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Remarks by President Trump have raised questions on the roles of journalists. (Photo: Gage Skidmore/Flickr)

In New York, in the lobby of the hall at the Graduate School of Journalism at Columbia University that bears his name, sits a plaque of a quote recorded in 1904 by the newspaper publisher Joseph Pulitzer. It says: “Our Republic and its press will rise or fall together.”

Its beginning is succinct, and is representative of American journalism’s role in a functioning democracy.

President Trump has brought the role of journalists and the media into question. Though conflict between politicians and the media is the globally established norm, journalism is entering new territory, as day after day the words fake news and post-truth become part of the English lexicon, either in print, in broadcast, or online.

Fake news, whether disagreeing with the content or publisher of an article, drives a negative connotation to those working in the industry. It also casts fear, doubt and anxiety among new career and student journalists. The events of the past week have added to that angst, from a press conference at the White House and interviews on Trump’s policies here and abroad with key advisers, to Trump’s tweets.

Journalists are synonymous with the foundations of democracy. The First Amendment is at the heart of this foundation. We are not enemies, we are citizens exactly like each ordinary citizen who gets up every day and do what they need to do. We enter this industry not to seek fame or fortune, but to benefit the common good by informing, engaging and stimulating our communities, our country and our world.

NPR host Steve Inskeep put it like this on Twitter.

We as journalists have a responsibility to ensure that the rights given to our fellow citizens continue – that the guaranteed freedom of the press does not fall dormant.

There’s a simple way to do that. Encourage your friends to subscribe to get a digital subscription of a newspaper, donate to your public TV or radio station, or buy a newspaper to have with a cup of morning coffee. You do it too.

Along the way, encourage the public to become SPJ supporters and show their support for quality journalism.

It may not be much, but the investment matters. The public isn’t investing in a brand or an organization when they subscribe – instead, they’re investing in their neighbors, classmates, colleagues, friends, spouses or family members. They’re also investing in their fellow citizens who get up and go to work knowing the only thing journalists answer to is truth.

I believe that if something is worth doing, you do it well. Good, ethical journalism cannot happen without members of the public. They call on us to seek truth and report it, to help them make sense of the world, and to help in their daily lives.

After all, as the famous editor C.P. Scott once said: “Comment is free, but facts are sacred.”

So this holiday weekend, take some time and illuminate the world for your fellow citizens. Encourage them to just click subscribe.

Alex Veeneman, a Chicago based SPJ member, is a member of SPJ’s Ethics Committee and a contributor to the SPJ blog network. 

Outside of SPJ, Veeneman is a Managing Editor and contributing writer for Kettle Magazine, an online publication in the UK. You can interact with Veeneman on Twitter here.

The views expressed in this blog post unless otherwise specified are that of the author’s, and do not necessarily reflect the views of the SPJ Digital Community, the board and staff of the Society of Professional Journalists, or its members.


Ethics: Twitter style

Twitter has become essential for journalists, but the ethics rules haven’t changed. (Photo: Pixabay)

In spite of financial concerns outlined last week where its stock prices fell 11 percent, Twitter continues to play a dominant role in the world of journalism. Whether its consuming news, disseminating information or gathering material for a story, Twitter has become ubiquitous with journalism, while journalism has become an essential component of the business of social media.

Yet, while Twitter is still one of those new platforms, it isn’t exempt from the rules and ever-evolving practices of ethical journalism. Journalists need to remember to practice these ethics on the social networking platform, in an age where accusations of fake news and post-truth have had connotations for journalists working on the web.

The Society’s Code of Ethics encourages journalists to practice journalism through these four key principles – Seek truth and report it, minimize harm, act independently, and be accountable and transparent.

That said, here are five things to consider when disseminating information on Twitter – with a twist, done in 140 characters each (or less).

Be accurate: Neither speed nor format excuses inaccuracy, so take the time to make sure all of your facts are right before you post.

Be forthright: Don’t know something? Trying to confirm the accuracy of information? Tell your audience. An honest tweeter is a credible tweeter.

