Championing women every day

Margaret Brennan of CBS News interviewing former Secretary of State John Kerry in 2015. (Photo: US Department of State/Flickr)

Next Thursday, International Women’s Day is observed – the day where women’s contributions to society, including in journalism, are celebrated.

Much of the conversation has been on the role of women in journalism in light of the #MeToo movement on social media and the sexual harassment allegations against prominent male media figures, including Mark Halperin, Charlie Rose, Michael Oreskes, Garrison Keillor, Harvey Weinstein, and most recently, Tom Ashbrook.

Recent statistics from the Women’s Media Center, a nonprofit group in Washington, showcase a wide gender gap in journalism. On television, 74.8 percent of men report news compared to 25.2 percent of women. The 25.2 percent figure is a decline of last year’s amount of 32 percent of female reporters. PBS Newshour features the most female reporting versus the big three networks (PBS had 45 percent of content reported by women, versus 12 percent at ABC and 32 percent at both NBC and CBS).

In print, no outlet achieved gender parity. Men write 61.9 percent of the news, while women report 38.1 percent of the news. The widest gap is at the New York Daily News, where women write 24 percent of content compared to 76 percent of men, followed by USA Today (70 percent by men, 30 percent by women) and a tie between The Denver Post and The Wall Street Journal (66 percent by men, 34 percent by women). The New York Times has 61 percent of content written by men versus 39 percent by women, and The Washington Post has 57 percent of content written by women versus 43 percent by women.

On the web, men received 53.9 percent of bylines. At the four sites surveyed, The Daily Beast saw 38 percent of its bylines go to women, followed by CNN at 45 percent, The Huffington Post at 49 percent, and Fox News’ web site with 50 percent. At The Associated Press and Reuters, Reuters has more women having bylines than at the AP – 39 percent compared to 35 percent.

Meanwhile, at NPR, staff diversity figures published in January show that 56.2 percent of its newsroom is women, an increase from last year’s total of 55.1 percent.

At SPJ, of the 23 seats on the Board of Directors, 13 of those seats are occupied by women, including national President Rebecca Baker, President-Elect Alex Tarquinio and Secretary-Treasurer Patti Newberry. In its network of 5 communities, four of them are either chaired or co-chaired by women, while of its 9 committees, 6 of them are chaired or co-chaired by women. Additionally, Alison Bethel McKenzie was today appointed SPJ’s executive director, becoming the second woman in the organization’s history to hold the post.

Women and men enter this profession for similar reasons – to inform, educate and engage audiences about the world around them. Women’s contributions to this industry are just as important as men’s, and their work is just as important in showcasing journalism’s potential – whether its holding the powerful to account in the government or in one’s own organization, or helping to connect the dots so the public can be at its best.

Indeed, the stories that have emerged in light of the #MeToo movement indicate that much more needs to be done when it comes to supporting women in journalism – not just taking on the gender parity at organizations, but also improving workplace culture. Women should be allowed to practice journalism and complete this important work free from fear of intimidation and abuse. We all do this work to ensure the public is at their best – it is essential that all who work in journalism are at their best too.

Many prominent women in journalism come to mind, from Margaret Brennan at CBS; Mary-Louise Kelly and Tamara Keith at NPR; Courtney Norris at the PBS Newshour; Raney-Aronson Rath of Frontline; Kristen Hare of the Poynter Institute; Tory Starr of WGBH in Boston; Laura Yuen, Cathy Wurzer (also of Twin Cities PBS), Meg Martin and Laura McCallum at Minnesota Public Radio to Beth Francesco at the University of Texas at Arlington; Briana Bierschbach at MinnPost; all the women who helped organize and who are members of the LA Times guild; Laura Davis of the University of Southern California; journalists Torey Van Oot and Katie Hawkins-Gaar, and women coast to coast who seek the truth and report it.

Their work indicates that journalism is still a necessity in modern society. Their contributions should never be overlooked nor taken for granted.

