speaking truth to empower,” for example, imply a departure from “speaking truth to power” and the watchdog role it entails? And does “nothing about us without us” mean that journalism’s independent gatekeeping function is obsolete, or that professional news judgement is dead?

So far in this series, I’ve largely sidestepped these thorny questions, choosing instead to highlight examples of engaged journalism in which the role of the capital-J “Journalist” is well defined and the practitioners’ adherence to traditional ethical principles is clear.

But this subject matter permitted no sidestepping, leaving me no choice but to confront the questions I’d been kicking down the road.

To help me navigate this murky intellectual terrain, I turned to two tour guides: Mike Fancher and The Elements of Journalism. Fancher is the former executive editor of the Seattle Times and the founding director of the Agora Journalism Center, and as someone who made his career in the legacy media, Fancher is well-positioned to comment on the movement to reform it.

It was during our interview that Fancher mentioned The Elements of Journalism, the famous book by Bill Kovach and Tom Rosenstiel that outlines journalism’s 10 fundamental principles, forming a kind of ethical guide against which journalists can measure their performance. I’d read Kovach and Rosenstiel’s book as an undergraduate, but needless to say, I was due for a refresher.

So how does engaged journalism impact ethics? Below, I address that question through the lens of the ten elements of journalism, with help from the insights of Fancher and Holman, who together build a compelling case for why community engagement supports, rather than contradicts, the core values of journalism.

Mike Fancher, former executive editor of the Seattle Times, takes the mic during a group session at Experience Engagement. Photo by Emmalee McDonald.

Mike Fancher, former executive editor of the Seattle Times, takes the mic during a group session at Experience Engagement. Photo by Emmalee McDonald.

Journalism’s first obligation is to the truth

The obligation to truth is perhaps journalism’s oldest and most universally honored principle. It’s the reason former NBC anchor Brian Williams lost his job for embellishing the details of his war reporting, and why the public still celebrates remarkable feats of truth-seeking, such as Woodward and Bernstein’s reporting on Watergate.

In engaged journalism, the obligation to truth doesn’t change. What does change is how reporters seek truth. As Fancher explains, engagement provides a powerful defense against the confirmation biases that can influence a journalist’s reporting and storytelling.

“There’s a perception that when journalists go into the community, the people they talk to and the questions they ask are based on their predetermined idea what the story is,” Fancher said. “Engaged journalism is saying, ‘Let’s be open to change our own assumptions about the story, and when we’re seeking truth, let’s try to get in touch with as many people’s truth as we can.’”

So no, engagement doesn’t weaken journalism’s commitment to the truth; engagement only calls for more voices and perspectives to inform it.

Its first loyalty is to citizens

“Journalists like to think of themselves as the people’s surrogate, covering society’s waterfront in the public interest,” Kovach and Rosenstiel explain. “Increasingly, however, the public doesn’t believe them.”

There are lots of reasons for the public’s mistrust, from corporate ownership to the resurgence of partisan news organizations (see: Fox News). But amid these challenges, engaged journalism strikes me as a strategy for winning trust back.

Consider the fact that at the Experience Engagement event, conference organizers didn’t begin by asking how journalism could produce stronger profits or how it could boost audience metrics. Instead, they asked: How can journalism support communities to thrive? This question puts the public interest at the fore and reflects a style of journalism that’s meant to be both with and for the people.

In that respect, Fancher says engaged journalism isn’t something new to journalism, but rather represents a return to one of its fundamental principles.

“A lot of metropolitan daily newspapers embraced the notion that, ‘Hey, we’re your newspaper. We’re here for you,’” he said. “In some ways, this is not as foreign a notion as some people might see it.”

Its essence is a discipline of verification

Skeptics of engaged journalism received some ammunition in 2008 when a user of CNN’s iReport — an experiment in “citizen journalism” — falsely reported that Steve Jobs had died. Several online news outlets picked up the story, Twitter ran wild, and Apple’s stock even dropped, all before Jobs’ family had a chance to deny the erroneous user-contributed report.

The iReport example has been used as a cautionary tale about collaboration between news organizations and the public. But this framing misses the mark. For one, in the age of the 24-hour news cycle, it’s not just citizen journalists who are falling short of journalism’s verification standard. Remember that time when CNN’s John King misreported the arrest of a suspect in the Boston Marathon manhunt, or, better yet, when CNN’s web editors allowed that false Steve Jobs report to be posted on iReport, apparently without double-checking its veracity? Indeed, there are plenty of verification failures these days, and both citizen journalists and professional journalism deserve some of the blame.

But there’s an even bigger reason why the iReport debate has little to say about community engagement: Basically, because it’s not community engagement. It’s audience development, and there’s a huge difference.

For example, in a recent iReport article, CNN editors invited users to submit videos showing their preferred method for popping bubble wrap, along with the promise that “your video could be used on Jan. 25th, which is Bubble Wrap Appreciation Day.” Believe it or not, when community engagement advocates talk about inclusive journalism and participatory media, that’s not exactly the kind of engagement they have in mind.

At its best, engaged journalism is about creating news structures that support collaboration between journalists and communities. That means finding ways to amplify community voices through reporting and storytelling. It doesn’t mean outsourcing responsibilities such as verification or news judgment to the public, Fancher says.

