Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Philanthropy and Journalism Go Hand-in-Hand for Betty Nguyen

Betty Nguyen joined CNN in April 2004 and now anchors Saturday Morning and Sunday Morning. You can read her bio here.

Back on Thursday, Sept. 13 she gave a presentation at Drury University entitled, “Humanitarian Work Will Change Your Life.” Several members of the local Society of Professional Jouranlists chapter attended her program, as well as a Q&A session later in the day.

Here are a few highlights from her comments.

“It is very difficult to break the cycle of poverty in most countries. That is something we don’t understand because here in the United States we have freedom to break out of the poverty cycle.”

“When you have a chance to make a difference in someone’s life, take that chance.”

“We’re all searching for that sense of purpose. The answer to the question: Why am I here? While family and career may drive your life, helping those in need will change your life. You’ll be surprised how much you truly get from the act of giving.”

"I love to document life and tell stories. That is why I love journalism. I get to tell important stories that can help impact a region or chance a person's life."

Referred to CNN at different times as “the most trusted name in news,” the “mother ship,” and the “place where news royalty works.” She also said it was important to know that CNN “covers the world as individuals.”

If you want to know more about Nguyen, visit this website about her non-profit charity called "Help the Hungry."

Journalists Should Expose Unethical Practices of Others in the News Media

There it is in plain language, printed in black and white at the bottom of the Society of Professional Journalist's Code of Ethics. The code caught my eye because I see so little of it happen.

Right under the heading of "be accountable," the code says journalists should "expose unethical practices of journalists and the news media."

How often have you seen that happen? Unless the criticism is being leveled at some high-profile ethical lapse being talked about in the national media I can't think of any examples. Wait, yes, I can think of two blogs (Chatter and The Turner Report) that sometimes point out breaches of ethics in local news but I don't think that is what the Code of Ethics is suggesting.

Local examples seem to largely go unnoticed, or unexposed. Is it because media outlets don't want to attack the competition? Is it because reporters and editors don't think the community or common reader/listener would care? Is it because most local media outlets do not have journalists who are members of SPJ? Or is it simply because there is not enough space in print or time on the air?

I don't have an answer for this one. And I'm not claiming that there is tons of bad journalism happening in southwest Missouri. However, there are ethical lapses that happen from time to time and those seem to go unnoticed among local media outlets. I'm just wondering aloud about why that happens. I'm also wondering if there is a reporter, editor or media outlet that will pick up on this particular line in the SPJ Code of Ethics and breathe some local life into it.

Area journalists, as well as media consumers, would all reap the benefits.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Aurora High School Students Learn About Code of Ethics for Journalism from Andy Griffith Show

On Tuesday, I got to watch Andy Griffith episode with two classes of journalism and English students at Aurora High School in Aurora, Mo. To be more specific, it was episode #61, "Andy on Trial," which aired in April 1962.

We discussed the journalism Code of Ethics put together by the Society of Professional Journalists. Then we watched the video and applied the Code of Ethics to what happened in the story. It is a topic that struck a cord of interest with the students.

In some ways the Andy Griffith story reminded me of recent situations in southwest Missouri where journalists used their position to grind a personal ax. That is a dangerous and unethical practice and something most honest journalists avoid. But, it is something that is easy to let happen when newspaper staffs are so thin.

Let me make the point by giving a recap of the Andy Griffith episode:

Andy travels to Raleigh to locate noted newspaper publisher J. Howard Jackson and bring him back to Mayberry. Two weeks earlier, Andy ticketed the businessman for speeding. Mr. Jackson was issued a summons to appear before the Mayberry justice of the peace (Andy) within a few days. He chose to ignore the summons.

Now, a very irritated Mr. Jackson, accompanied by his lawyer, reluctantly returns to the small town to stand before Andy. He pleads guilty and is fined $15. Upset by having to travel that far to pay such a small fine, the irate publisher leaves the courthouse vowing revenge. When he returns to Raleigh, he orders one of his reporters, Jean Boswell, to go to Mayberry and dig up all the "dirt" she can find on Andy, then twist it into a scathing article against the sheriff. He wants Andy’s reputation destroyed.