The kick ass women who work in journalism should also be celebrated, not just on International Women’s Day, but on this day, and every single day.

Alex Veeneman is a freelance journalist in Minneapolis and a member of SPJ’s Ethics and FOI Committees. You can interact with him on Twitter @alex_veeneman.

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


Obsessions over beats

The former building of the Dallas Morning News. The organization is focusing on obsessions rather than beats. (Photo: Antonio Campoy Ederra/Flickr)

It is a piece of guidance which is as established as the institution of journalism itself – as you work your way through school to get a degree, you form a specialism along the way. This specialism would guide much of the work that you would do during the course of your career.

Yet, the evolution of the landscape in the digital age has challenged the convention of that thinking. As social media and the culture of the internet impacts how one consumes news and how one disseminates it, the idea of a specialism or beat can appear rather outdated.

This opaque view, as a result, can also have an impact on work journalists do in the field. That view’s impact can be seen first hand, especially in the case of Sulome Anderson, who for many years was a freelance journalist based in the Middle East. She decided recently to return to the United States, after what she says was one of the worst years in her journalistic career.

“I can’t make a living reporting from the Middle East anymore,” Anderson said in an interview with the Columbia Journalism Review. “I just can’t justify doing this to myself.”

Anderson made this decision as the American news cycle continues to be driven by events surrounding President Trump. Though she says Trump was the not the direct reason why she made the decision to leave the Middle East, it suggests a wider problem.

“Open any American news outlet and it’s just Trump, Trump, Trump,” Anderson said. “When that’s the case, there’s very limited space for news that’s not about him. It’s just intuitive that foreign coverage would suffer. Everybody wants to write for these places, yet there’s a shrinking amount of space for [freelance] work, so we’re all just competing over scraps.”

Political stories, including talks for Britain to leave the EU led by British Prime Minister Theresa May, lead the transatlantic news cycle. (Photo: EU2017EE/Flickr)

Anderson’s story was one that resonated with me deeply, as much of the work I currently do is for audiences outside the US. Indeed, in a news cycle dominated in the US by President Trump, and in the UK with talks between the British government and the European Union on its future as an EU member, it can send the wrong message of what stories audiences might be interested in – and showcase that the subject, rather than the story itself, has precedence. Not only is it wrong, it is also discouraging.

So when a reporter for the Dallas Morning News, who I interviewed this past week for a project for the Freedom of Information Committee, mentioned casually to me the News’ focus on reporters’ obsessions rather than traditional beats, I became curious.

The idea came from Gideon Litchfield, formerly the Global News editor of Quartz. Instead of traditional beats and coverage of regular institutions, the focus would be “an ever-evolving collection of phenomena.”

““Financial markets” is a beat, but “the financial crisis” is a phenomenon,” Litchfield wrote on his blog discussing the thought process behind the move. ““The environment” is a beat, but “climate change” is a phenomenon. “Energy” is a beat, but “the global surge of energy abundance” is a phenomenon. “China” is a beat, but “Chinese investment in Africa” is a phenomenon. We call these phenomena our “obsessions”. These are the kinds of topics Quartz will put in its navigation bar, and as the world changes, so will they.”

Editors at the Morning News got wind of Litchfield’s ideas and found inspiration as they tried to figure out what their future was like in the digital age. These obsessions will not last forever – reporters will pitch one and report on it for roughly six months, according to a report from Poynter which looked broadly as the paper’s overall move to digital.

In this digital age, where the landscape is evolving as quickly as the news stories themselves, it has become clear that the story is more important than the beat. Audiences are looking for information about their world and how what is happening will impact their daily lives, and we as journalists try to help by informing, educating and engaging.

Quartz and the Dallas Morning News have done their part to stand out, and their approach of obsessions over traditional beats maintains the commitment for not only their audiences to be informed, but to allow their journalists to do meaningful work, and to tell stories that can make a difference.