“No, journalists are still in the core of the conversation,” he explained. “We just need to have more people included in that conversation.”

Part of a visual map illustrated by Nitya Wakhlu Experience Engagement. Photo by Emmalee McDonald.

Part of a visual map illustrated by Nitya Wakhlu Experience Engagement. Photo by Emmalee McDonald.

Its practitioners must maintain an independence from those they cover

There’s no shirking the fact that the independence principle appears decidedly at odds with the tenets of engaged journalism. According to the community engagement paradigm, journalism works best when it involves collaboration with community, a networked process in which journalists and community members are interdependent.

The question here isn’t whether engaged journalism brings the independence principle into flux. It does. The question is whether that’s a bad thing — and whether, in the digital age, journalism has any other choice.

“The traditional mission of journalism has been to provide people the news and information they need to be free and self-governing,” Fancher said. “The problem with that is the word ‘provide.’ We live in a world that’s much more interactive now, and people are not satisfied to be passive consumers of news and information. They want to share information, they want to create information, they want to be more involved in the process of determining what matters in their lives and in their communities.”

In this interconnected world, it seems that the notion of independence might need a facelift. And perhaps that begins by distinguishing independence from detachment. As Kovach and Rosenstiel explain: “Editorial independence has over time begun, in some quarters, to harden into isolation. As journalists tried to honor and protect their carefully won independence from party and commercial pressures, they sometimes came to pursue independence for its own sake. Detachment from outside pressure could bleed into disengagement from the community.”

Engaged journalism can help combat isolation, and that’s a good thing. The hard part is figuring out how to balance the principle of independent journalism with the realities of an interdependent world.

“That’s what we’re wrestling with,” Fancher said. “But I think it’s a legitimate conversation for journalists to engage in.”

It must serve as an independent monitor of power

In December, as I finished drafting the Redefining Engagement series, this is the principle I couldn’t get off my mind. As I wrote in an email to a colleague: “The thorny question that remains is how the watchdogs, with their sharp teeth, and the community weavers, with their empathetic powers of listening, can coexist within the new journalism.”

Indeed, “community weavers” appear to serve a very different function than public-accountability watchdogs. For one, their disposition is cooperative, not adversarial, and their mission is less about “afflicting the comfortable” than about “comforting the afflicted.”

Holman says this philosophical pivot could help reverse the finger pointing, foot stomping and political shouting that pervade modern civic discourse.

“When people shout, it’s because they don’t feel heard,” she explained. “The point of community engagement is to create a space in which people who see the world differently hear each other.”

It’s an aspirational notion, but also one that raises questions about journalism’s relationship to power. For example, if the community weaver’s role is to bring people together, do we include elected officials, government bureaucrats and corporate CEOs in that mix? If so, what are the implications? Can journalists forge more trusting, empathetic relationships while still using their sharp elbows to hold the powerful accountable?

These are tough, even uncomfortable, questions. But it’s worth remembering that engaged journalism doesn’t call for us to all hold hands and sing “kumbaya” together. Rather, engaged journalism is about listening to community members and their concerns, honoring and amplifying their voices, and strengthening their capacity to engage with one another and with the public officials who represent them.

When Holman and the co-authors of Experience Engagement’s developmental evaluation talk about fostering a “civic communications ecosystem,” I think that’s what they have in mind. And, as Fancher explains, that vision is consistent with the main reason why independence from power emerged as a principle in the first place.

“The purpose,” Fancher said, “was to help journalists avoid conflicts of interest where they’d be serving some vested interest other than the public’s interest. The purpose was to be able to say to the public: ‘We stand for you above everything else.’”

Peggy Holman joins a discussion at Experience Engagement. Photo by Emmalee McDonald.

Peggy Holman joins a discussion at Experience Engagement. Photo by Emmalee McDonald.

It must provide a forum for public criticism and compromise

The notion of a civic sphere dates all the way back to the ancient Greeks, and it remains at the heart of engaged journalism. Indeed, as noted above, Experience Engagement’s developmental evaluation explicitly outlines the need for a “civic communications ecosystem” that would “provide robust information, feedback, inclusive dialogue, strategy and action for serving community goals.”

That vision shares much in common with Kovach and Rosenstiel’s description of the civic forum, which similarly calls for journalism to impart trustworthy information, serve all parts of the community (“not just the affluent or demographically attractive”) and help steward compromise in order to support collaborative solutions.

Holman says an example of this approach at its very best comes from Canada in 1991, when the newsweekly Maclean’s brought together 12 people specifically chosen for their differences and tasked them with reaching a consensus vision for the country’s future.

For two-and-a-half days, with Canadian TV filming the whole thing, the 12-person sample group worked with a pair of conflict resolution experts to move beyond their differences and find common ground. The resulting document, dubbed “The People’s Verdict,” was published as part of a 40-page feature in Maclean’s, and the documentary footage aired as an hour-long special on Canadian television.

Notably, this application of engaged journalism sparked lively dialogue among readers and viewers, as well as town hall meetings that addressed issues raised by the project. In other words, Holman says, it helped support a civic sphere.

