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Posts Tagged ‘ethics’


Make Your Call on the Washington Football Team Name

american-football-151765_150The NFL’s Washington Redskins have been around since 1932. The team’s nickname has been discussed, disputed and disparaged for a long time as well. In writing this column, I debated whether to use it.

In mid-June, the U.S. Patents and Trademark Office announced that it was tearing up the team’s trademark registration, finding that it was “disparaging to Native Americans” and thus could no longer be given trademark protection.

Is avoiding the term advocacy?

Team owner Daniel Snyder is on the record saying he will never change the team’s name and fans and supporters – including some Native Americans – embrace the name. Journalists and media outlets have taken a stand on the issue themselves.

Sports Illustrated’s Peter King, the Washington Post’s Christine Brennan and NBC’s Bob Costas are some of the most prominent journalists who have called for a name change. On the other side, Sports Illustrated columnist Rick Reilly has voiced support for the name.

The Pew Research Center reported last year that 76 journalists and news outlets such as The Oregonian (whose policy dates back to 1992), the San Francisco Chronicle, Slate and the New Republic have decided not to use the nickname. Poynter recently compiled its own list.

But is this kind of advocacy media outlets should be taking? Some argue that media outlets have always set a limit on terms that they consider offensive to readers, viewers and listeners. For example, refusal to use the n-word is nearly universal in American news media.

Others, though, argue that the term has long been part of the American lexicon, used by some Native Americans themselves. Changing it, they say, would simply give in to the “politically correct” police.

And yet opposition to the name from such organizations as the National Congress of American Indians and the Oneida Nation continues to grow – and is becoming more difficult for the news media to ignore.

If it offends, stop using it

So how should media outlets handle the Washington mascot controversy?

Former Seattle Post-Intelligencer editorial page editor Mark Trahant, who is now the Atwood Journalism chair at the University of Alaska Anchorage, said it should be an easy call – if it offends, stop using it.

“With Washington you don’t have to go beyond the dictionary; (the) word is defined as a slur,” said Trahant, a member of Idaho’s Shoshone-Bannock tribe, in an interview via social media. “I remember repeating the R-word as a kid, early 60s. My dad told me that’s a word we don’t use. One test for journalists: Would you use the word in a community of Natives where you are not known? If no, then keep it out of sports pages.”

A Native American Studies professor and former journalism professor, who asked not to be named because of the sensitivity of the issue, wrote in an email that she believes the media’s role is to be a leader on the issue.

“What should media outlets do? The right thing,” she said. “I can’t believe there’s an editor alive who doesn’t know this term is offensive to many and for good reasons, both historic and contemporary. Hasn’t the public often relied on the media to set the moral high bar, provide guidance for ethical, responsible behavior and decision-making? Why stop short now?”

At the very least, every newsroom should have a brutally honest discussion about the name. More importantly – journalists must get beyond their comfort zone, take a stand and make a call whether or not to use the term.


Clyde Hughes is a freelance journalist based in Lafayette, Indiana, who wrote many years for the Toledo Blade. He has written for newspapers, magazines and websites around the country and taught courses on covering minorities in the media and media ethics as an adjunct professor.

Language matters: Think before you write

DictionaryWhat does “elderly” mean to you? Is 60 “elderly?” Cyndi Lauper and Tony Blair, both 60, probably would not agree. Is 80 “elderly?” Perhaps, but why use the word at all? Simply state a person’s age.

What does “inner city” or “urban” signify to you? Probably not a Manhattan high rise along Central Park, although that location is urban and in the inner city.

Words can convey subtle and not-so-subtle meanings, depending on their context. “Inner city” often is a code word for a neighborhood of poor people of color. But using it to mean only that is inaccurate and unfair.

In news reports, we read and hear these types of descriptors all the time. I would argue that their use constitutes lazy journalism.

What about people who are in the U.S. without official documents? In 2011, SPJ approved a resolution that urged journalists to stop using the terms “illegal alien” and “illegal immigrant.”