Perhaps it’s time that we take a page from Quartz and the Morning News and adapt the obsessions over beats strategy in other newsrooms. The news is changing, and as the news changes, so should the idea of beats – for in this digital age, it is the story, not the beat itself, that should take precedence.

Alex Veeneman is a freelance journalist in Minneapolis and a member of SPJ’s Ethics and FOI Committees. You can interact with him on Twitter @alex_veeneman.

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


Lessons over coffee

Sitting down with a fellow journalist over a cup of coffee will benefit not just you, but your audience. (Photo: Pixabay)

At first, stepping through the side entrance located in a busy mall located in the Minneapolis Skyway, life appears to come to a screeching halt. In the middle of a Saturday morning, as a multitude of conferences, exhibitions and other events were taking place across the city, and the line of people stretched to near the door, there was still an element of life pausing.

It happened at a Starbucks in the City Center, during a pause in my sojourn to a journalism conference at a downtown hotel. I had seen the pausing element there before a few months earlier, on a weekday morning. It may have been before 9 on a Tuesday, but you wouldn’t have noticed that from many of those there.

It is this pausing element, in this Starbucks in the midst of a busy downtown, that has allowed this place to stand out in my mind, and is a symbolic reminder of one aspect of self-care – broadly not discussed very much in this industry – that needs to be practiced.

In journalism circa 2018, the daily news cycle takes the form of 4-5 stories breaking at the same time. News of layoffs are happening at just about the same time as a deadline prepares to breathe down one’s neck. For many journalists, be they early in their careers or have been working in the industry for decades, there have been many days where journalism circa 2018 can appear a bit much.

Yet, the focus remains on the work at hand. We bury ourselves in work, be it the freelancer whose work ethic is dependent on whether its feast or famine, the staff reporter competing against other outlets to break the very story that their community will be talking about the next day, or the editors ensuring every t is crossed and every i is dotted, making things work with all the tasks building up.

We bury ourselves in work and go about it, day in and day out. We bury ourselves in this work and don’t come up to the surface to breathe, for if we do, we fear that someone else will get that story, or that content demand may not be met, and that will come at a cost – the job.

The work may be getting done, but the way in which we do the work is doing more harm than good. We wonder what the point of all it is – if journalism was the right thing we were supposed to do for the rest of our lives.

The way we work in what is one of the most important professions in the world is harming not only ourselves, but also our audience, and it’s got to change.

One thing that can be done is simple – get a cup of coffee and sit down with a colleague, be it in your own organization or at another organization. Find out what they’re thinking, how they approach the changing landscape and their ideas on what it means to tell a story in the constant sea of noise.

Sitting down to have these conversations, be it at the Starbucks in the City Center, a coffee shop near the newsroom, or anywhere, is worth doing. A second pair of eyes to help consider what journalism means can change your outlook, reinvigorate your craft with new ideas, and ultimately, serve your audience better than you were before. It’s not only cathartic, but a necessity.

In the end, it is better for your audience, and yourself, to pause, to reflect, and to consider what it means to be a journalist in this digital age – and your industry colleagues can help you do that.

So take a few minutes out of your day to sit down with someone, cup of coffee in hand, and have a conversation. For those minutes, the news can wait.

Editor’s note: This piece was amended at 6:22pm CT for clarity.

Alex Veeneman is a freelance journalist in Minneapolis and a member of SPJ’s Ethics and FOI Committees. You can interact with him on Twitter @alex_veeneman.

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


The same old Facebook

Mark Zuckerberg’s new plans for Facebook have serious implications for journalists and news organizations. (Photo: pestoverde/Flickr)

“Nobody knows exactly what impact it’ll have, but in a lot of ways, it looks like the end of the social news era.”

That is how Jacob Weisberg, the chairman and editor-in-chief of The Slate Group, summed up Facebook’s planned changes to its News Feed last week. In an interview with The New York Times, Weisberg noted that while publishers have had declines to traffic by Facebook, no one was expecting the planned changes.

Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg, in a separate interview with the Times, said this was a way to maximize content with “meaningful interaction,” and saying the social network had studied what posts had stressed or harmed users.

“When people are engaging with people they’re close to, it’s more meaningful, more fulfilling,” said David Ginsberg, Facebook’s Director of Research, speaking to the Times. “It’s good for your well-being.”

The changes come amid continuing criticism regarding the social network’s algorithm, especially with its role in prioritizing inaccurate stories ahead of the 2016 elections. Facebook executives acknowledged to the Times that there would be some anxiety from publishers as to how to reach people.

The relationship between journalism and Facebook has been, at best, complicated. News organizations had looked to the social network in an attempt to expand their reach online, through articles or video content, to the social network’s over 2 billion users. In the short span of a few years, Facebook became a media company, and relied on the content as a way to keep users on the site.

There is however, one positive to the relationship between Facebook and journalism – the common thread of public service. Journalists saw Facebook as a way to inform, educate and engage audiences in the news of the day, and Facebook managed to accomplish its goal of keeping its users on the site.

Now, with the social network’s plans to share more of what friends and family share, there is great uncertainty as to how significant the impact will be – though it is suspected, according to the Times article, advertising revenue may be impacted, as well as shrinking audiences.

Journalism is a public service, and despite the uncertainty of what is ahead, one thing is for certain – the algorithm reigns supreme, and the public service values embodied by journalists and news organizations won’t be enough for Facebook to change its plans.

Alex Veeneman is a freelance journalist in Minneapolis and a member of SPJ’s Ethics and FOI Committees. You can interact with him on Twitter @alex_veeneman.

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


I stand with Carrie

As the Golden Globes prepared to get underway in Los Angeles, news came regarding a letter written by Carrie Gracie, a prominent journalist at the BBC. Gracie had stood down from her post as China Editor after it emerged that she was being paid 50 percent less than that of her male colleagues.

Gracie, in a letter posted on her web site, wrote that she had no interest in becoming the story, but said the broadcaster’s audience had a right to know what was going on, and accused the broadcaster of breaking British law.

“In the past four years, the BBC has had four international editors – two men and two women,” Gracie wrote. “The Equality Act 2010 states that men and women doing equal work must receive equal pay. But last July I learned that in the previous financial year, the two men earned at least 50% more than the two women.”

Speaking in an interview with the BBC’s Woman’s Hour program, Gracie said she was not after more money, but she wanted to be treated equal.

Others had commented using the hashtag #IStandWithCarrie.

The BBC made salary disclosures in 2017 which indicated a significant gender pay gap between its male and female presenters, and sparked a campaign by some prominent female BBC journalists to have the broadcaster fix the issue. Lord Hall, the Director General of the BBC, has pledged that the broadcaster would close the gender pay gap by 2020.

Incidents on gender pay gap however go beyond the BBC, and have reached to newsrooms in the United States. The Wall Street Journal had made headlines when it emerged that female employees were being paid less than their male counterparts. Separately, data from the US Census bureau indicate that women are paid 86 percent of what their male counterparts make.

Men and women who enter journalism do so to inform, engage and educate. They all have the same goals and have the same desire to do what is embodied in SPJ’s Code of Ethics – to seek the truth and report it.

We as an industry must no longer be complacent about how women are treated. Women’s contributions in journalism are equal, and they should be equal. There is no excuse or just reason to suggest otherwise.

In 2016, my colleague, Elle Toussi (who co-chairs SPJ’s International Community) and I co-signed a resolution at SPJ’s Excellence in Journalism conference in New Orleans, calling for the elimination of the gender pay gap and the support of women in journalism. That resolution included the BBC’s plans to make half its workforce women by 2020, and the Journal’s review of the gender pay gap.

