Archive for September, 2017


The matter of facts (and their ethics)

Twitter has become a popular way to disseminate news. (Photo: Pixabay)

There is no question that social media has enhanced our abilities to disseminate information and to inform audiences about the events of the world. But alongside that ability has come a culture where anyone, with a click of a button, can publish anything, be it true or not.

A recent article from the American Press Institute recently considered the role journalists have in the Twitter age when it comes for information, and why Twitter, despite its frustrations in this noisy and competitive environment, is still necessary for journalists.

Yet, it also asks this: What should journalists do when it comes to information on the social network itself? Should we give facts or let the Twitter universe take care of itself?

SPJ’s Code of Ethics encourages journalists to seek truth and report it – that neither speed nor format excuses inaccuracy, and also calls on journalists to be accountable and transparent. That is especially the case when it comes to reporting on Twitter.

As journalists, we should be advocates for the truth. We must verify everything, check our sources, cross every t and dot every i. We do so knowing in good faith that the truth will help the public be better informed so they can take the information presented away to make important decisions in their own life. As the debate continues on the quality of information available, we have a responsibility to present the facts, and let our audience make up their own minds, not to tell them what to think.

The API also cites a study from the Nieman Foundation at Harvard University, which says that newsrooms “don’t consistently take the time to correct misinformation on social media.” While audiences have a right to express their views about the day’s events, the facts are presented as they are – fact, with no editorial judgment. Journalists should promote them and advocate for them.

But this raises a broader question. What does it mean to not only be a journalist in the Twitter age, but what does it means for the relationship with journalists and audiences? We ask these questions as the relationship changes with as fast a pace as the social networks themselves, and the words fake news continue to become a prominent core of the lexicon.

Understanding that relationship and making it better requires work that cannot be confined to 140 characters, and work that cannot be done overnight. In an age where the line between news and opinion is blurred, and where drama takes precedence over the sober presentation of information, there are simple things that can be done now by news organizations – including labeling opinion as opinion, and verifying every last detail before running with the story (remember the maxim – it is better to be right than be first).

Yet, it’s more than that. It involves the conversation with audiences and the public, the emphasis on media literacy in schools, and the need to fully emphasize the teaching of ethics in the curriculum of journalism programs at universities to ensure that for the next generation of journalists, they can do ethical journalism in a time where technology continues to evolve.

No one person can do this by themselves. We need to collaborate, not compete, when it comes to the advocacy of facts, when it comes to the need for journalism, when it comes to enhancing the relationship between journalists and audiences. We need to do this not just for our sake, not just for journalism’s, but for democracy’s sake.

The facts matter. The truth matters. Journalism matters, and as so long as a need for the facts exist, so long as the necessity to seek truth and report it is evident, irrespective of platform, we should, and we must, advocate for it – because if we don’t, who will?

Alex Veeneman is a freelance journalist who writes for publications in the US and the UK. He also serves on SPJ’s Ethics Committee. You can interact with him on Twitter @alex_veeneman.

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.

Seek truth without abuse

The BBC’s Laura Kuenssberg, who has been subjected to abuse online for her reporting. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons/CC)

Over the last couple of days, Laura Kuenssberg has received attention for something that should not be a norm.

Kuenssberg, the BBC’s political editor who is the primary point person for the organization when it comes to British politics, was reported to be accompanied by a security guard as she covered the conference for the Labour Party, the opposition in Britain’s House of Commons.

Kuenssberg had been subjected to abuse online for her reporting, and prominent names in the Labour Party have called on its leader, Jeremy Corbyn, to condemn it.

While the report of Kuenssberg being accompanied by a security guard has not officially been confirmed, it is not the first notable instance of security being needed for attacks against female journalists. When she covered President Trump’s campaign, NBC News reporter Katy Tur had received protection from the US Secret Service during a series of personal attacks. Trump has continued to criticize journalists, notably saying recently that journalists do not “like our country.”