After the resolution passed, some accused the organization of having a political agenda. But, as SPJ has pointed out, this is a matter of accuracy. People without the proper paperwork have not been convicted of any crime. Because our constitution guarantees innocence until guilt is proven in court, these people may not be ruled “illegal” by journalists or anyone else except a judge or jury. In addition, a person cannot be “illegal.”

As journalists, we should use the words we actually mean rather than writing in code. On the word “elderly,” the Associated Press Stylebook has this to say: “Use this word carefully and sparingly. Do not refer to a person as elderly unless it is clearly relevant to the story.” List people’s ages, not judgmental descriptors.

Avoid using code words such as “inner city” or even “upscale.” When describing a neighborhood, research facts about that neighborhood rather than giving generalizations. Stereotypes are hard to break, but we can start working to fight them today.

Our own SPJ Code of Ethics states: “Avoid stereotyping by race, gender, age, religion, ethnicity, geography, sexual orientation, disability, physical appearance or social status.”

It’s an easy rule to follow if we think before we write.

Photo by Greeblie, courtesy Creative Commons License. Image by Denelson83, courtesy Creative Commons GFDL.

Four ways to build a diverse panel, and why it matters

If you’ve ever walked into a room and been “the only one,” whether it involved race, gender or another factor, you know the feeling of exclusion that lack of representation creates.

The recent Online News Association conference in Atlanta featured a panel on “Disrupt Diversity,” which focused on journalism strategies to find sources outside comfort zones.

The panelists included one white male, Steve Buttry of Digital First Media, one black woman, Dori Maynard, president of the Maynard Institute for Journalism Education, and one white woman, Jessica Valenti, columnist for The Nation. This is an example of a diverse panel whose speakers can offer a variety of perspectives. In fact, ONA made a particular effort this year to recruit a mix of panelists, with half of them women and 30 percent people of color.

Too many times panels and presentations feature people who come from similar backgrounds and have similar points of view. In fact, Rebecca Rosen wrote about this earlier this year in The Atlantic, calling on men who find themselves on all-male panels to refuse to serve. She was writing about technology and science, but journalism also is applicable.

Newsrooms continue to lack diversity, as shown by the American Society of News Editors’ annual census. Only 12.37 percent of newsroom staffs are non-white and only one-third of employees are female.

Finding people who represent a range of viewpoints is a helpful rule not only for journalism practice, but also for presentations. Whether we consider race, gender, disability, or any other difference, we must think about who is representing our organizations. Excluding part of the audience not only defies ethical principles, but it also is not good for business.

The excuses “we can’t find qualified minorities” and “we can’t find qualified women” often mean that people are not searching outside their own social and work circles.

Here are some ways to find a variety of speakers and sources:

  1. SPJ’s own Rainbow Diversity Sourcebook: http://www.spj.org/divsourcebook.asp
  2. The Women’s Media Center’s She Source: http://www.shesource.org/
  3. The CIIJ at San Francisco State University features links to several diverse journalism organizations: http://www.ciij.org/resources
  4. Many universities, including journalism schools, list professors and their areas of expertise on their websites, such as this one from Columbia Journalism School: http://www.journalism.columbia.edu/page/532-faculty-experts/

Please add your own links to diverse sources of information as comments to this post.

 

Stories Have Power: Honor the Trust You’re Given

Who’s News is inviting top journalists and journalism educators to share their thoughts on inclusion in the news. Here, Teresa Trumbly Lamsam explains what two Native American journalists are learning as they curate a wellness blog.

Omaha, NE – As a journalist who cut her teeth on the copy desk, I should have pondered the likely editing woes in managing Wellbound Storytellers, a wellness blog written by non-journalists.

However, on reflection, I’m not sure well-laid Wellbound2plans would have worked.Why not? Because I’m the one who got “schooled.” All of those so-called editing headaches turned out to be lessons for me, the experienced editor.