It is essential that both organizations stand by their word, and that all news organizations strive to make an equal working environment for everyone, one that does not intimidate or cause fear, but one that values creativity and the contributions of all journalists.

Gracie’s message was clear when she said enough was enough, and I for one agree. While this is an issue that cannot be resolved overnight, we need to not only keep talking about it, but do something about it. Women are the future of this industry, and their work is vital in helping ensure the industry remains vibrant.

We can make these changes and we must, not just for the thousands of talented and kick ass women who dedicate their lives to quality, ethical journalism, but for journalism itself.

I stand with Carrie.

Alex Veeneman is a freelance journalist in Minneapolis and a member of SPJ’s Ethics and FOI Committees. You can interact with him on Twitter @alex_veeneman.

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


Passion in uncertainty

The need to seek truth and report it is more important than ever. If you want to do it, pursue it. (Photo: Pixabay/CC)

This past week, a column appeared in the Business section of the Minneapolis Star Tribune, encouraging students to find a vocation that they would find themselves useful in, instead of following their passion.

The observations of columnist Lee Schafer, intertwined with a conversation with a career counselor at Augsburg University in Minneapolis, argues that finding a job that one will be useful in should be prioritized over doing something that will make one happy.

“Vocation may sound a little like a life of toil for little pay, but it is a very useful idea when approaching a decision on any kind of work,” Schafer wrote. “All it really means is work that is worthy of respect and with a reward that is bigger than just a paycheck. Passion for your work sounds great, but by now it is pretty clear people have a tough time figuring out what will make them happy. It is a lot easier to figure out what will make them feel useful.”

While Schafer’s piece raises some interesting points, including the need for conversations about what it means to work, I disagree with its core thesis – finding a vocation for a vocation’s sake, instead of following your passion and finding something that makes one happy.

My disagreement derives from the story that led me to pursue work in what are uneasy times for the industry. If I hadn’t stumbled upon to the BBC World Service through public radio one night in March 2009 as I suffered from insomnia, it is likely that I would be doing something else – though I suspect I would have no idea what it was. I was encouraged to follow this passion I had for journalism despite the uncertainty.

We all have stories that led us to decide to pursue work in this industry. Journalism is a calling, and the need to inform, engage and educate people about the events of the time, as well as holding those in power to account still is a necessity.

However, I’m not naive to suggest that things are perfect in this industry. Yes, times are hard for journalism, and yes, prospects, especially for early career journalists like myself, are uncertain – as we debate future business models as well as how to maintain trust with audiences, especially in the digital age. At the end of the year, the questions are still present, as well as the uneasiness that comes with not knowing what is next.

When my mom on one occasion saw that the thought of these uncertainties was a bit much for me, and I was ready to give up, she asked what I would do if I did. I didn’t know, as I found what I had wanted to do in the first place. Perhaps the pros of finding your passion can outweigh the cons.

Fred Rogers famously said that life is for service, and as life is for service, then certainly one of the best professions to have in life is a role in journalism.

Last week, I resolved for journalism to keep itself honest in 2018. I’ll resolve for one more thing – if you have a desire to work in journalism, pursue it. Have conversations with people, be it in your local media, across the country or around the world, and, to quote my mom once more – keep going.

It may not be easy, but it’s better to pursue what you’re passionate about and what makes you happy, instead of finding something for the sake of it. Besides, we’ll be a better industry because of your work in helping us do what we set out to do – seek truth and report it.

Happy New Year.

Alex Veeneman is a freelance journalist in Minneapolis and a member of SPJ’s Ethics and FOI Committees. You can interact with him on Twitter @alex_veeneman.

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


Keeping journalism honest

Keeping journalists honest is something that will help journalism thrive in 2018 and beyond. (Photo: Pixabay)

It is said that the things that are the simplest are often the most important. This can be said in the case of honesty, for an honest journalist is a credible journalist. Whether its a breaking news story, a recap of the day’s events or an enterprise story, journalists owe it to their audiences to be honest in their reporting.