Journalism is a fundamental part of the principles of democracy, and the ability for journalists to hold those in power to account without restrictions or repercussions is quintessential to upholding those principles. Any attack against a journalist, irrespective of medium, impedes their ability to serve the public. Further, an attack on journalists is not just an attack on the profession itself, but an attack on democracy.

Women’s contributions to journalism are essential for the profession to survive, and they are contributions that should not be taken for granted. This egregious abuse directed at Kuenssberg and other journalists, be it covering politics, culture, sports, economics, or other beats, should not be tolerated. No journalist should be subjected to it, and as Gaby Hinsliff, a former political editor of the British newspaper The Observer put it, it has no place in a democracy.

The ideas of women in journalism is something that should be championed, not criticized. I support Kuenssberg and the work of female journalists around the world who inform, engage and educate. They must be able to serve the public without restrictions or abuse, and do what is at the core of SPJ’s Code of Ethics – seek truth and report it.

I support them, and quite frankly, so should you.

Alex Veeneman is a freelance journalist who writes for publications in the US and the UK. He also serves on SPJ’s Ethics Committee. You can interact with him on Twitter @alex_veeneman.

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.

A need to collaborate

“Journalism is a team effort.”

That was how Jake Tapper, the chief Washington correspondent for CNN and anchor of The Lead and State of the Union, described the profession as he accepted the John F. Hogan Distinguished Service Award from the RTDNA at the Excellence in Journalism conference Friday night.

CNN’s Jake Tapper said that journalism is a team effort. In order to enhance its future, it must be a team effort. (Photo: nrkbeta/Flickr)

Tapper added that in this journalism climate our standards need to be raised amidst assault from leaders and trolls, and described journalism in this time as the golden age of journalism.

“Being under assault by trolls and foreign governments doesn’t mean we lower our standards,” Tapper said. “It means we raise them.”

As my colleagues gather for the last day of EIJ in Anaheim, Calif., Tapper’s remarks from the night before have resonated with the community and emphasized the need for the vivacity of journalism in this climate.

But Tapper’s remarks have raised, in my mind, a million dollar question. In this age where social media and the internet have influenced how audiences consume journalism, changed our thinking about stories – and where a debate has been raised about clicks versus authenticity, what does this mean for us as individual journalists? What does this mean for our ability to produce quality, ethical journalism?

The Society’s Code of Ethics emphasizes that it is better to be right than be first, and that neither speed nor format excuses inaccuracy. But in this digital age, it is more than just about being right than first – it is the need to promote the need to pursue the truth, and to reinforce to the public why journalism is important.

While it’s an exciting time to be in journalism, the challenges present are ones that no one person can combat by themselves. This is not the time to compete to stand out and be the best. Instead, it’s time to work together as an industry to show the world why journalism is important, and help this marketplace of ideas assist the profession we love, so all of us can be the best.

Journalism enriches the spirit and advances one’s education. We do that through telling stories that inform, engage and educate. Though the mediums will evolve, journalism will remain a constant, and it is down to us as individuals to protect these values and ensure they remain the hallmarks of why journalism is fundamental to democracy – and the only way that can be done is collaboratively, not competitively.

Because after all, journalism, as Tapper put it, is a team effort, and when we’re at our best – the people who matter in journalism, the audience, are too.

Alex Veeneman is a freelance journalist who writes for publications in the US and the UK. He also serves on SPJ’s Ethics Committee. You can interact with him on Twitter @alex_veeneman.

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.

Words to the EIJ wise

Raney Aronson-Rath, the executive producer of Frontline, seen with David Fanning, the executive producer at large in 2011. Aronson-Rath wants to uphold the values of a free press.
(Photo: Peabody Awards/Flickr)

When Raney Aronson-Rath began her journalism career at an English language newspaper in Taiwan in the early 1990s, she witnessed the emergence of a free press, in a time where the country was undergoing significant political reforms.