I have condensed those lessons here as they relate to covering health, in particular, American Indian health and wellness.

Stories take time
As perhaps one of the few journalists still in love with the Inverted Pyramid, I value low word counts, aka, a story easy to cut. But people do not tell their wellness stories with a compelling nut graf in mind. At first, I was reluctant to get out of the way of a long personal narrative.

Fellow journalist and Wellbound blogger Rhonda LeValdo was more patient. “I think, if someone is going to tell you a really personal story, let them have the time to do that,” she said. “I don’t badger someone for information … like why they started doing certain things. Maybe it was a death close to them.”

LeValdo, past president of the Native American Journalists Association, said that people talk about personal health issues when they are ready, not just because you need to meet a deadline.

Sometimes, our journalism conventions get in the way of the stories.

Sharing creates vulnerability
The idea behind Wellbound Storytellers is to mobilize the collective, community nature of American Indians to be more transparent about our paths to wellness. The mission is to model the resiliency that characterizes the history and future of Native peoples.

We found that people were generally eager to talk about their health issues, but not as excited to share those stories openly. At first we were surprised. Levaldo and I were expecting other American Indians to share stories for the sake of community health.

In private conversations, people were passionate in telling us their stories. Everyone agreed that these stories needed to be out there, but few were willing to let it be their own stories.

Here are the main reasons behind the reluctance:

Stories have power: A shared belief among many American Indians is that stories in themselves carry power. Wellbound3 History has shown that trusting others with that power – whether reporters or readers – has not proven beneficial.

Storytelling skills: People are not confident in their writing or storytelling and don’t want others to judge them based on it. Also, storytelling is sometimes considered a quasi-official role in the community and therefore only the duty of some.

Embarrassment: For some, letting their health issues out there for the world to see is just embarrassing. Even minor considerations are a concern. As one potential blogger said,“What if I talk about my new healthy eating lifestyle and then someone sees me out eating cake!”

Consequences: What would others do with this personal information? Some worried about being fired if the tribal government found out they had cancer, for example. Others worried about ridicule. One blogger, who pushed past her fears, worried she would be shunned by the community for talking about controversial health concerns.

To a journalist, stories may just be part of the interview process. But for many American Indians, stories carry the wellness we need within them. At Wellbound Storytellers, we walk the balance between producing online content and carefully respecting the power of storytelling.

Teresa Trumbly Lamsam, Ph.D., is the editor and creator of Wellbound Storytellers and executive editor of Native Health News Alliance, a website for journalists under development. She is an associate professor in the School of Communication at the University of Nebraska, Omaha. Teresa, an enrolled member of the Osage Nation, is a former tribal press editor. 

Telling their own stories: How two Native journalists got past gloomy health statistics to find stories of resiliency

Teresa Trumbly Lamsam, who founded Wellbound Storytellers

Teresa Trumbly Lamsam, who founded Wellbound Storytellers

Who’s News is inviting top journalists and journalism educators to share their thoughts on inclusion in the news. Here, Teresa Trumbly Lamsam explains why two Native American journalists decided to find a way to improve health coverage.

Omaha, NE – American Indians and Alaska Natives (AIAN) have the poorest health status in the US and a lower life expectancy, including a higher rate (1.6 times non-Hispanic White population) of infant mortality.

AIANs also endure high levels of suicide and mental health concerns, obesity, diabetes, substance abuse, teenage pregnancy, liver disease, and hepatitis.

As an American Indian journalist, educator, and tribal member, I was acquainted with the statistics. I could even put names and faces to many of those numbers.

The statistics may paint an accurate, revealing and even necessary picture of AIANs as the sickest people in the country. But after year after year of reporting and reading them, I became jaded about American Indian health news and maybe a little fatalistic.

I reached the “whatever” point. That point where you are ready to walk away and tell the status quo to have at it. But a reality check was right around the corner.

