Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Media Ethics Survey is Online

Join in a discussion about journalism ethics and take the 2006 "You Are the Editor" survey online at http://extension.missouri.edu/swregion/news.

The Southwest Missouri Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists hosted an "Ethics in Journalism" event this Spring at the public library in Republic, Mo.

I moderated the forum. This year’s event revolved around discussion of scenarios dealing with real-life journalism ethics. Discussion at the meeting focused on what the SPJ Code of Ethics had to say about the facts surrounding each scenario.

What most Americans (and apparently many experts) don't realize is that the Society of Professional Journalists already has a comprehensive "Code of Ethics." If every journalist followed this code of ethics, the profession and the democracy would be better served.

The SPJ Code of Ethics has four major components.

First, journalists are to seek truth and report it. "Journalists should be honest, fair and courageous in gathering, reporting and interpreting information," reads the Code of Ethics. This covers the need for accuracy, as well as different aspects of reporting and the need to not impose personal values and biases on readers.

Second, journalists are to "minimize harm." In other words, "ethical journalists treat sources, subjects and colleagues as human beings deserving of respect." Showing compassion, not being arrogant, respecting people's privacy and showing good taste can do this.

Third, journalists should "act independently." The SPJ Code of Ethics says, "Journalists should be free of obligation to any interest other than the public's right to know."

And finally, journalists should "be accountable to their readers, listeners, viewers and each other." The SPJ Code of Ethics says this can best be done by "inviting dialogue with the public over journalist conduct, encouraging the public to voice grievances against the news media, admitting mistakes and correcting them promptly, exposing unethical practices of journalists and the news media and abiding by the same high standards to which they hold others."

The future of America demands that we have responsible and ethical media outlets and reporters. One way that can be achieved is through an improved understanding of media ethics by reporters, editors, media owners and Americans.

More information about the SPJ Ethics code, as well as the new 2006 “You Are the Editor!” media ethics survey can be found online at http://extension.missouri.edu/swregion/news.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Reader Feedback on Bottled Water Release

Tammy Roberts, the University of Missouri Extension nutrition and health education specialist in southwest Missouri, wrote a great media release about bottled water this week.

Her main point was that water, whether from a bottle or a public water system, is a great calorie-free beverage choice. Actually, the best choice for nutrition.

Here release drew this comment from Rick Hopkins of Marionville:

Below is a report I generated in February of 2004 after reviewing many facets of the bottled water industry and speaking with agency and municipal employees in regard to the sanitation, sampling, and testing requirements.

You indicate that bottled water is as safe as municipal water and it may well be statistically, but not through regulated means. The bottled water industry is profit driven and cannot afford to risk collapsing a $35+ billion a year industry over a failure in quality. The fundamental argument against bottled water is the huge drain on petroleum it causes in packaging and transportation. There are issues with contaminants leaching into the water from the plastics used in packaging, especially if left in a hot vehicle or in the sun.

Labeling is another point of concern as water gets as misleading as any food product. The FDA's definition of "bottled at the spring" doesn't mean putting the water in the actual consumer container. It means putting it in a suitably vented tank truck for hauling to a bottling plant. The list goes on and on with the misleading marketing information on bottled water labels.

Message In a Bottle, Brian Howard, E-The Environmental Magazine, September/October 2003, Volume XIV, Number 5.(1)

Brian Howard exposes the power of advertising and labeling while covering the environmental impacts of the bottled water industry. Howard reports that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) required wording on bottled water labels amounts to including the manufacturer's name, the volume, and whether the source is from a spring or mineral water(1).

The worldwide bottled water industry amounts to a $35 billion (US) a year business while consuming 6 billion gallons of fresh water and 1.5 billion barrels of crude oil. Bottled water is expected to be the second most popular beverage next to carbonated soft drinks by 2004 with a 11% per year growth in sales. It is no wonder that the two largest soft drink manufacturers, Coca-Cola and Pepsi, have their own bottled water labels, Dasani and Aquafina respectively. The U.S. sales of bottled water exceed $10,000 a minute at three times the price of gasoline.