Be cautious: Ask yourself: Is the information you post helpful to your story? Will it inform? Or are you tweeting for the sake of tweeting?

Be accountable: We make mistakes – we’re human. If something is wrong, fix it. Issue a correction and explain what you did. Be upfront.

Be accurate: It’s so nice its worth saying twice! Remember the old maxim – it is better to be right than to be first.

Twitter can be helpful for journalists, but also hinder them. Keeping these key points in mind, you can make Twitter work for you and do the most important thing possible – seek truth and report it.

Alex Veeneman, a Chicago based SPJ member, is a member of SPJ’s Ethics Committee and a contributor to the SPJ blog network. 

Outside of SPJ, Veeneman is a Managing Editor and contributing writer for Kettle Magazine, an online publication in the UK. You can interact with Veeneman on Twitter here.

The views expressed in this blog post unless otherwise specified are that of the author’s, and do not necessarily reflect the views of the SPJ Digital Community, the board and staff of the Society of Professional Journalists, or its members.


Twitter, authenticity and the audience

The record in the background is one with a driving rock, sort of punk sound, with vocal elements that echoes a sound nearly similar to that of the British rapper The Streets. Not too far away, a visual recording is taking place.

“Today, we’re kinda channeling a little carbon silicon – a little big audio dynamite.”

That is how Jade, who presents the weekday 10am-2pm CT program on 89.3 The Current, the music service of Minnesota Public Radio, begins to discuss one of their songs of the day this past week – TCR by the band Sleaford Mods. She was speaking to listeners and her followers on Twitter through a one minute video clip, microphone off as the record played on air.

Jade talks about the storytelling elements in this record, and though it may sound like its all about racing remote control cars, they use that to discuss the neighborhood they live in, as an element to tell that story.

After it is recorded, the clip is then tweeted by Jade, going out to listeners and music fans near and far.

Video has become an essential component into telling stories on Twitter, and to help journalists engage with audiences. Yet, it is not purely for storytelling, and can be used in a unique way to complement content, on-air or online.

Jade of Minnesota Public Radio’s 89.3 The Current says a humanistic approach can be helpful for journalists engaging with audiences. (Photo: Jay Gabler/MPR)

Song of The Day had been a regular web feature for The Current, based at MPR’s headquarters in St. Paul, for a number of years. Jade began doing the videos regularly 6 months ago. She said that listeners were keen for the deeper connection that had been emphasized since its launch 12 years ago.

“Radio isn’t about the tone of voice anymore,” Jade said in a telephone interview. “There is another way people want to communicate.”

Brett Baldwin, the managing digital producer for music services at MPR, which encompasses The Current and its classical service, Classical MPR, said in a telephone interview that they had always been looking for ways to provide something tangible — something that audiences can engage with. Baldwin noted that half of the social media audience was not based in Minnesota, so the Song of the Day clips were a natural thing in terms of that engagement.

Jade said that there wanted to be an emphasis on interacting in a personal way – similar to a friend. She says it provided a more human experience.

“I’m the one most excited about video,” Jade said. “I try (and our digital team tries) to push it. Its an easy way to interact with our audience on a deeper level.”

In spite of The Current being a music station, there are takeaways for journalists, including the humanistic approach that Jade emphasizes in the videos. That comes from making something short and understandable and convey feelings.

Baldwin says that a humanistic approach can translate to better engagement with audiences.

“At the end of the day we get a deepened relationship with the audience,” Baldwin said.

Yet, The Current is also cautious when it comes to reporting key music stories. That came into play when the news came of the passing of Prince at his studios at Paisley Park in suburban Chanhassen. The station was cautious before running with anything, stating what they knew at the time.

Jade was on the air as the news was confirmed, as Andrea Swensson (who blogs for The Current and presents The Local Current show) was reporting from the estate. The station would then play Prince tracks non-stop for 26 hours to coincide with tributes being done across the Twin Cities.

Jade adds that as The Current was a part of Minnesota Public Radio, they could go back and forth with colleagues at MPR News when it came to broader coverage of the event.