Rhonda pic

Rhonda LeValdo, former NAJA president, producer and host of “Native Spirit” radio show at KKFI 90.1 FM

As if on cue, my own health status became an issue, and given that my personality is not a good fit with cynicism, I shucked the jaded attitude and started looking for solutions. That search led me to Native journalist Rhonda LeValdo, who at the time was president of the Native American Journalists Association.

Turns out, health was on the top of her mind too, both personally and professionally. She was grieving the loss of family members to diabetes complications, and as a parent, determined that diabetes would not claim her or her children.

First we commiserated over the sad state of health reporting for American Indians in mainstream and tribal media. However, criticism wasn’t really doing it for us. We wanted to make a difference in news reporting – a difference that we hoped would also translate to better health in Native communities.

If teary eyes and passionate rhetoric could make a difference, we were well on our way. We left our meeting with a pledge to come up with an idea. Any idea would do because we were desperate to do something, even if it fell flat.

Wellbound ScreenshotSoon after I emailed LeValdo and suggested that we just blog about our own health journeys and recruit other Native journalists to join us. Within the first week of announcing the blog, American Indians who had read about Wellbound Storytellers were emailing to ask if they could contribute. The citizen health journalism blog was born.

Whether they are writing about disease or marathons, our bloggers focus on health through both traditional and contemporary frames using humor and everyday stories of resiliency. They come from all walks of life. Even the journalists write in a personal, conversational tone.

The statistics and perceptions about American Indian health paint us a pitiful people with an outlook of fatalism. The mission of Wellbound Storytellers is to show that health struggles and triumphs can go hand-in-hand. In your coverage of American Indians, consider striking this balance, too.

(Next up: Part 2 focuses on the lessons that Wellbound bloggers taught me about reporting on health and wellness.)

Teresa Trumbly Lamsam, Ph.D., is the editor and creator of Wellbound Storytellers and executive editor of Native Health News Alliance, a website for journalists under development. She is an associate professor in the School of Communication at the University of Nebraska, Omaha. Teresa, an enrolled member of the Osage Nation, is a former tribal press editor. 

(Photos courtesy of Teresa Trumbly Lamsam.)

Tips to Expand Your Source Network and Develop Great Story Ideas

I’ve lived in Knoxville, Tenn., essentially since 1968 and know a lot of people through my work at the News Sentinel. But earlier this month there was a story on four people recognized in the inaugural Latino Awards by Centro Hispano de East Tennessee, and I had only heard of one of them.

Lourdes 001

Lourdes Garza
(Photo:Diocese of Knoxville)

I was introduced to both Hispanic/Latino and border issues when I lived in El Paso, Texas, from 1996 to 1997 and served as editor of the El Paso Herald-Post. El Paso is predominantly Hispanic and Catholic.

In addition, I take to heart the SPJ Code of Ethics, which addresses the need for journalists to report on all aspects of the community and particularly to “tell the story of the diversity and magnitude of the human experience boldly, even when it is unpopular to do so.” I review the code once in awhile and always introduce it to students when teaching journalism at the University of Tennessee.

It turns out some of the Knoxville honorees are involved in multiple issues affecting the Hispanic community here, offering a route to interesting stories and contacts. I suspect this would be the case for similar award-winners in any community.

One of the Knoxville recipients was attached to the Catholic Diocese. Lourdes Garza, director of Hispanic Ministries of the Diocese of Knoxville, received the Spirit of Inspiration award for helping Hispanic community members integrate into parish life activities.

I had heard Garza’s name, but I didn’t know the other winners: Jose Luis Santiago, De Ann Pendry, and Santiago Cuccarese.