“This narrative trajectory enabled millions of viewers to vicariously experience this different kind of conversation and its power in dealing with normally divisive public issues,” she explained. “It helped trigger months of conversation around Canada and offers us guidance in how to magnify the impact of such ‘mini-public’ conversations up to society-wide scale.”

It must strive to keep the significant interesting and relevant

According to Kovach and Rosenstiel, journalism is essentially a two-step process: “The first challenge is finding the information that people need to live their lives. The second is to make it meaningful, relevant and engaging.”

Engaged journalism would appear to support both objectives. When journalists listen to communities, they better understand the information and issues that matter to people’s lives. And when journalists put community voices and stories at the heart of their work, rather than amplifying political bluster, the result, I would argue, is a more meaningful and engaging news product.

However, despite this apparent compatibility, Kovach and Rosenstiel’s eighth element of journalism is one that advocates of community engagement are sometimes guilty of neglecting. The problem: In the well-intentioned effort to make media more participatory and inclusive of diverse voices, there’s a tendency to undervalue the journalist’s craftsmanship and professional news judgement.

At Experience Engagement, for example, one interviewee suggested that journalists should really be asking themselves, “How do we get out of the way so that people can tell their own stories?”

I think the bigger point being made is that journalists should do a better job giving communities a stake in their own representation. However, there’s a lot of distance between honoring authentic community voice and simply handing over the keys. The latter approach neglects the expertise of journalists, and it seems likely to produce storytelling that — however authentic — would be less well crafted, less compelling and ultimately less interesting to a mass audience.

So sure, journalism needs to fix its record of parachuting into marginalized communities and misrepresenting their experiences and perspectives. But as Fancher explains, engaged journalism still needs to put journalists at the heart of the storytelling process, and it still needs to value the sensibilities and skills that make journalism a professional craft.

“This is not an approach that says ‘We’re going to stop being journalists and start being something else,’” Fancher said. “It’s an approach that says, ‘We’re going to be better journalists.’”

It must keep the news comprehensive and proportional

“Traditional news routines privilege the voices of politicians, official spokespeople and perceived ‘policy experts,’ while largely marginalizing community stories. This norm explains why people in positions of power often dictate civic discourse — and why news coverage tends to focus on presidential candidates’ xenophobic immigration proposals and fear-mongering war cries instead of on, say, how immigration policy impacts the children of undocumented immigrants.”

In my post on deep listening, that’s how I framed the need for news routines that empower communities, rather than politicians, to set the agenda. This tenet of engagement journalism mirrors Kovach and Rosenstiel’s call for comprehensive and proportional news coverage that reflects the broad scope of community life.

In fact, the need for engaged journalism is largely a symptom of the media’s failure to honor this principle. Amid dwindling budgets and strained resources, news organizations have too often been content to report primarily on political campaigns and other institutions of power, instead of putting community life at the heart of their coverage. Engaged journalism requires a rebalancing of the scales.

As Fancher explains, “If there’s a paradigm shift here, it’s that we have tended to think of the newsmakers as being institutions and people who are designated as leaders of communities. That doesn’t change, but it’s not complete. We need to be in the communities to understand their lived experience and to and help them tell their story to the policymakers and to the decision makers, so that the policies relate to what people want to talk about.”

Regina Lawrence, director of the SOJC's George S. Turnbull Portland Center, participates in an activity at Experience Engagement. Photo by Emmalee McDonald.

Regina Lawrence, director of the SOJC’s George S. Turnbull Portland Center, participates in an activity at Experience Engagement. Photo by Emmalee McDonald.

Its practitioners must be allowed to exercise their personal conscience

This principle of journalism is under attack in the American media — but not by community engagement. As journalists were reminded last month when casino mogul Sheldon Adelson’s family purchased the Las Vegas Review-Journal, the real threat is partisan ownership and the age-old quandary of self-preservation.

Consider this: In December, following Adelson’s surprise decision to purchase the newspaper, editor-in-chief Mike Hengel resigned amid concerns that Adelson — a billionaire conservative philanthropist — would attempt to use his ownership stake to influence the paper’s coverage. Similar concerns arose in 2007 when News Corp., the company owned by controversial media magnate Rupert Murdoch, took control of the Wall Street Journal.

But the most damning sign of trouble broke last month, on Christmas Eve, when career-long reporter Steve Majerus-Collins announced his resignation from The Bristol Press in a passionate and pointed Facebook post. Majerus-Collins cited the ethical disregard of his editor and publisher, Michael E. Schroeder, who allegedly used a false byline to publish a bogus story in support of a political ally.

“A newspaper editor cannot be allowed to stamp on the most basic rules of journalism and pay no price,” Majerus-Collins wrote in his post. “He should be shunned by my colleagues, cut off by professional organizations and told to pound sand by anyone working for him who has integrity. So I quit.”

Engaged journalism might not alleviate the problem of unethical meddling by management, but it certainly wouldn’t hurt. As outlined above, the community engagement approach is consistent with journalism’s core values of truth-seeking and loyalty to the public, and it has no more room for influence-peddlers than do principled reporters like Majerus-Collins.