In the end, however, The Current wants to emphasize authenticity. Jade says that if the videos were just about getting clicks, they wouldn’t be as well received.

“It’s about authenticity,” Jade said. “That’s what we try to aim for.”

After all, Baldwin says, authenticity is quintessential in keeping the audience relationship intact.

“Audiences are vital, “Baldwin said, adding that though platforms will change, The Current wants that audience relationship to be real, and to be about the music and its stories. “If they’re not here, we’re not here.”

Alex Veeneman, a Chicago based SPJ member, is SPJ’s Community Coordinator and a contributor to the SPJ blog network. He also is a member of SPJ’s Ethics Committee.

Outside of SPJ, Veeneman is a Managing Editor and contributing writer for Kettle Magazine, an online publication in the UK. You can interact with Veeneman on Twitter here.

The views expressed in this blog post unless otherwise specified are that of the author’s, and do not necessarily reflect the views of the SPJ Digital Community, the board and staff of the Society of Professional Journalists, or its members.

 


An ethical resolution

Ethical journalism remains a quintessential part of society, and the SPJ Code of Ethics helps to reinforce it. (Image: Pixabay)

Journalism is in a quandary. As we prepare to say goodbye to 2016 and head into 2017, we do so with a challenge to the identity and culture of our profession. In light of the geopolitical headlines, notably with the recent US presidential election, we’re attempting to trace our next steps.

Writing in her column for the Society’s Quill magazine, SPJ national president Lynn Walsh says we have been challenged. Yet, in spite of it, there is opportunity abound.

“We, as journalists, have been challenged,” Walsh said. “And that means it’s our time to shine. We are not scum. We are not liars. We are not disgusting. We are not corrupt. We are professionals. We are protectors of the First Amendment. We are honest. We are compassionate.”

In this time of transition, it is a good time to stop, pause and reflect, and the SPJ Code of Ethics helps us to do just that. As I wrote over on the Generation J blog a couple of weeks earlier, it is a reminder of the principles of education, the quintessential component of journalism, the real reason why we seek to make careers for ourselves in this industry.

Yet, alongside its reminder for the need to educate, the Ethics Code reminds us of the simple principles that allows us to practice quality journalism — seek truth and report it, minimize harm, be accountable and transparent, and act independently.

With that in mind, here are some resolutions to keep in mind as we begin 2017.

Seek truth and report it: People still care about the facts. It isn’t about doing better than your competitor, but about informing and engaging the people that trust and come to you for information. Trust is sacrosanct, and to ensure it stays that way you must be meticulous with information. If you’re uncertain about something, check it. If you’re trying to confirm something, tell your audience that. Then pick up the phone and see what’s going on. It is better to be right about something and take the time to do it, than to say something and end up being wrong later.

Minimize harm: Every story as a pro and a con, and you have to consider what will best benefit the public’s interests, not your own. Consider the circumstances of an interview with an individual, and if it really helps your story. Avoid lurid curiosity, and be compassionate with others in their circumstances. Remember this line however most of all: “Pursuit of the news is not a license for arrogance or undue intrusiveness.”

Be accountable and transparent: We are humans, and like all humans, we make mistakes. We aren’t proud of them, but we make them. Remember always that if someone catches a mistake, acknowledge it, respond, and correct it. Keep the audience in the know about editorial conversations as it pertains to your story, and explain any decision making behind any story.

Act independently: Don’t be intimidated by a source. If you have a conflict of interest with a story, disclose it. Don’t pay for access to content to inform the public. Also, if you’re given something for free, refuse it, and consider the work you do outside of journalism, and ensure it doesn’t damage your credibility, integrity or impartiality.

The challenge that we have before us appears daunting. Though we don’t have the answers to all of the questions that are being asked in journalism, we have the opportunity to answer them. With the help of the Ethics Code, we can show the world why journalism continues to remain important, as it continues to evolve in the digital age.

We also can remind ourselves that it isn’t really about us, but instead the people who matter most of all — the audience.

Happy New Year to you and yours.