Jose Luis Santiago

Jose Luis Santiago
(Photo: Knoxville News Sentinel)

Santiago received the Spirit of Transformation award for his work with Holy Ghost Church in Knoxville in helping others solve problems in various aspects of their lives. It turns out he also has become active in opposing Knox County’s possible adoption of the controversial 287(h) federal immigration program, in which local and state law enforcement agencies collaborate with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Pendry, the only non-Latino to receive an award, received the Espiritu Latino award for working with the Hispanic immigration-rights movement. She teaches courses in Latino studies, migration and trans-nationalism and similar areas at UT.

Cuccarese received the Spirit of Innovation award for his work with MiBanco and with the Bank of Camden, where he serves as vice president. MiBanco is a Latino-centered bank and actively supports the Hispanic community and its businesses. Cucarese is also active with the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of East Tennessee.

Santiago Cuccarese

Santiago Cuccarese
(Photo: Knoxville News Sentinel)

Here are some tips to finding similar people in your own communities:

  • The Catholic Church. It’s heavily involved in Hispanic/Latino issues. A starting point for gathering information might be the U.S. Conferences of Catholic Bishops. The organization has a wide network.
  • The Chamber of Commerce. Most communities have a chamber and in all likelihood someone there is familiar with Hispanic businesses or if a Hispanic Chamber has been formed. There’s a U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. Look over its list of corporate sponsors, including banks. Chances are your local contacts at banks can put you in touch with other individuals and businesses.
  • Universities. There are oodles of resources at institutions of higher learning. In one of my public affairs classes, I needed to know for editing purposes the possession of Muñoz. The AP stylebook didn’t address it. I called a friend who teaches Spanish at UT and she gave me the answer: Muñoz’s. Professors of political science, sociology, religion, business – the gamut – can be resources.

With a little bit of exploration, expanding your sources is easy.

Georgiana Vines is retired associate editor of the Knoxville News Sentinel and an active member of the SPJ Diversity Committee. 

Journalism in Belize: A positive meeting & public opinion

On Thursday I had my meeting with Mrs. Jane Bennett and Dr. Sharmaine Saunders at the Belize City branch of the University of the West Indies (UWI) Open Campus.

I am happy to report that we will be moving ahead with plans for a week of workshops about journalism in June! My original idea was 3 days or so, but both women think four days of half-day workshops would work best.

They loved my idea of kicking things off on a Monday evening with a symposium or open forum about the journalism status quo in Belize.  This would provide a venue for both media professionals and the general public to ask questions and even vent.

So far, the workshops will include:  Investigative journalism; effective interviewing techniques; interpersonal communication (many journalists are criticized here for a lack of professsionalism in their demeanor with interview subjects, newsmakers, etc.); open records and meetings laws in Belize; media management; and using multimedia.  I plan to draw on local experts as well as volunteers from the US (myself included).

Any SPJ’ers who would be interested in volunteering to lead a workshop on one of the above topics, let me know!  You would have to pay your own freight, but staying with a host family here could probably be arranged.  Keep watching this blog for information on the final dates.  I want to stress that the goal with these workshops is not to impose American values and traditions on Belizean journalism.  Read my entry “Blogging from Belize,” for my philosophy about this undertaking.

Last night I was reminded once again how engaged Belizeans are with their media.  I attended a little get-together of women at the home prominent local attorney Lisa Shoman.  Lisa was Minister of Foreign Affairs under the last administration and also served as ambassador to the United States.  Lisa and her guests talked about several issues:

* The ethics of interviewing children without permission from their parents. This conversation centered around a TV news story in which the reporter interviewed Guatemalan schoolchildren along the border who were crossing over to Belize to attend school illegally.  Related to this issue: a recent story about a custody battle showed the child in question and delved into the private lives of the foster mother and birth mother to a degree that many at the gathering last night found beyond the pale.

* Too much pontificating.  Lisa called talk shows a Belizean “national pasttime!” A dynamic and healthy public conversation about important issues is one thing, but the extent to which journalists use their programs as platforms for their own personalities and biases was objectionable to several of the women at the soiree.

* Lack of professionalism. The women agreed that local journalists can come across as insensitive, rough, crude, and even offensive in interviews with newsmakers and Joe Public.