Being very discreet, the reporter taps Barney for anything that could be used against Andy. Barney, caught up in all the attention, proceeds to tell the reporter that if he were in charge he would run the sheriff's department differently. Barney continues to complain about crimes going unpunished (Emma Watson's jaywalking) and the blatant unofficial use of the squad car (delivering groceries to a shut-in). As you can imagine, Mr. Jackson uses Barney's words to write a scathing article about Andy's administration.

The episode concludes with a hearing to determine if the charges against Andy can be substantiated... . Barney reluctantly tells the court that he did say the things printed in the article ... (but) goes on to defend Andy as the best friend he and the town of Mayberry ever had.

The specific codes most obviously violated in this story included the following ethical recommendations.

Journalists should:

— Test the accuracy of information from all sources and exercise care to avoid inadvertent error. Deliberate distortion is never permissible.
— Diligently seek out subjects of news stories to give them the opportunity to respond to allegations of wrongdoing.
— Always question sources’ motives before promising anonymity. Clarify conditions attached to any promise made in exchange for information. Keep promises.
— Avoid undercover or other surreptitious methods of gathering information except when traditional open methods will not yield information vital to the public. Use of such methods should be explained as part of the story
— Distinguish between advocacy and news reporting. Analysis and commentary should be labeled and not misrepresent fact or context.
— Show compassion for those who may be affected adversely by news coverage. Use special sensitivity when dealing with children and inexperienced sources or subjects.
— Recognize that gathering and reporting information may cause harm or discomfort. Pursuit of the news is not a license for arrogance.
— Show good taste. Avoid pandering to lurid curiosity.
—Avoid conflicts of interest, real or perceived.
— Remain free of associations and activities that may compromise integrity or damage credibility.
— Abide by the same high standards to which they hold others.

Barney Fife may have summed up the problem in this TV show, and in the real life problem, best by saying, "When you are dealing with people you do a whole lot better if you go not so much by the book, but by the heart."

Journalists are in the people business. Yes, go after wrong doers and pursue the information citizens need to know but make sure your reporting is accurate. It is also good to remember that every story and editorial impacts a real person. That fact should be weighed against what is written and the accuracy of it, especially if the journalist is tempted to "go after" someone with a story or editorial

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Online Profiles of Journalists Would Be in Keeping With Historical Development of Bylines

In early American history, community newspapers led the way in forming and developing our democracy. They also informed citizens about how they could participate, kept readers abreast of important topics, supported the First Amendment and laid the ground work for the basics of community journalism.

One of the early ways newspapers made a connection with their audience was to begin printing bylines (the name of the writer) on each news story.

Much like having names on letters to the editor, bylines in smaller communities helped the reader to judge whether the author of the story had an axe to grind, was related to someone involved in the issue or whether a certain political agenda was being pushed.

Some research suggests that the use of bylines also caused journalists to take extra care in writing since their name was attached to story. This was especially the case in smaller communities where a reporter was likely to meet the people in his story on the sidewalk.

In theory, having bylines led to more accurate reporting, helped the reader and connected the newspaper with the community.

Much of this sense of “connectedness” is gone in today’s media world where journalists often come and go in smaller markets, moving around frequently.

Plus, a single name no longer carries with it as much recognition as it used to, especially in larger media markets. Most importantly, simply having a byline doesn’t tell the reader anything about the writer, their perspective or the subjective choices the reporter may have made with the story.


Would it be a good idea for newspapers and other media outlets to develop online byline profiles for their reporters and editors? I have come to believe it would be good for the reader and for an industry that is increasingly being criticized for ethical lapses and accused of being biased.

To be meaningful, these byline profiles would need to provide more than just educational information about the journalists and more than just three general sentences. Remember, one of the purposes of a byline profile is for readers to be able to understand the reporter’s background and perspective.

How about developing what I have been calling, “Online Byline Profiles.” Each individual publication could maintain these profiles on a website as a way to connect with the community.

Profiles should include educational information, but also information regarding a journalists religious perspective and background, political perspective, a comprehensive list of organizations they belong to (or support with donations), other published writings and a sentence or two regarding their opinion on certain key national topics.

One example of a profile and its content, this one designed for John Doe, is available online. From this information, you learn a lot about John Doe, his personal political views and his hot button topics. As a reader, you would be able to better judge the objective nature of material written by John Doe.

What do you think?