Alex Veeneman, a Chicago based SPJ member, is SPJ’s Community Coordinator and is a contributor to the SPJ blog network. He also is a member of SPJ’s Ethics Committee.

Outside of SPJ, Veeneman is a Managing Editor and contributing writer for Kettle Magazine, an online publication in the UK. You can interact with Veeneman on Twitter here.

The views expressed in this blog post unless otherwise specified are that of the author’s, and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Generation J Community, the board and staff of the Society of Professional Journalists, or its members.


Facebook’s live circle

Facebook’s live audio introduction can have an impact on the identity of broadcasters, including Minnesota Public Radio. (Photo: Tony Webster/Flickr under CC)

It started last year with Facebook Live as a way to boost engagement with live videos, be it a Q&A, analysis or reporting during a breaking news story. Now, Facebook has gone full circle with the introduction of live audio.

In an announcement, the social network said the move was an expansion of features on Live, after the introduction of Live 360, with publishers saying they were looking for new ways to go live. Initial partners in the initial launch include the BBC World Service and the book publisher HarperCollins, with a roll out to all of its users being scheduled for early next year.

Facebook has been noted in its abilities to aide audience engagement to journalists and new s organizations, so the introduction of live audio will likely help with that engagement and how stories are told, be it a story local in nature, or one with geopolitical connections. It will expand the reach of broadcasters, be it a local station in Seattle or the business program Marketplace.

Yet, it also raises a couple of questions as to the role and identity of broadcasters, especially public broadcasters, in the digital age, and to what level the content could complement their offerings on the radio. As audiences consume news and media besides the conventional print and broadcast methods, organizations have had to be creative in how these stories are told, with the ultimate goal to find the balance between engaging and informing, especially with younger audiences.

As they do, broadcasters are not simply broadcasters anymore – they are brands, and broadcasting is simply a part of the work that is done. Some have done well in adapting into the digital age, recognizing their obligation to produce quality, ethical journalism, while some have not.

While Facebook’s announcement has its pros for audience engagement, it also is forcing broadcasters to revolutionize their thinking in the digital age, to complement the work that is featured on some of the best mediums in the world, irrespective of subject area or beat.

But ultimately, no matter the content that is produced, broadcasters should have one consideration in mind – not to Facebook, nor the content that be considered viral successes, but to the people that will matter the most – their audience.

Alex Veeneman, a Chicago based SPJ member, is SPJ’s Community Coordinator and is a contributor to the SPJ blog network. He also is a member of SPJ’s Ethics Committee.

Outside of SPJ, Veeneman is a Managing Editor and contributing writer for Kettle Magazine, an online publication in the UK. You can interact with Veeneman on Twitter here.

The views expressed in this blog post unless otherwise specified are that of the author’s, and do not necessarily reflect the views of the SPJ Digital Community, the board and staff of the Society of Professional Journalists, or its members.


Twitter Chat: “Enhance Your Reporting 360 Degrees”

Join SPJ Digital Dec. 20, 2016 at 8 PM (Eastern Standard Time) for an hour-long chat about how to use 360-degree video to enhance your every day reporting. We’ll talk with four experts about tools, tips and best practices.

Search #SPJDigiChat on Twitter to join the conversation.

Meet the experts:

1.) BEN KREIMER  (@benkreimer)