Bottled water labels employ the consumer skepticism that municipal water supplies are of inferior quality with claims such as pure, spring fed, glacial-born, and pure. The label message is that "bottled is good - tap is bad". Bottled water consumers believe that drinking bottled water reflects social status and health.

Bottling regulation amounts only to sanitation of the source and the bottling plant and enforcement is usually the result of a consumer complaint. Municipal water supplies are regulated and enforced by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Bottling operations require annual testing compared to almost continuous sampling by municipalities. Howard reports that New York City municipal water supplies are tested more than 500,000 times a year.

Co-Op America reports that as many as 40% of the bottled water sources originate from municipal water supplies. However the labels symbolize mountain springs, pristine glacial melt, and the bottlers cater to demands for specialty drinks such as spring, mineral, purified, distilled, carbonated, oxygenated, caffeinated, vitamin-enriched, and flavored. Water bars and water sommeliers have appeared in metropolitan areas in Europe and across the U.S. displaying hundreds of bottled water brands.

Tammy concluded by saying, "I did not include information on plastics and the leaching that can occur in the media release. It's hard to know how detailed to get in a short article."

The fact remains though, water is good for you. Drink up.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Would Established Code Make News Media More Ethical?

Major ethical failures have occurred in journalism at virtually every level over the past two years. Public attention and outrage have been drawn to made-up quotes, fabricated stories, plagiarism, and accusations of biased reporting.

Amid this ongoing parade of scandals, talk has been growing about the need for a code of ethics among journalists. Some groups have even begun to float the idea of licensing journalists and/or requiring them to pursue continuing education, as some other professions do.

But the fact is, the Society of Professional Journalists (in which membership is voluntary) has a well-established code of ethics. That organization regularly offers ethics training for journalists, as do other media companies and educational institutions. High-quality ethics training is readily available.

In fact, some of the worst national-level violators of the journalism code of ethics previously attended many ethics training sessions.

I grimace every time I hear the unreasonable expectations that the public places on ethical codes. The fact is, codes of ethics do not make people ethical. They don't make bad people good any more than they make people with poor judgment become wise.

I was reminded of this after the recent hurricanes brought out scam artists and unethical behaviors, even during relief efforts. Would this have been different if we had a Disaster Code of Ethics? Of course not.

Most of the worst examples of ethical lapses we have seen among journalists in the past few years would not have been stopped by an established, written ethics code.

According to the "Character Counts" program taught through 4-H, ethics involve two aspects: discernment (knowing right from wrong) and discipline (the moral will to do what is right). A code of ethics may define what is acceptable and provide a basis for imposing penalties on those who don't follow the code. But unless it reinforces an established ethical culture, such a code won't do much to make people do what is right.

Don't get me wrong: it's a good idea to set standards of conduct in certain professions and outline what is allowed under existing law. In effect, ethics codes transform one perspective of a moral obligation into a binding rule. But such a code can't make people ethical any more than workshops or textbooks can.

Research by the Josephson Institute of Ethics has shown that people do not automatically develop good moral character. Efforts must be made to develop the values and abilities necessary for moral decision-making and conduct, and there must be a base-line or standard.

Character education is an obligation of families, faith communities, schools, and other human-serving groups. Positive character development is best achieved when those groups work together. Every adult — including every journalist — has the responsibility to teach and model core ethical values and to promote the development of good character.

If it is character that's missing from the journalism profession, then much more is needed than just a code of ethics.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Citizen Journalism Coming to a Website near you

Yes, the first example of citizen journalism I was aware of this year was MyMissourian which combines citizen contributed stories with a website and then an eventual printed piece.

A Springfield example has shown up called the Springfield Citizen-Press.

I've said it once and I'm going to write it again: isn't this similar to what many weekly newspapers experience every day? If you are a newspaper editor you've had this type of experience: Little Joe comes in with a handwritten media release about the 4-H fair along with a picture of the club members. Your newspaper prints because it involves local people. But, keep in mind, the story was submitted by a citizen journalist.