Citizens, too, have rights and responsibilities when it comes to the news

This principle, added to The Elements of Journalism’s latest version, reflects the reality that contemporary digital technologies have blurred the distinction between citizen and journalist. As the American Press Institute explains, “Writing a blog entry, commenting on a social media site, sending a tweet, or ‘liking’ a picture or post, likely involves a shorthand version of the journalistic process. One comes across information, decides whether or not it’s believable, assesses its strength and weaknesses, determines if it has value to others, decides what to ignore and what to pass on, chooses the best way to share it, and then hits the ‘send’ button.”

In this digital sphere, legacy media’s gatekeeping power is disappearing. But what has begun to replace it is an equally vital sensemaking function. Given the seemingly endless flow of news and information online, journalists are now charged with providing “citizens with the tools they need to extract knowledge for themselves from the undifferentiated flood or rumor, propaganda, gossip, fact, assertion and allegation the communications system now produces.”

This new sensemaking role is consistent with the idea that journalism should be a collaboration with communities. As addressed above, the move toward collaboration doesn’t mean creating insular pages on a news site where “citizen journalists” can post unverified, unfiltered news reports without the benefit of professional news judgement and craftsmanship. Rather, it means journalists should find ways to work with community members — in their reporting, in their storytelling, in their distribution and in their engagement — to uncover the news and information required to sustain a free and self-governing society.

The callout to skeptics

This article began with a question about whether traditional ethics and values would persevere — or disappear — with engaged journalism. And it wasn’t a rhetorical question. When I sat down to start writing, I still had real concerns about the broader implications of this new approach. Would community engagement require tradeoffs? If so, what would journalism gain from its collaboration with communities? What would it lose? And how would we decide if the tradeoffs were worth it?

These questions are far from settled, and it seems important to keep them at the heart of the reform movement, where they can be openly discussed and debated.

But it’s also important to acknowledge that a conversation strictly among the converted is unlikely to yield progress. This debate needs the voices of the skeptics, those who either don’t see their work valued in the paradigm of engaged journalism or who don’t believe that such sweeping reform could ever actually happen.

This article, then, is an invitation for the skeptics to push back and poke holes in the case for community engagement. That’s how the conversation will move forward. That’s how the hard questions will get answered. That’s how we’ll produce better journalism and a stronger democracy.

At the Agora Journalism Center, we hope this series has been a step in that direction. Now we invite the skeptics to take the next one.

This post originally appeared as part of a series on MediaShift. It is republished here as part of an agreement.

“Redefining Engagement” is a special 11-part series on the progress, promise and potential challenges of community engagement in journalism. The series, produced by the Agora Journalism Center, will be published in serial this month by MediaShift. Click here for the full series.

Ben DeJarnette is the associate editor at MediaShift. He is also a contributing writer for the University of Oregon School of Journalism & Communication’s Agora Journalism Center, the gathering place for innovation in communication and civic engagement. On Oct. 1-4, 2015, the Agora Journalism Center and Journalism That Matters partnered to host Experience Engagement, a four-day participatory “un-conference” in Portland, Oregon. Journalism That Matters has been hosting breakthrough conversations about the emerging media ecosystem for more than 15 years.

Ethics in the News – Dec. 15

News media are raising questions about the mystery owners of one of their own.

A division of Gatehouse Media sold the Las Vegas Review-Journal this week to News + Media Capital Group. The owners of that company have not revealed themselves.

(Meanwhile, Gatehouse bought The Erie (Pa.) Times-News, which had been family-owned for more than 120 years.)

The sale of the newspaper to unknown owners creates a conflict for journalists who preach transparency and avoidance of conflicts of interests.


Last night something strange came across my screen. I think it qualifies as a mystery. News that the Las Vegas…

Posted by Jay Rosen on Friday, December 11, 2015

That potential conflict of interest became a reality when later that day a Review-Journal story was edited to remove a quote that questioned the owners, according to a Huffington Post story.

Journalists have responded by tweeting the Society of Professional Journalists’ Code of Ethics.

Even GOP presidential candidate Jeb Bush took a jab at the secrecy of the owners.

Documents name Michael Schroeder as the company’s manager.  When The New York Times contacted Schroeder, he refused to talk about the owners.

The name of Sheldon Adelson keeps coming up as a possible owner in news reports – but without much given evidence.

Fortune Magazine, for its part, reported that the owner is not the Koch brothers.

In other ethics news this week:

  • Kickstarter hired a journalist to investigate a project funded through the site that failed.
  • The writer for, which along with other sports-team-owned news sites has faced ethical questions, responded to a reader’s question about conflicts of interests.
  • LA Times faced criticism for making an implicit comparison between Serena Williams and American Pharaoh, a horse.

Ethics Center in the news:

Ethics in the news – Nov. 24

CNN journalist in a Nov. 19 tweet reported the passage of a House bill on immigration that could limit the number of Syrians the U.S. accepts. Then, she tacked on a sentence:


Later that evening, she tweeted that she apologized for editorializing.


But, her apology wasn’t enough to save her from a two-week suspension.

Former center director Stephen A. Ward has written about the changing norm of objectivity in journalism, but he is adamant that the principle not be abandoned.

The Intercept’s Glenn Greenwald wrote that expressing opinion isn’t uniformly punished at CNN. But, that Labott’s opinion wasn’t good for business made it worthy of punishment, he wrote.