As a journalism technologist, Ben Kreimer specializes in storytelling with drones, virtual reality, 360° video, 3D reconstructions, and open source hardware sensor platforms. He focuses on helping storytellers and mission-driven organizations leverage these emerging technologies for telling immersive stories and amplifying their work. Ben brought 360° video to BuzzFeed as the first fellow in their San Francisco based Open Lab, a media R&D space. He has co-produced many of BuzzFeed’s 360° videos, including their first, which has received over six million views. He is also an adviser for the Drone Journalism Lab and African skyCAM, and has worked with academic institutions and organizations including Columbia’s Tow Center for Digital Journalism, Times of India, CCTV Africa, VICE News, African Wildlife Foundation, SecondMuse, Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, and the Antiochia ad Cragum Archaeological Research Project in Turkey.
2.) MIKE REILLEY  (@journtoolbox)
Mike works with MediaShift.org in business development and also works as a Google News Lab trainer, teaching cutting-edge skills to journalists throughout the U.S.
In 2015 and 2016, Mike was the director of digital production and professor of practice at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism at Arizona State University. He and his digital production students rebuilt, updated and produced multimedia, mobile stories and data visualizations for Cronkite News, the news division of Arizona PBS. His group also built the Carnegie-Knight News21 Weed Rush and Nicaragua: Channeling the Future sites.
He taught several classes over 6 1/2 years at DePaul University, including Reporting for Converged Newsrooms, Online Journalism I, Online Journalism II, Mobile Journalism, News Editing and Multiplatform News Editing. In winter 2011, he launched The Red Line Project with students in his Online Journalism II class. The site won many national and regional awards — including honors from ONA and Editor & Publisher — in its 4 1/2 years.
He also served as founder and faculty adviser the SPJ/ONA DePaul student organization. The group was named the 2013 and 2011 SPJ National Campus Chapter of the Year, Region 5 Campus Chapter of the Year and was DePaul University’s 2012 Outstanding Student Organization. Reilley was named DePaul’s Outstanding Faculty Adviser in 2012 and won SPJ’s David Eshelman Award for Outstanding Campus Adviser in 2013.
Mike is a former reporter and copy editor at the Los Angeles Times and was one of the founding editors of ChicagoTribune.com. He’s a former news editor at WashingtonPost.com and ran the 2000 Summer Olympics copy desk for AOL. Mike also founded the journalism research site, The Journalist’s Toolbox , that he sold to the Society of Professional Journalists in 2007 and continues to update for SPJ. He also blogged about the Chicago Bear for two seasons on the NFL Blog Blitz  site.
3.) LAKSHMI SARAH  AND MELISSA BOSWORTH (@TnyWrld)
Lakshmi Sarah is a multimedia journalist with a focus on South Asia, identity and the arts. Over the past few years she has worked with newspapers, radio and magazines from Gaborone, Botswana to Los Angeles, California. She has written and produced for Mic, Global Voices, Al Jazeera Online, AJ+, KQED and Fusion. She co-founded Tiny World Productions to focus on immersive video content.
Melissa Bosworth is a multimedia journalist and 360 video producer. In her work as a reporter, features writer, digital producer and videographer she has covered energy, the environment, technology and policy across the Americas and in Europe. She is co-founder of Tiny World Productions.
4.) ROBERT HERNANDEZ  @webjournalist

Robert Hernandez, aka WebJournalist, has made a name for himself as a journalist of the Web, not just on the Web. His primary focus is exploring and developing the intersection of technology and journalism – to empower people, inform reporting and storytelling, engage community, improve distribution and, whenever possible, enhance revenue. He is an Associate Professor of Professional Practice at USC Annenberg, but he’s not an academic… he’s more of a “hackademic” and specializes in “MacGyvering” Web journalism solutions. He connects dots and people. He has worked for seattletimes.com, SFGate.com, eXaminer.com, La Prensa Gráfica, among others. Hernandez is also the co-founder of #wjchat and co-creator of the Diversify Journalism Project. His most recent work includes Augmented Reality, Wearables/Google Glass and Virtual Reality — he and his students produce VR experiences under their brand: Jovrnalism. He serves on the Online News Association board and a lifetime member of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists. He is the recipient of SPJ’s 2015 Distinguished Teaching in Journalism Award. He has made it to imgur’s front page more than once.


Join the SPJ Digital Executive Board

We love having you as a member of SPJ Digital, and we want you to help us lead it!  Join the SPJ Digital executive board to make key decisions about the group’s future and our programs.

WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT SPJ DIGITAL ELECTIONS:

  • NOMINATIONS: The deadline to announce your candidacy for one of the following positions is this Friday, October 21, 2016 at 5 p.m. EST.
  • You must submit a 200 word explanation of why you are running and what you will bring to the office you’re running for to SPJ Digital co-chairs  taylormirf@mac.com and omalley.beth@gmail.com.
  • You must be a member of SPJ to run for office.
  • VOTING: Ballots will be sent to all community members on on Monday, October 31st. Polls will close Friday, November 4th.