What do you think? Do weekly newspapers still have a corner on this market or do online sources like the following do a better job?

Joplin Independent


You Tube

Report it Now

And, of course, MyMissourian

Is your newspaper a community institution?

If your newspaper had to close would the community still miss it one month from now? If not, then what can you do to make your newspaper a community institution?

Gary Sosniecki hits another one out of the park with a speech he gave to the International Society of Weekly Newspaper Editors. This is a part of what Gary had to say:
Helen and I have had the privilege of living in five small towns since we began buying and selling weekly newspapers 26 years ago, which has given us some perspective on community institutions and the roles they play in keeping their communities strong.

And we worry about what we see. Schools are consolidating. Banks are changing names faster than you can use up the checks from the last name. Smalltown industries — once so dominant in a community that they often were referred to simply as “the plant” — shrivel or disappear entirely as jobs flow overseas. Smalltown hospitals, if they survive at all, are being swallowed up by big-city medical centers.

And newspapers?

We see newspapers right and left that have sacrificed their right to be called a community institution through mediocre-to-poor news coverage, apathetic-to-arrogant customer service and a lack of leadership both in community activities and on the editorial page. They may be making money, they may be successful businesses, but they’re no longer a community institution. They no longer have the level of respect they once had in the community, and they risk becoming irrelevant.

It would be easy to lay all the blame with chain ownership and the high profit margins many chains require. And it is true that many chain-owned newspapers — but not all — have forfeited their standing as community institutions.

But independently owned newspapers can fall victim to the same fate if they take their readers, their advertisers and their community for granted. Once your newspaper has lost its standing as a community institution, it is hard to get it back.

I remember the newspaper I worked at nearly 20 years ago. We put in long hours, wrote hard news and took strong positions in editorials (even when it created heart burn) in order to established ourselves as a solid community institution. It took several years but now, after about 8 different owners and 8 or 9 different editors, I think the newspaper is viewed very differently. The new owner is working hard to improve thinks but she has a tough job ahead.

So what about your newspaper? Is it a community institution? Can you give an example of how you know? What are some things that can be done to make a newspaper important to the community?

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Examples of Good Community Journalism

There are times newspapers are interested in putting on an “event” as part of a community journalism effort. Here are a few examples of community journalism projects that have relevance for southwest Missouri:

• The North Hills, Pa. News Record assigns reporters a "reader advisory group" which meets with the reporter to provide feedback. This keeps the newspaper's focus on the community’s real issues.

• The Tryon (N.C.) Daily Bulletin, held a town forum titled "Role of the Newspaper in Our Community: Spectator, Reporter, or Cheerleader?" The forum was co-sponsored by the Chamber of Commerce and the local community college.

• One small newspaper in New England profiled non-profit community organizations that needed community involvement. The paper then sponsored a fair where people were encouraged to get involved with the profiled groups.

Here is an idea, how about hosted a public issue forum in your community about revitalizing democracy? The 2 hour event could gather community volunteers, leaders, citizens to discuss was to fix democracy and your local newspaper could lead the effort to increase community involvement and action. Want to learn more? Post a comment here with your name and address and I will contact you.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Online success in Vandalia

Yes, Vandalia is outside of southwest Missouri but for an example of a successful online weekly publication you might take a look at: http://www.vandalialeader.com/. Anyone who subscribes to the print version of the newspaper gets access to the full and complete newspaper online too. That is a little different twist but one that has been successful in Vandalia.

As I understand it, the online newspaper is one way the owners have tried to work around late mail delivery of their printed product. Now that is creative!

It should also be noted that Gary and Helen Sosniecki, editors and publishers of the Vandalia Leader also say that having an online newspaper better helps them fulfill the mission of their newspaper: "To be the No. 1 source of news and advertising in the Vandalia-Farber market area."

Is any other newspaper in the area following their lead?

Free online training -- worth a look

Marvelous, mostly free, online training is offered for reporters and editors at NewsU (www.newsu.org).

News University is operated as a partnership between the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and the Poynter Institute for Media Studies.