* Rambling stories.  The guests said on air and in print, stories are repititive and too short on actual information and compelling content.

Even with all its flaws — as I have stated previously — Belizean journalism is vigorous, dynamic and vital.  Journalists here are poorly paid but passionate.  Most are well-intentioned and tireless in their efforts to give voice to the voiceless.

That’s all for now.

Blogging from Belize

On Sunday I depart for Belize, so my two weeks as writer for this blog will be coming to you from the tropics.  It’s the only English-speaking nation on the Central American mainland and gained independence from Great Britain in 1981.

DSC01031

So why I am going to Belize? Well, I was born there and have lots of family and friends who still live there.  I plan to do plenty of the cool stuff you can do in Belize, including visiting a Maya ruin I have not yet seen, hanging out on the beach, and — I hope — cave tubing.  But, there will be some journalism involved as well.  I will be meeting with two faculty members at theUniversity of the West Indies branch in Belize City, with an eye to returning later in the year to run a journalism seminar over two or three days.

Not only is Belize the definition of diversity in terms of its people, the local media scene is rich and varied and vigorous.  For a country with a population of around 300,000 there are plenty of opinions and voices on air, online, and in print.

DSC00738

Based in Belize City are the following outlets:

Amandala

The Belize Times

The Reporter

The Guardian

Channel 5 (News 5)

Channel 7 (Channel 7 News)

KREM-FM

LOVE-FM

WAVE-FM

In the districts one can find:

EstereoAmor (Radio)

CTV3

Fiesta FM

Ambergris Today

San Pedro Daily

San Pedro Sun

Toledo Howler

Placencia Breeze

The Star

And these are just the ones I know of!  Radio is especially vibrant, with news, local culture, music, and talk shows that hit hard at politicians and business big wigs. Before independence there was just one station called “Radio Belize,” which was run by the government. It used to air everything from news and music, to death announcements (radio and TV stations still do this), and messages to and from lost or missing persons from concerned family and friends. Several Belizean newspapers today are associated with one political party or another.  The Reporter (which my mother Zee Edgell founded in the 1960s) and Amandala tend to be the most independent, but bias is apparent at times.

DSC00676

In short, Belize’s media scene — like its democracy — is messy, imperfect, well-intentioned, and — as I’ve mentioned — diverse. There is no code of ethics for Belizean journalists to follow, at least none that I know of.  Recently, both TV news outlets in Belize City showed the dead bodies of an adult and an infant on the air.  When I commented about this on Facebook, I got more than a dozen comments from Belizeans — journalists and non-journalists — criticizing the stations.  Information in the same story can diverge wildly from outlet to outlet, from name spellings and ages to the actual facts.  Opinion and bias are rampant in Belizean newspaper stories; I’m talking about fact pieces here, not columns or editorials. Newspapers also print press releases verbatim.  These are just a few of the issues that I’ve run across as I follow Belizean news coverage from here in the USA.

So, I ask myself:  What, if anything, I can I contribute?  I don’t think it’s up to me to “fix” or change Belizean journalism.  So, I did a little survey last year about what journalists there might like to see in a journalism seminar or conference.  Respondents variously characterized the Belize media as amatuer, intensely competitive, fair and balanced, and biased. They described journalists as self-taught, amateur, and dedicated to their profession.  One-hundred percent of the respondents said they would like to see continuing education for journalists (there are no formal university journalism curricula).  More than sixty percent wanted to see a strong professional organization for journalists and a code of ethics.  The top subject areas that interested the journalists? Investigative techniques, interviewing techniques, media management, the laws of Belize on open records, and multimedia basics.

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The thing that resonated with me the most was that more than ninety percent of the respondent said they love their profession and can’t see themselves doing anything else.

So, this seminar that I may do later this year could turn out to be part skills-based, part conversation about what Belizean journalism is all about and what it can be in the future.

Stay tuned.

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