Mathew Ingram at Fortune Magazine agreed that Labott’s sin was not expressing any opinion – it was expressing a political opinion.

Afterall, earlier that day a different CNN journalist had asked President Obama a rather blunt, editorialized, sensationalized question. HuffPost’s Michael Calderone wrote that these situations  highlight “the often arbitrary distinction between analysis and punishment-worthy editorializing or opining.”

In other ethics news this week:

Ethics Center in the news:

The Art of Covering Donald Trump: Ten Strategies for Journalists

He has been called a “sham.” His campaign was initially dismissed as a “charade.” The Huffington Post relegated him to the entertainment page. And while elections experts maintain that he still is not the most likely candidate to win his party’s nomination for the presidency, the mainstream media spent late summer and early fall 2015 calling him “frontrunner.”

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump has caused fits for his opponents to be sure, but his candidacy raises interesting ethical questions for the news media covering him, as well. Should mentions of Trump’s failed marriages, multiple bankruptcies and laundry list of controversial statements about all manner of people and groups be regular features of his media attention? How should Trump’s unique use (as compared to his opponents) of Twitter be covered?

In a photo dated Sept. 3, The Republican presidential front-runner met privately with Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus Thursday afternoon, and soon after, came out to the lobby of Trump Tower to declare that he has signed a loyalty pledge. Photo and cutline by Michael Vadon

In a photo dated Sept. 3, The Republican presidential front-runner met privately with Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus Thursday afternoon, and soon after, came out to the lobby of Trump Tower to declare that he has signed a loyalty pledge.
Photo and cutline by Michael Vadon

News practices expert Elizabeth Skewes, a professor of journalism and media studies at the University of Colorado-Boulder, worries concerns about the ethics of covering Trump are coming too late.

“I wish this question had been explored when he really started running,” Skewes said. She added one reason for Trump’s place atop most polls is because “the media were covering him so much.”

George Washington University political scientist and blogger at The Monkey Cage John Sides conducted an analysis confirming Skewes’ hunch that Trump’s place in the polls correlates highly with how much attention he receives.

Skewes noted that “all that coverage gave Trump a legitimacy with voters that he might not have otherwise had.”

Imagine, for example, if Trump had been afforded the same (lack of) attention recent GOP nomination dropout Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal had received from the mainstream media.

Digital media law and ethics expert Paul Voakes of the University of Colorado-Boulder has been struck by how a political novice has been able to grab hold of the media narrative. “Media coverage of the Republican nomination should not be driven by the latest sound bite from Donald Trump, but sometimes it appears as though it is.”

So, should the media treat Trump differently? Not so fast, say the media ethics experts.

University of St. Thomas media ethics professor Wendy Wyatt argued that, “covering a candidate like Donald Trump shouldn’t be all that different from covering any other candidate.”

Top Ten Strategies for Covering Trump (and everyone else…)

The ethics experts I talked to offered a range of strategies for covering Trump, most of which they would want to apply to all of the other candidates for the Republican and Democratic nominations for President of the United States.

  1. Side-by-side comparisons of the candidates’ positions and experience

Skewes said the side-by-sides could even come “in chart form” so readers could compare the candidates’ experience, proposals and the likelihood their proposals would work. Wyatt added that journalists “should provide the context citizens need to make sense of news about all candidates.” Skewes suggested a comparison that highlighted candidates’ positions, experience, and an expert analysis of whether the plan is possible (or what conditions would be required to make the plan a reality).

  1. Ask the “why” and the “how” questions of all candidates

Saying that “I will build a wall and make Mexico pay for it” is not a plan. Asking Trump why the nation needs a wall, why the wall would stop the problem he articulates and how he intends to get Mexico to build it is important. Trump has talked about his views regarding why he wants to build one, but he couldn’t even handle a gentle role-playing question from Stephen Colbert (who was pretending to be the president of Mexico) about how he would persuade Mexico to build the wall. As Skewes noted, “he can’t fire Congress.” Thus, getting Trump to explain how he will get some of his difficult to implement ideas, such as rounding up 11 million people who are illegally in the United States and returning them to their country of origin, through the U.S. Congress is a required task for all campaign reporters.

  1. Do not mistake Twitter for public opinion

Voakes was quick to remind journalists and their audience that, “the danger in social media is to treat it and report it in a way that implies this is valid public opinion.” It does not. Research led by W. Russell Neuman has shown that there are times when Twitter traffic both precedes and responds to news coverage, but scholars do not yet have a handle on the twittersphere’s relationship with broad public opinion. After all, only about a quarter of Internet-using Americans are on Twitter – and they are much more interested in politics on average than those who do not tweet.

  1. (Mostly) ignore the outrageous

Trump’s social media behavior is particularly inflammatory – insulting other candidates for president, actresses and the people of Iowa. Trump’s recent riff on the veracity of Ben Carson’s claim that he was foiled from stabbing a friend because of a belt buckle is an example of the atypical style Trump employs on the campaign trail as compared to his GOP and Democratic counterparts. Trump is the outrageous gift that keeps on giving, but Voakes cautions that running to air or print the latest most outrageous statement of the day means that reporters, “will continue to report Trump out of proportion with A) other GOP candidates and B) the substance of what he is actually saying.”