The free courses are designed to take just one to two hours and, if you don't have the time to complete a course during one sitting, you can return to the lesson at your leisure.

Examples of the free courses offered:
. Beat Basics and Beyond
. Cleaning your Copy
. Color in News Design
. Get Me Rewrite: The Craft of Revision
. News Sense; The Building Blocks of News
. On the Beat: Covering Cops and Crime

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Newspaper only online

A comment from Mari Winn on Friday reminded me that at least one newspaper in southwest Missouri is only available on the Internet.

Mari wrote, "The Joplin Independent was the first Internet-only interactive news source in the Southwest Missouri area. Now in its fifth year of posting, it attracts commentary from citizen journalists from all over the world. The initial intent was to bring the world to Joplin; in exchange it has brought Joplin to the world."

This same websites offers many ways to interact, provide comment or even be your own journalist.

Another example in that same part of the region is the online edition of the Seneca News-Dispatch. This is a more traditional online newspaper which serves more as a supplement to the weekly paper-printed edition.

What do you think? Do online editions add to or take away from a newspaper's standing in the community?

Friday, August 18, 2006

Citizen journalism?

Citizen journalism is active at MyMissourian.com. The concept is taking root in mid-Missourian. This is a website that lets readers be the journalists. They submit event information and articles, which student journalists edit. The articles appear first online by eventually end up in a printed version.

Isn't this similar to what many weekly newspapers experience every day? If you are a newspaper editor you've had this type of experience: Ms. Smith comes in with a typed up news article and a photograph of the members in her Friday Social Club telling about their last meeting and invited women in the community to the group's next salad luncheon.

MyMissourian.com looks to me to be the high-tech version of citizen journalism.

To learn more about what this has meant for the Missourian and what it could mean for your local newspaper read a news article about it HERE.

In the meantime, what do you think? Does this have a role for your newspaper?

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Calling all newspaper blogs in southwest Missouri

Does your newspaper have a blog? If so, I'd like to highlight it here and get feedback from others on it. Perhaps those writing for newspaper sponsored blogs should meet and put their heads together about ways to attract or expand an audience? How about a workshop about blogging for area journalists? Any interest in that type of program?

The one blog I am familiar with is the "Tiger Blog" done in the Republic Monitor. The focus of the blog is sports at Republic High School. The writer of the blog, Jeff Kessinger, says the "Tiger Blog" is "about all things Republic Tigers that we may or may not have had room to publish in The Republic Monitor. We welcome suggestions, comments, and contributions. " Feedback about the blog goes directly to the reporter making it one more way to connect with members of the community. That is, afterall, a big reason for having a blog.

Do you know of other local newspaper blogs?

Bloggers similar to community correspondents

I've been saying and writing for over two years about the disappearance of community correspondents from weekly newspapers (read column here). Bloggers have taken the place of elderly community correspondents and it seems to me that a strategic partnership between weekly newspapers and bloggers in their community could be good for business while also reaching new readers and opening up some column inches in the local newspaper.

What do you think?

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Students Blogging for Stories

Students at Virginia Commonwealth University are using simple blogging to get students exposure while providing area media with content. The journalism teacher at VCU, as well as members of the local media, say it is a win-win situation. Journalism students need clips to land internships and jobs while news organizations need stories to fill their print and online publications. Using a blog, however, is a rather unique way of delivering news content. It may eventually hold promise for Southwest Region News Service and perhaps some local media outlets. If you want to see what the students have done visit http://cns-vcu.blogspot.com. Let me know what you think.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

What this news service has to offer

NEW! "2006 Expert Guide". This new guide lists every University of Missouri Extension specialist in southwest Missouri, provides background on each one and also lists the subject areas each specialist can address. This can be found HERE.

For an example of the news distributed via Southwest Region News Service over the past 90-days follow this LINK.

Examine media ethics with real-life situations via an online survey. You can also download information from past surveys to use in the classroom or view a comparison of responses. Check out the main website HERE.

As this blog develops it will include Q&As as well as selected news services stories on which you can comment.