** All SPJ Digital executive board members are expected to participate in monthly conference calls and complete the tasks assigned to your position. Please feel free to contact Taylor Mirfendereski and Beth O’Malley if you have questions about joining the executive board.** 

OPEN SPJ DIGITAL POSITIONS

Co-Chair, Interactive and Social Media:

  • Works with coordinators and oversees social media education strategy
  • Oversees and implements social strategy related to programming
  • Works with Co-Chair, Programming and Strategy on programming plans
  • Oversees Net Worked editorial operations (guest posts, columnists, etc)
  • Blogger at large – responsible for one blog post per month, more if desired

Co-Chair, Programming and Strategy:

  • Liaison to SPJ Community Coordinator, staff, board and members
  • Oversees Quill columnists with assistance from Community Coordinator
  • Oversees programming efforts with collaboration from executive
  • Works with Co-Chair, Interactive and Social Media on programming plans
  • Oversees student reps to help expand student understanding of digital media at universities

Facebook Coordinator:

  • Posts on SPJ Digital’s Facebook page; posts may include items from Net Worked or other items at the discretion of the coordinator
  • Works with Co-Chairs to coordinate any element needed for programming and other operations
  • Reports to Co-Chair, Interactive and Social Media regarding analytics, ideas to boost interest
  • Oversees LinkedIn on an as-needed basis.

Twitter Coordinator:

  • Posts on SPJ Digital’s Twitter account; posts may include items from Net Worked or other items at the discretion of the coordinator
  • Works with Co-Chairs to coordinate any element needed for programming and other operations
  • Reports to Co-Chair, Interactive and Social Media regarding analytics, ideas to boost interest.
  • Oversees LinkedIn on an as-needed basis.

Newsletter Editor:

  • Experience with design and/or creating a newsletter preferred.
  • Creates monthly email newsletter for SPJ Digital members.
  • Newsletter will be curated with community news, blog posts, programming updates and member spotlights.
  • Editor also contributes to NetWorked blog once per month, more if desired.
  • Sends out programming updates and specialty newsletters when appropriate.

Student Representative:

  • Assist Co-Chairs with student-specific programming ideas and execution.
  • Completes outreach to student chapters about SPJ Digital benefits.
  • Contributes to NetWorked blogs on student-centric topics.spj-digital

Querying fact checking

At NPR's headquarters in Washington, its fact-checking transcript generated significant interest from audiences online. (Photo: Stephen Voss/NPR)

At NPR’s headquarters in Washington, its fact-checking transcript generated significant interest from audiences online. (Photo: Stephen Voss/NPR)

Geopolitics has been at the epicenter of the news the past few months, from the news of Britain’s referendum on leaving the European Union with a new Prime Minister, and the diplomatic conversations surrounding the conflict in Syria, to the closely watched campaigns for elections for president of the United States.

As the 8th of November nears, a subject that has been debated is that of fact-checking, and what role it should have in the context of modern political journalism. In the recent debate between Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton and Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, NPR had a running transcript with annotations going, the checks being communicated on Twitter, Facebook, and the web site.

When all was said and done, NPR achieved its highest traffic day ever, and the transcript got 7.4 million page views.

Beth Donovan, the supervising senior editor for its Washington Desk, who has worked on previous election output, said the public broadcaster had been trying to perfect engaging audiences when it came to fact-checking.

“Fact checking has long been a priority for NPR,” Donovan said in an interview by email. “Even before this particular race shaped up, we had been trying new things in the fact check lane in hopes of connecting with our audience and helping them engage with political rhetoric through this prism.”

Donovan said audiences had valued a second screen accompaniment to live events, and this fact-checking feature was a way to hone NPR’s engagement strategy. She says similar plans will be in the works for the forthcoming debate this weekend and the final debate later this month.