Yet, in a year where many questions about the future of journalism included ones about trust, honesty should go beyond reporting. It should include the overall editorial process.

In a recent study from three journalism professors, educating consumers about the journalistic process can reduce the appeal of conspiracy theories, especially those the study calls “politically tempting”. According to a report from the Columbia Journalism Review, the study is part of a series of academic work that suggests that transparency and openness about the editorial process can lead to things in news being seen as believable.

In an interview with CJR, Melissa Tully, an assistant professor of journalism at the University of Iowa, says the emphasis on understanding the link between journalism and democracy can help in reinforcing trust.

“News literacy tends to focus on content, trying to critically read an article, but we believe that people need to understand the industry side and the larger relationship between news structure and democracy,” Tully said.

Additionally, Stephanie Craft, a professor of journalism at the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign, says in a CJR interview that it is easier to teach people about how the media works rather than changing one’s political viewpoints.

Recently, I wrote about two examples of how news organizations were showcasing honesty – the first instance at the Washington Post with a series of videos on the fundamentals of journalism and the other being an interview with Raney Aronson-Rath, the executive producer of Frontline, as she put the principles of the program’s Transparency Project to the test on the project The Putin Files.

SPJ’s Code of Ethics encourages journalists and news organizations to be accountable and transparent and to curate such a conversation about the editorial process.

“Explain ethical choices and processes to audiences,” the code says. “Encourage a civil dialogue with the public about journalistic practices, coverage and news content.” (For the record, I serve on SPJ’s Ethics Committee.)

If journalists and news organizations were to make a list of New Year’s resolutions, then a more open conversation about what it means to be a journalist as well as the editorial process certainly should top that list.

We are known for holding those in power to account and (to borrow the name of the CNN TV segment) keeping them honest. Along the way, we must also keep ourselves honest and not be afraid to engage the public about what journalism means in daily life – whether its on the usage of anonymous sources in reporting or how a certain story was reported.

Recently, the New York Times, in its story on federal immigration policy under President Trump, included this paragraph.

While it is a start, more can be done by the likes of the Times and others in order to help restore audiences’ trust in the media.

A credible journalist is a forthright journalist, and a trusted news organization is an honest news organization – so in 2018, let’s strive as journalists to keep journalism honest – in the newsroom and in the public eye. The media ecosystem will be better for it, and so will the people that matter most in journalism – the audience.

Alex Veeneman is a freelance journalist in Minneapolis and a member of SPJ’s Ethics and FOI Committees. You can interact with him on Twitter @alex_veeneman.

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


Raney Aronson-Rath on transparency

Raney Aronson-Rath, Frontline’s executive producer. (Photo: Jonas Fredwall Karlsson/WGBH)

One of the biggest questions that journalism has faced over the course of the past year is how to maintain trust, in an era where the criticism “fake news” has become a norm. It is a conversation that is likely to continue over the course of the next year, as journalists and news organizations try to maintain trust with audiences.

For Raney Aronson-Rath, the Executive Producer of Frontline, the PBS investigative documentary program produced at WGBH in Boston, transparency is one of those solutions. In an essay for the Nieman Lab publication based at Harvard University, Aronson-Rath argued that transparency can be one of the ways that counteract recent high-profile criticisms of the media.

Frontline is no stranger to transparency. They’ve published transcripts of interviews that were conducted for their films for decades. Aronson-Rath said it was a tradition at Frontline, and had an impact on the work she did while she was a producer.

The Transparency Project, which Aronson-Rath runs with former Washington Post managing editor Philip Bennett, took that one step further, and was a way to help the public understand the thought process into the construction of the films.

“There is a skepticism about journalism in general,” Aronson-Rath said in a telephone interview. “We are facing a cluttered landscape.”