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Sunshine Law Complaint Form Now Online

JEFFERSON CITY — To help ensure that state and local government bodies comply with the provisions of Missouri’s Sunshine Law, Attorney General Jay Nixon unveiled on Sept. 11, 2007, an online form for Missourians to file complaints about violations of the law.

The complaint form can be found under the Open Government section of the Attorney General’s Web site at ago.mo.gov or at this specific webpage. Nixon said the new form will help attorneys in his office look into complaints about alleged violations of the law and try to resolve those complaints.

“This easy-to-use online form is part of my ongoing commitment to open government in Missouri,” Nixon said. “We educate, we mediate, and, if necessary, we litigate to help make the meetings and records of public governmental bodies as open as possible to the citizens of this state.”

Each year, Nixon’s office takes hundreds of complaints and inquiries from citizens, government officials and members of the media about open meetings or records. Of those inquires, some were questions that were answered by staff; others were concerns that were mediated by Nixon’s office.

Nixon’s office also publishes a free 80-page booklet on the Sunshine Law. The booklet is updated periodically to reflect changes in Missouri’s law, new court decisions pertaining to the Sunshine Law, and new legal opinions issued by the Attorney General’s Office on the Sunshine Law. In the past year, Nixon’s office has distributed more than 80,000 copies of the booklet.

Copies may be obtained by ordering them online at ago.mo.gov or by calling 1-800-392-8222. The online version of the booklet is also frequently viewed and downloaded.

SPJ/MSU Event to Focus on Citizen Journalism

Go ahead and more down this date: 2 p.m. to 4 p.m., Wednesday, Nov. 14, in Plaster Student Union, Room 313, on the campus of Missouri State University.

Dr. Andrew Cline, a member of the local Southwest Missouri Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists, along with other faculty members at Missouri State University are putting together this exciting program.

Doug McGill, a former reporter at the New York Times and a nationally known speaker on media ethics and citizen journalism (http://www.mcgillreport.org) will be the featured speaker at this program (which will also include a panel of local bloggers and citizen journalists).

Area journalists and local SPJ members will be urged to attend.

More information will be coming soon.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Wow, I Must Have Hit a Nerve

Last week I wrote a blog entry entitled, "Is There More Anger in the News Media or is it Just Me?" Well, I must have hit a nerve. A good one of course. The type that makes your leg jump, not the type that hurts when you hit it. Well, then again, it might be the other way around. I guess it all depends on your perspective.

And I guess the same could be said about my perception that many in the news media, and American society, seem to consider anger as the first approach to dialogue.

Feel free to weigh in on the subject yourself by reading the entry here. So far, this entry holds the record for the most posted comments. Remember, you can post your comments without leaving a name.

Early Warning on Media Events in Southwest Missouri

The Ozarks Press Association and the Southwest Missouri Professional Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists have some great programs planned for this coming academic year. There will be more information coming soon but for now, mark these events on your calendar:

Society of Professional Journalists first quarterly meeting of the year begins at 11 a.m., Thursday, Sept. 13 at Clara Thompson Hall on the campus of Drury University, Springfield, Mo. Members will get to hear Betty Nguyen, who joined CNN in April 2004 and anchors Saturday Morning and Sunday Morning. Her presentation is entitled, “Humanitarian Work Will Change Your Life.” Afterward, SPJ members and area journalists who are in attendance can eat lunch at Lucy’s Chinese Food on Central Street and then attend a class presentation and Q&A with Nguyen at 1:30 p.m. on campus. If you plan to attend the speech, our lunch meeting or the class presentation please RSVP with me (at 862-9284 or via e-mail burtond@missouri.edu).

Planning is underway for SPJ Chapter events at Evangel and at Missouri State University. The event at MSU is going to focus on citizen journalism and will feature a nationally known authority on the subject. More details will be coming soon.

The Ozarks Press Association Annual Conference will be held March 20 -21, 2008 at the Keeter Center, College of the Ozarks, Point Lookout, Mo. Partnering with OPA on this conference will be the Missouri Press Association, University of Missouri Extension, the Missouri School of Journalism and the Southwest Missouri PRO Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. One confirmed speaker is John Schneller, Missouri School of Journalism assistant professor and Columbia Missourian metro editor, who will present "Flirting With the Digital Frontier." Our program details are currently being worked out.