Aronson-Rath, now the executive producer of the PBS documentary program Frontline, said that witnessing that was an a-ha moment, a moment that would provide guidance to the work that she would do in the future.

“Growing up in America, I had taken the ideas of a free press, freedom of speech, and democracy for granted,” Aronson-Rath wrote in an essay for Current, a magazine for public media professionals. “I never would again. I realized how important it is to protect those ideas, and I decided at that point to commit to journalism as my career.”

Roughly two decades later, the a-ha moment she saw in Taiwan emerged in a new form for me, in suburban Chicago. In the Spring of 2009, I had a medical trifecta which resulted in me completing my junior and senior years of high school as a homebound student. As the days saw me going back and forth with my mom to a plethora of doctor’s appointments, the nights saw insomnia, a side effect of the medications I was taking.

What exactly could I do in those hours so I wouldn’t wake my mom and sister? I turned to the radio – public radio, to be precise, something that night and during the course of my recovery became a friend in the hours where one truly felt isolated and scared. I grew curious about the role stories could have, written and spoken, and the impact they could have on the world.

The values that Aronson-Rath wanted to protect soon became ones I wanted to protect too, as I knew that I wanted to go to college and pursue a career in journalism – and that’s exactly what I did.

This week, my SPJ colleagues are gathering in Anaheim, Calif., for the annual Excellence in Journalism conference. It is a culmination of the current journalism year in which we get to celebrate some of the best and brightest people in this industry.

It is also a time to reflect and to ponder about the future of journalism, and for that matter our crafts, in an age where the cultures of the internet and social media are leading the way in reinventing how we think about both – and how we can be authentic.

The timing of EIJ is also apt – as this month also marks the 50th anniversary of when the House of Representatives passed the Public Broadcasting Act of 1967, which also created the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. When President Lyndon Johnson signed it into law that November, he spoke about what would come of the Act, and how public broadcasting would enrich one’s spirit and advance the education of the people.

Enriching one’s spirit and advancing the education of the people are hallmarks of all quality journalism. Like our colleagues in public media, we are storytellers, with the desire to inform, educate and engage, with the hope, as this announcement from WGBH put it, help people “cope better with the world” and their own lives.

It’s hard sometimes, especially for young career journalists like myself – with the blunt, uneasy criticism of the Trump Administration, as well as the general economic outlook of the profession – to know that the work you do can matter to your audience. Reminders that the ability to do such work exist help along the way.

It is in that spirit that I’d like to introduce you to the people who occupy a building just off of Cedar Street in St. Paul, Minn., where it just so happens that the organization that employs them is celebrating their 50th birthday this year.

That building is home to Minnesota Public Radio, and the corporate headquarters of American Public Media, home of national programs like Marketplace, The Splendid Table and A Prairie Home Companion, and who distributes the BBC World Service to public radio stations across the US. In that building are people who put their family, friends and neighbors first – who care deeply about the ability to enrich the spirit of Minnesotans and Americans, and advance the education of the people, so they can be at their best.

Indeed, it, and the reminder of why journalism remains important to democracy, is made known on a t-shirt linking the start next Sunday of Flyover from MPR News, a national call-in program.

Since that night in 2009, I’ve had a soft spot for them – a soft spot that has grown exponentially since moving to the Twin Cities. Indeed, that soft spot applies to all who work in public media, and all who look to uphold the importance of a free press and the fundamental role journalism has in democracy, through the output produced each day.

Fred Rogers said that life is for service – and as life is for service, then journalism remains the most important profession you can choose to have a career in. Working together, we can uphold the values of journalism in a democracy, promote the need for quality, ethical journalism and help people be at their best.

If we won’t do it, who will?

Alex Veeneman is a freelance journalist who writes for publications in the US and the UK. He also serves on SPJ’s Ethics Committee. You can interact with him on Twitter @alex_veeneman.

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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