For their recent series, The Putin Files, which accompanied the film, Putin’s Revenge (its second part aired on PBS stations this week), Aronson-Rath wanted to put the Project to the test. The complete collection of interviews from all 56 sources was put online for all to see – 32 videos alongside transcripts, and 24 of them transcript only.

For Aronson-Rath, the basics are showing what they’ve gathered and uncovered, and to allow people who were skeptical or who raised questions access to the archives.

“When you’re doing transparency projects across the board, you may not know the amount of work that goes in, but now you know the amount of gathering and thought that goes into it,” Aronson-Rath said, adding that having the ability to emphasize what can be shown is a great way to do journalism in the public interest. “We welcome people under the intelligence gathering tent.”

Aronson-Rath believes in the health of the journalism and the news organization. She is clear to make sure that Frontline does not fall in any inadvertent silos, and was something she wanted to ensure when she took over as Executive Producer. The audience is important to Aronson-Rath as these stories come to light, irrespective of platform.

“I want to reach a wide range of people,” Aronson-Rath said. “That is at the center of Frontline – that we’re fair, we’re tough and we’re telling as much as we can.”

That call is shared in her belief of diversity with the ongoing conversation in the industry on workplace culture, amidst allegations of sexual harassment and assault against some prominent men in media.

“It’s important that women run things,” Aronson-Rath said. “It’s just as important as having diverse producers. I’ve always felt that women should be in positions of power. I hope more women join the senior and executive ranks.”

While transparency can help when it comes to relations between audiences and individual news organizations, it can also help with media literacy, and helping to distinguish fact from fiction. Aronson-Rath says news organizations and social media platforms have a dual responsibility when it comes to trust in media.

“We need to have a conversation on what it means to publish on the platform,” Aronson-Rath said.

Aronson-Rath takes an example from the magazines that are seen in the supermarket lines when you check out. You look at them thinking they aren’t true, but that has gotten more difficult for that to be recognized, especially in this multi-platform digital age.

Aronson-Rath says that for that to happen however, we cannot wait to let things change by themselves, and that news organizations and social media platforms have a dual responsibility to help with trust.

“My belief is that if we can teach people who are younger what a news organization is, what platforms they can trust – what is true, what isn’t and what is verified, we can see a difference,” Aronson-Rath said. “It is crucial.”

When all is said and done however, Frontline’s mission remains the same.

“We’re accountability journalists first and foremost,” Aronson-Rath said. “Criticisms do not change the standards.”

Alex Veeneman is a freelance journalist in Minneapolis and a member of SPJ’s Ethics and FOI Committees. You can interact with him on Twitter @alex_veeneman.


Investing in trust

The New York Times needs to consider the need for the role it abolished earlier this year – the Public Editor. (Photo: Jleon/Wikimedia Commons/CC)

“It’s part of the DNA here. If there is some kind of mess-up, I go into the newsroom and ask what happened, talk to editors and complaintants and come to an assessment about what we need to do. It’s so ingrained here people know they need to talk to me.”

That was how Kathy English, the public editor for the Toronto Star in Canada, summed up the role of the position, in an interview earlier this year with the Columbia Journalism Review. The conversation came weeks after The New York Times terminated its public editor role in favor of a Reader Center.

The Times established their public editor post in 2003 after a plagiarism scandal surrounding one of its reporters, Jayson Blair. In a piece in the Star shortly thereafter, English said that while the position itself may not resolve all of the questions of public trust, it is crucial that a representative of the reader be in the newsroom.

“I continue to see the benefit in readers having an individual, independent of the newsroom, who is empowered by the organization to assess the legitimacy of readers’ complaints, seek answers for readers and hold journalists to account for lapses in standards,” English wrote.

Indeed, my colleague, SPJ Ethics Committee chair Andrew Seaman, wrote earlier this year that the public editor serves an important role that the culture of the internet cannot duplicate, especially within the Times. (For the record, I serve as a member of SPJ’s Ethics and Freedom of Information Committees.)