  1. Explore proposals for a more inclusive debate strategy

While the ship has somewhat sailed on this one, Skewes called for a different debate format that was not primarily organized by a candidate’s standing in the polls. She said that having a main stage and “JV” debate gives the sense that candidates on the undercard and the main event candidates “at the end podiums. . .don’t matter. Just don’t focus on the center of the stage, it is almost hypnotic (the visual cue that the centered candidates are the important ones).” Other suggestions included a debate format where five or six of the crowded field of Republican candidates (drawn at random) appeared together at a time so that frontrunners and those at the bottom of the polls would be more likely to be mixed together and given more equal attention.

  1. Journalists should push all candidates to be specific in their proposals and to respond to substantive critiques of them.

If journalists are especially successful at #s 10 and 9, they should force candidates to respond to serious questions about their proposals. This is an especially difficult challenge when covering Trump because, as Voakes said, Trump is, “this personality who was entertaining and controversial before he announced his candidacy (and he) knows how to manipulate the dynamics of the soundbite. . .and now we have a platform of social media that Trump understands better than any of the other candidates” when it comes to saying what he wants to say — and nothing else — in response to critiques. Journalists will need to make peace with the inevitable attacks that will come their way if they call Trump out for not giving specific answers to important questions.

  1. Don’t talk to Trump

Echoing the well-worn journalism admonition that, “if your mother says she loves you, check it out” Skewes called on reporters to consider that, “the best way to cover Trump is by not talking to Trump. Talk to people who know him better, people who work with him and experts and other professionals who can analyze what he claims. We need that outside voice for all the candidates but particularly with Trump. He A) doesn’t realize his own limitations and B) says ‘that’s not true’ whenever he is challenged.”

  1. Journalists should consider things from all candidates’ lives that may affect their ability to govern

Politicians are humans. As presidential scholar Fred Greenstein has written about extensively, how presidents approach decision-making, stress and organizational capacity are crucial to their performance in office. Voakes added, “It would be valuable to see if the media can get people to engage (with) the candidates in a way that is beyond charisma.”

Fellow GOP candidates Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio regularly highlight their immigrant roots but oppose more liberal proposals related to immigration reform. Jeb Bush has a father and a brother who have been president but insists he is his own man and will not be relying on the Bush family name to become the family’s third occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. Carly Fiorina has been a business executive at the highest levels – but was fired. Hillary Clinton has been First Lady, a U.S. Senator, and Secretary of State who had her husband’s infidelities become a national punch line and the basis for impeachment proceedings.

Almost all of the candidates are married with children and many, Trump most certainly included, have had portions of their personal lives, and their kids’ lives, splashed all over the front page of the tabloids. Most are highly educated. Most are wealthy. They also lie. How have their lives – their opportunities and adversities – affected how they may make decisions at the highest political level?

  1. Journalists should help citizens understand who all candidates are as human beings

CNBC’s Becky Quick got at this in the widely panned debate she co-moderated when she quoted a critique of Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg from Trump’s own website that Trump denied saying during the debate. The execution of her fact check was off (she initially could not remember from where she found the damning quote), but it was the right instinct. Wyatt went further, calling on journalists to ask about the candidates, “Are they people of integrity, have they been truthful, have they demonstrated respect for others?” and so forth.

  1. Stop focusing on the polls

Trump regularly touts his position in the national public opinion polls as evidence that he is for real. He may be. But while the media ethicists I spoke with didn’t bring this up, I will use my personal privilege as a political scientist and journalism professor to point out that a candidate’s performance in the polls at this (still early!) stage in the process is not highly correlated with whether she or he ends up being the nominee. Mitt Romney led some GOP primary polls in 2012 to be sure, but so did Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum, Rick Perry and Herman Cain. Some of the also-rans led for a long period of time. None of them led for as long as Trump to be sure, but it is still far too early to be extrapolating one’s position in the primary polls a few months before the first primary election to their likelihood of winning the nomination.

In fact, when it comes to building a campaign organization and earning the endorsements of the party elites who are widely regarded as being key to winning the nomination, Trump appears to be at or near the bottom of the pack.

For that matter, using the polls to declare a candidate dead is dangerous as well. Less than a month before winning the 2004 Iowa caucus on his way to the Democratic nomination for president, John Kerry was polling at 4 percent

Following these strategies is hard work. It is especially hard when Trump is likely to answer tough questions about the details of his policies by bragging that they’ll be “great,” by attacking his opponents as “losers” or turning his attention to the media for asking “nasty questions.” As Skewes cautions, “the media should not be in the business of trying to ensure that Trump does not get elected,” but they can provide a more comprehensive picture of his candidacy to the voting public.

Michael W. Wagner is an associate professor and a Louis A. Maier Faculty Development Fellow in the School of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He is also affiliated with the Department of Political Science.

Marijuana reviews: Advocating vice?

Dining out at a restaurant, watching a show or buying a book—you can always refer to a review on a local newspaper before making the decision. Now you can do the same thing for getting some weed if you are in Oregon.

The Oregonian, the state’s largest newspaper, is recruiting a marijuana reviewer. Oregon became the fourth state legalizing recreational use of marijuana Oct. 1.