“There was a transparency to our fact check, people could see us highlighting facts we were about to check (as well as a lot of typos in the first and even second draft of the transcription),” Donovan said. “The audience could see the statement in context, our journalism, and source links. And the page kept moving and changing right on your phone.”

While there was success for NPR in its engagement strategy, it came amid some concerns, before and after the debate was over. The fact-checking annotations commenced amid concerns of trust in the media, according to a study from the Pew Research Center.

In addition, after the debate, concerns had been raised by the ombudsman Elizabeth Jensen, who, in addition to some listeners, said some questions were missed, despite the best efforts of reporters and editors in Washington. Donovan said her team did the best they could under the circumstances, even as concerns of bias were prevalent.

“We just do our best every day to cover the news and to report fairly and accurately,” Donovan said. “Fact checking is no different.”

Yet, Donovan notes, there is difficulty in accomplishing such a task.

“Even in a news room with as much policy depth as NPR’s, live fact checking is hard,” Donovan said. “The biggest challenges are often the littlest things.”

However, Donovan says, there is something that makes it all worthwhile — the drive and collaboration between its journalists.

“It can look easy or obvious the next day, but watching our annotated transcript come to life was inspiring,” Donovan said. “This is a remarkable newsroom. I always feel especially proud to be part of it on debate nights and in breaking news situations.”

Alex Veeneman, a Chicago based SPJ member and founder of SPJ Digital, is SPJ’s Community Coordinator and is a contributor to the SPJ blog network. 

Outside of SPJ, Veeneman is a Managing Editor and contributing writer for Kettle Magazine, an online publication in the UK. You can interact with Veeneman on Twitter here.

The views expressed in this blog post unless otherwise specified are that of the author’s, and do not necessarily reflect the views of the SPJ Digital community, the board and staff of the Society of Professional Journalists, or its members.


Accuracy in an algorithmic age

In order for it to be effective with users, Facebook must present accurate and fair information. (Photo: Pixabay)

In order for it to be effective with users, Facebook must present accurate and fair information. (Photo: Pixabay)

This week, it emerged that the editors behind the Trending Topics section at Facebook had been fired, and that the algorithm would be at the core of finding stories that users would want to hear about.

It hasn’t gone quite as planned. The notable instance came last Saturday about a story surrounding the Fox News presenter Megyn Kelly. It had been reported that she had been removed from her position after she said she was supporting the Democratic presidential nominee, Hillary Clinton.

That story was not true, emerging from the EndingFed news web site, a web site that had not been listed on the trusted media sources list utilized by editors, according to a report from The Guardian newspaper in Britain.

There were also concerns of content that would be offensive also being a part of the trending topics, including a man filmed doing a questionable act with a McChicken sandwich from McDonald’s.

Many users around the world look to Facebook for news on the go, and to engage in conversation about that information with their friends. Because the social network is a significant platform in the dissemination, it is bound by the principles of journalistic ethics, even though it is not a media company itself. The principle extends to the information that is made available in the trending topics section.

The SPJ Code of Ethics says this about the release of information:

“Neither speed nor format excuses inaccuracy.”

The public are entitled to accurate information to help them over the course of their day, no matter the subject.

Yet, The Guardian report adds, the dismissal of the editors was said to be a long-term plan, with a source saying that the trending module would have learned from curators’ decisions and be fully automated.

The relationship that Facebook and the public has when it comes to the algorithm has proven to be controversial. While it is mutually beneficial for news organizations and the social network to have content appear for the purposes of engagement, the public are still entitled to accurate and fair journalism, no matter how they are consuming it.

It is therefore imperative that Facebook exercises these ethics and emphasizes the need for accurate and fair information. In spite of the toxic workplace concerns raised, the editors who helped curate those trending topics helped the social network do a service in ensuring the information that was made available was accurate.

If Facebook wants to have a better relationship with its users, and indeed the wider journalism community, not only must it be transparent, but it also must be an advocate for accurate information, and showcase it in its trending topics. Otherwise, Facebook will become simply something commonplace in digital media today — just another social network.