“The public editor sent a message to people that the paper took their questions seriously and that there was an independent arbiter who heard their concerns,” Seaman wrote. “In a time when trust in the press is still low, that message is an invaluable one to communicate.”

SPJ’s Code of Ethics encourages journalists and news organizations to be accountable and transparent for their work and for their actions, and to explain those decisions to the public.

Not many news organizations have people in the role of public editor, or ombudsman. Two notable examples are Elizabeth Jensen at NPR and Madhulika Sikka at PBS, and though the culture of the internet and social media has had an impact on how audiences consume journalism and how they respond to it, it does not serve as a reason to scrap the role and concept of public editors altogether.

With the scandals surrounding prominent male journalists and media personalities this past year, as well as continued questions about trust in light of an error at ABC News and rampant criticism from the Trump administration, public editors’ roles as ambassadors for readers are quintessential. They are integral to the foundation of the relationship between audiences and news organizations, and maintaining trust.

The Times was right to create the Public Editor position 14 years ago, and were wrong to remove it 14 years later. In 2018, it is time the Times (and for that matter, other news organizations) consider the need for a Public Editor – and if maintaining trust and being accountable outweighs long-term costs.

I’ll give you a hint. It does.

Alex Veeneman is a freelance journalist in Minneapolis and a member of SPJ’s Ethics and FOI Committees. You can interact with him on Twitter @alex_veeneman.

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


An external conversation

One of the pressing questions journalism is facing is how outlets can restore the trust of the public. Last week, the Poynter Institute held a summit to discuss journalism ethics (which SPJ’s national president, Rebecca Baker, attended), which coincided with the release of a media trust survey.

During the summit, one way that the Institute found to help combat questions of trust is to be transparent about the reporting process.

Days after that event, The Washington Post began a video series which looks at the journalism process. The first installment looked at the story surrounding sexual harassment and assault allegations against Roy Moore, the Republican candidate for the vacant Senate seat in Alabama.

Reporters Beth Reinhard and Stephanie McCrummen were candid about the process that led to the story, from on the ground reporting in the state to the meticulous amount of vetting that followed, as they tried to put the story together.

“We needed to be very careful in vetting information, and making sure that the people we were talking to didn’t have an ax to grind,” Reinhard said. “Every sentence, we went through, and vetted, and with a story with so many details, it was painstaking fact-checking.”

McCrummen was asked about the interviewing process and how sources are treated, as some sources in the Moore story had expressed reluctance of going on the record.

“The first meeting was just a chance to hear her story in a way she felt comfortable telling it – which was off the record,” McCrummen said. “I try to treat someone how I would like to be treated, and I’m really interested in what the other person has to say. That’s why I’m there – I’m there to listen.”

McCrummen adds that applies irrespective of the desire to go on the record.

“I see my role more as offering a chance for people to go on the record or to tell their story if they want to,” McCrummen said, adding that it was much better to present a more human element when it came to reporting.

SPJ’s Code of Ethics, as part of the need to be accountable and transparent, encourages journalists and news organizations to encourage a conversation about the editorial process and to be transparent about it, a view shared by Poynter.

What the Post has launched is a necessity in helping the public better understand the role of journalism, and other news organizations should follow suit, utilizing the platforms they have available to them, in an age where anyone can publish anything, whether or not its true – and the words “fake news” continue to become a norm as reporters carry out their work. Indeed, the more conversations journalists can externalize about their own future, the more that can be done in order to helping the public understand why journalism is and must continue to be a quintessential part of our democracy.

While the question of trust is something that cannot be solved overnight, the Post’s actions are a start in helping the public understand the role of journalists in the 21st century. More organizations should take the time to do the same – for it benefits everyone, and helps us all to better understand a fundamental goal of journalism – seeking the truth and reporting it.

Alex Veeneman is a freelance journalist in Minneapolis and a member of SPJ’s Ethics and FOI Committees. You can interact with him on Twitter @alex_veeneman.

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


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