“The candidate should be an experienced cannabis consumer with deep knowledge about the variety of strains and products available on the Oregon market,” the job posting says.

The marijuana review is not brand-new invention, with the Cannabist, a supplement to the Denver Post, as the most prominent precedent. Nor is the ethical controversy over the media coverage about marijuana.

The press needs to be careful about its coverage about marijuana because lobbyists from both sides are willing to provide false information to sway marijuana public policy, said Roy Peter Clark, vice-president of the Poynter Institute for Media Studies in an email.

Serving the public?

The rapid change of media landscape has blurred many traditional borders, but news organizations should make sure that their practices serve the public interest, Clark said. And for him, pot reviews are not necessarily part of this task.

“We don’t do that for cigarettes,” he said. “We don’t do that for pharmaceuticals in general.”

And, he said he doesn’t see how pot is different.

“It’s hard to see the benefit of doing it for marijuana.”

Yet the marijuana critics think they are doing a meaningful job.

Ry Prichard, a marijuana reviewer and reporter at the Cannabist, said he understands the hesitation of the mainstream media writing about recreational use of marijuana. He said the Denver Post publishes reviews separately partly because of ethical concerns.

“But marijuana is everywhere here,” Prichard said. He thinks that journalists are responsible to report the large-scale discussion about marijuana after legalization in Colorado, and to reflect the popularity of recreational consumption in real life.

Prichard considers himself also as an educator when writing reviews, providing the public with necessary knowledge for purchasing marijuana. In a recently published review, Prichard reminded consumers to beware of the mislabeling of marijuana strains.

Organizations advocating more cautious regulations regarding marijuana still worry about mainstream news media like the Oregonian reviewing marijuana.

Kevin Sabot, president of Smart Approaches to Marijuana , said in an email that news media are promoting a dangerous lifestyle. The critics are generalizing their own experience of marijuana being harmless to a wide audience, he said.

The reporter covering marijuana issue for the Oregonian and her editor both declined to comment.

Serving the industry?

The media are empowering the pot industry with a free pass, and attenuating the scientific debate about the effects of marijuana, Sabot said.

Sabot also said he thinks the journalists working behind marijuana stories may have their own skewed view and not disclaim their stance to the readers sufficiently.

He used the Huffington Post as an example. Arianna Huffington, the co-founder of Huffington Post, is also an honorary board member of the Drug Policy Alliance, a biggest organization advocating the decriminalization of marijuana use in the US. She has written commentary about the legalization debate for her website.

Prichard, who pays for the marijuana himself, said reviewing adult-only products can be a dicey job. But he does not think wine or beer reviews are more morally justified, either.

Ethics in the News – Oct. 20

In the wake of a report about the extent of philanthropic money given to education journalism, ethicists are discussing what the proper relationship between targeted money and journalism should look like.

A new blog looking at education at the The Washington Monthly revealed that the Gates Foundation gave about $7 million per year to news organizations who cover education. Many other organizations give money to nonprofits like NPR and for-profit news like Seattle Times for targeted coverage, the report said.

The blog’s author told Poynter that though Gate’s funding is targeted toward education issues that aren’t covered in everyday news, the issues it supports such as quality teachers aren’t controversial.

Some of the issues of giving for targeted journalism are controversial, though, The Nonprofit Quarterly pointed out. And, while money may not come with stipulations about the perspective of journalism, it certainly could have an influence.

Stephen Ward, former director of The Center for Journalism Ethics, said the ethics of accepting donations to fund journalism are tricky when nonprofit journalism organizations were emerging.

He offered that journalism organizations should have explicit codes for dealing with gifted money for news. He wrote that adherence to the code should available to the public and adherence to the code should be scrutinized by the public.

“Declining public confidence in news media will be extended to these new journalists on the block if nonprofit leaders do not put transparent ethical policies into place,” Ward wrote.

In other news

Center for Journalism Ethics in the News

Ethics in the News Oct. 6

The deadly campus shooting Thursday at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Oregon, that left 10 dead and others injured conjured up familiar ethics debates about reporting in post-tragedy environments.

Notably, conversation circulated around the naming of mass shooters, following comments by Douglas County Sheriff John Hanline who refused to say the shooter’s name publicly. While many have rallied behind movements like #NoNotoriety as a strategy to deter mass shooters, National Public Radio’s Elizabeth Jensen argued in favor of shooter identification as a means of unraveling a story and placing it in the larger context to hopefully identify trends and prevent future tragedies. Poynter’s Kelly McBride added that naming the shooter can prevent misinformation, citing the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting where gunman Adam Lanza’s brother, Ryan Lanza, was incorrectly identified as the perpetrator early in the investigation.

But some large news organizations like CNN have observed the #NoNotoriety concerns and minimized both naming and showing the community college shooter. Fox News evening host Megyn Kelly brought the debate to Twitter voicing her disagreement with CNN’s Don Lemon who asserted that “we journalists must name shooters” in a tweet of his own. The debate is sure to continue as details emerge about UCC gunman Chris Mercer, 26, following the Oct. 1 shooting.