Alex Veeneman, a Chicago based SPJ member and founder of SPJ Digital, is SPJ’s Community Coordinator and is a contributor to the SPJ blog network. 

Outside of SPJ, Veeneman is a Managing Editor and contributing writer for Kettle Magazine, an online publication in the UK. You can interact with Veeneman on Twitter here.

The views expressed in this blog post unless otherwise specified are that of the author’s, and do not necessarily reflect the views of the SPJ Digital community, the board and staff of the Society of Professional Journalists, or its members.


The world and its stories

The New York Times is trying to increase its readership outside the US, which may have long-term effects beyond engagement. (Photo: alextorrenegra/Flickr)

The New York Times is trying to increase its readership outside the US, which may have long-term effects beyond engagement. (Photo: alextorrenegra/Flickr)

Recently, The New York Times did something rather interesting when it came to its coverage of the forthcoming presidential elections. It assigned a foreign correspondent to cover them, allowing for not just an interesting way to cover these elections, but also an indication of trends in media and how they will impact storytelling overall.

The Times assigned Declan Walsh, its Cairo bureau chief, to cover the elections in the same way he would a foreign story, for a series called Abroad in America. Thus far, he has written about both conventions, as well as the role of coal country in voting and the issue of women in US politics.

His column, according to an article from the Nieman Lab at Harvard University, is being edited and run through the international desk at the Times, though Walsh does consult with its politics team.

In an interview with the Lab, Walsh said the column was part of the recognition by the Times about digital readership — that much of it was outside the United States, and as a result, there was potential for such content.

“It speaks to the balance that the paper has to achieve, especially in stories that are about the United States, in writing stories about things in the US that foreign readers are very interested in, but they do not have the same degree of familiarity with or the same cultural connectors that a reader would in the United States,” Walsh said.

This initiative is part of broader work the Times is doing to expand its international readership. It recently created NYT Global, a $50 million effort over the next 3 years to expand this work, and, according to the Lab, it sees potential when it comes to attracting paying subscribers from outside the US.

Though the move is strategic on the part of the Times, this decision speaks to a larger trend in the world of journalism, largely influenced by the internet — a trend that comes off of the idea of the global village, a theory from the Canadian communications scholar Marshall McLuhan, where new technologies would be making the world smaller, connecting more and more people, no matter their location. This was part of his core theory, the medium is the message.

Indeed, the internet and the social media age have influenced how we consume news, and where we get our news from. The global age has influenced our ideas of media brands — alongside the BBC, Reuters, The Guardian, The New Yorker, the Financial Times and NPR come other sites including BuzzFeed and Vice. More people are getting access to content, either online streaming or through podcasts, whether its Stuart McLean’s The Vinyl Cafe from CBC Radio in Canada or other podcasts from public broadcasters or other sites.

As a result, news organizations like the Times are thinking more globally as far as their reach, and while the Times is a unique case, it does show how far reaching stories can be in this digital age. While it is unclear if the Times plans similar ideas for other stories down the road, it is an indication that as the mediums that journalism are being disseminated through increase, the idea of how we tell stories will change, whether global in scope or local in nature, no matter the beat, even though the first priority is the immediate audience.

It also means that there will be more sources and web sites available for information, leaving news organizations to be creative when it comes to engagement strategies surrounding stories.

While the mediums themselves will be changing, one thing hasn’t — the mission of journalism, to inform, to engage, to stimulate, and to enlighten. Though we may need to be creative about how we do it in the near future, it is better than an alternative — a world without journalism.

Alex Veeneman, a Chicago based SPJ member and founder of SPJ Digital, is SPJ’s Community Coordinator and is a contributor to the SPJ blog network. 

Outside of SPJ, Veeneman is a Managing Editor and contributing writer for Kettle Magazine, an online publication in the UK. You can interact with Veeneman on Twitter here.

The views expressed in this blog post unless otherwise specified are that of the author’s, and do not necessarily reflect the views of the SPJ Digital community, the board and staff of the Society of Professional Journalists, or its members.


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