In other journalism ethics news this week:

Center for Journalism Ethics in the news:

Sensationalism or a Call to Action: Covering the Syrian Refugee Crisis

I met a Syrian refugee this June. Sitting across from me in a crowded Beirut café, the young man told me how he’d escaped from Syria and started working as a news fixer in Lebanon—arranging interviews for journalists and translating when they couldn’t speak Arabic. Later, he’d moved to Turkey and launched a media company—but that had been a challenge because he enjoyed no official legal status in Turkey. He also found it difficult to travel to Europe in order to build his company’s brand.

So, the young man told me, he was back in Lebanon to say a permanent goodbye to his friends in Beirut. This was because he was getting ready to take an “all-or-nothing” chance and swim from the western coast of Turkey to the nearest Greek island. There, he would get a fake ID that would allow him to travel to Sweden, where he’d learned he’d be granted residency.

I don’t know if he made it. After that day in the crowded Beirut café, I never heard from him again. But I’ve been thinking about him lately, as the story of traveling Syrian refugees has flooded the mediascape, and as the image of a drowned Syrian 3-year-old has caught the world’s attention. Maybe my friend has been tracking the events in Hungary and Austria from another crowded café, this one in Stockholm. But then again, maybe not.

One thing this young man told me before our interview ended was that he’s lost all faith in the potential of journalism. He said that the coverage of the Syrian crisis has done nothing to help people like him. I wonder what he’d think of this most recent explosion of news coverage on the Syrian refugees, coverage that raises a number of questions relevant to global journalism ethics.

Syrian refugee camp in Greece. Photo dated September 2012.

Syrian refugee camp in Greece. Photo dated September 2012.

Here, I’d like to examine the question of focus. I’d like to ask when it’s ethical (and when it’s not ethical) for international news media to focus so relentlessly on the trauma that individual people endure. Are there times when it’s ethically necessary to get in the face of death and despair and snap a picture or shoot a video? Are there times when those images must be distributed around the world, regardless of the impact this may have on the individuals who are suffering?

The drowning death of 3-year-old Aylan Kurdi certainly invites these questions, since his image has surfaced on numerous media sites, in various stages of censorial blurriness. Nilufer Demir, the Turkish photographer who shot the image, asserts that she wanted to “express the scream of his silent body.” Since then, activists across the world have redistributed that image, in an effort at calling attention to the plight of Syrian refugees, almost five years into the Syrian civil war. Following this, the BBC has asked if this one picture has somehow “shifted our view of refugees.” The image has even inspired U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry to attest that the U.S. could do more to protect them. So in one sense, it seems that Demir’s decision to snap a picture of a dead baby on a beach was indeed an ethically justifiable decision.

Yet, even before his own trip from Turkey to the Greek islands, my Syrian friend told me that he, like many Syrians, had lost all faith in the potential of journalism to change his situation. He had briefly worked as a news fixer, not because he wanted to help change the world, but because he needed money to survive. A number of local journalists I interviewed in Beirut over the summer echoed my friend’s doubt. They had long been working with Syrian activists, and knew their frustrations. Years of fruitlessly uploading their images to YouTube had led most Syrians to resent rather than celebrate the foreign news media who covered their oppression, they told me. According to them, help could have come much sooner, and if it comes now, it will not come as a result of western news coverage of the Syrian crisis.

So the question has to be asked: Who is this coverage really for? Is the international distribution of the “captivating” and “horrifying” image of 3-year-old Aylan Kurdi capable of comforting his family? Is it capable of inspiring anything other than the rather useless and clichéd compassion of people who will never know such pain (and will never lift a finger to help in any way)?

Young Syrian refugees in Lebanon. Photo dated September 2012.

Young Syrian refugees in Lebanon. Photo dated September 2012.

The admission of more than 5,000 refugees into Austria on Sept. 5 might at first suggest that real change is finally coming. After all, British Prime Minister David Cameron has also just pledged to resettle “thousands more Syrian refugees.” Now, rather than stagnating in the impoverished and disease-ridden camps that crowd parts of Lebanon, Jordan, and Turkey, maybe these people have a chance at really living again. Maybe these images of traumatized Syrian children (and adults, for that matter) have had an impact that makes them ethically justifiable despite their invasive quality.

The problems become clearer, however, when we start to investigate the less flashy coverage of the Syrian crisis—the coverage that crunches numbers and analyzes concrete trends, instead of merely creating high-resolution slide shows of other people’s suffering. For example, the Washington Post recently reported that since the Syrian war began in 2011, the U.S. and Britain have done little to nothing to relocate the Syrian refugees: the U.S. has resettled only 1,541 refugees since 2011, and Britain has resettled only 216. Other coverage shows that the wealthy Gulf nations rarely help the refugees at all and that some European nations remain opposed to offering any space within their borders. Rather than framing personal trauma in a salacious fashion, this type of news reporting does a much better job of informing the world about what’s really happening to the Syrian refugees.

It’s one of our truisms that ethical journalism must be balanced, and it must give the public what it needs. This increasingly global public needs to know the big numbers and the inconvenient details. While emotional images of dead or traumatized individuals may help to inspire public sentiment, “outrage” and “compassion” are not enough. People need to understand the sticky truths and the diplomatic hypocrisies that plague national and international policies on refugees in the 21st Century. In the case of Syria, the job of international journalists is to illuminate the growing connections and chasms between the Syrian refugees and the nations to which they flee.