Archive for the ‘Current Events’ Category


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.

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.

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.

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.

Lessons from Katie

Katie Hawkins-Gaar’s contributions to journalism go beyond The Cohort newsletter. (Photo via LinkedIn)

The newsletter appeared near the top of my inbox, as it always does, on a Thursday every couple of weeks. Yet, the particular edition of this newsletter was special, as it signaled the passing of the baton, and allowed for an opportunity to pause and to reflect on the important work by its author.

I refer to The Cohort, the newsletter written by Katie Hawkins-Gaar of The Poynter Institute. Katie announced this week that she is leaving Poynter on December 15, and that edition of The Cohort, the 42nd one, was the last she would write.

While Katie isn’t going too far (she is going to continue the Leadership Academy for Women in Digital Media, under contract with Poynter among many things), her contributions to journalism and understanding its future has been quintessential, not just for the general industry, but for the people who work in it.

The idea for The Cohort came during the review of applications for the second Academy initiative, according to Kristen Hare, her colleague and editor of The Cohort. Katie wanted to do something for the women that weren’t selected to the Academy.

It was clear straight away that the Academy initiative was in good hands, Hare says, as it was a perfect fit for her skills and talent. Yet, Katie wanted it to be more than that, and wanted everyone to benefit, whether or not they were selected.

“She wanted to bring as many people to the party as possible,” Hare said in a telephone interview. “It was meant to be a way to share what was learned at [the Academy] and it very quickly transformed into this ongoing conversation and support group for women on how to thrive and survive in digital media.”

Samantha Ragland, Manager of Digital Entertainment Strategy for the Palm Beach Post in Florida, was part of the 2016 Women in Leadership Academy class, and says that while Katie knew The Cohort was going to be big, her focus was on one-on-one – making it feel like it was just you and her.

“That woman is a light,” Ragland said in a telephone interview. “It is a light that does not intimidate other people, but inspires. She’s bright. She’s humble.”

Katie’s work however goes beyond The Cohort. In addition to her work as Digital Innovation Faculty she also was one of the people behind the 40 Better Hours initiative, in order to create a better working environment in newsrooms. Hare says that a key lesson from her was about process.

“She is really good at not just building but how to do it – this whole idea that anyone can work smart if you follow a process,” Hare said. “She’s really devoted to helping people figure out processes that make work and life better.”

Hare says that transparency and integrity also stand out with Katie – things that have fit in with the recent conversations surrounding sexual harassment allegations against prominent men in journalism, and how newsrooms respond to it.

When the news of her departure emerged, there were many in the industry (this writer included) that were shocked to hear this. Hare said she had three reactions.

“As editor of The Cohort, I am devastated for that audience because I know that she has a voice that will be impossible to replace,” Hare said. “As a co-worker, I’m lost because she is one of those people who just makes the place better and brighter. As a friend, I’m confident that she is doing the right thing. Her intuition is never wrong. I get the added bonus of having her in my life.”

Despite the concerns, Hare knows Katie’s work at Poynter will be a part of the legacy that she has in enhancing journalism – letting voices be heard.

“Her impact is giving a voice to The Cohort – her lasting legacy still will be amazing,” Hare said.

Ragland says involving as many people as possible and her impact on a number of women in journalism will also be a part of it.

“She reaches behind and brings people up with her,” Ragland said. “Katie set a standard for women in leadership. More and more women are going to feel an opportunity and see opportunities to mobilize and to uplift other women in media. That is going to be an important part of her legacy. The last thing is for us to go backwards. We want to go forward.”

Katie has helped journalism go forward in abundance, but also has given us a necessary reminder of why we need voices like Katie in order for the industry to survive. For Elite Truong, a product manager at Vox Media, Katie’s work is about connecting journalists and making them feel welcome. She makes people feel that they aren’t alone, be it through her writing and otherwise, and Truong says helping people to be better is a part of her legacy.

“It wouldn’t be what it is without Katie,” Truong said.

Katie had one goal in mind with all of this work – to help people to be at their best. That remains a necessary goal in an age where journalism continues to evolve, and how we make sense of its evolution. This was emphasized not just in the work she has done at Poynter, but a message she emphasized in interviews, including one she gave to me for Twin Cities PBS earlier this year. She cares about journalism and its people, and knows how much of a difference it can make, and is not afraid to make that known.

Last year, I argued that Debussy’s Reflets dans l’eau (Reflections in the Water in English) was an analogy for journalism. The composition, written based on the speed of ocean water, was a metaphor for the changes journalism was going through, but no matter how far those changes went, journalism would still be a constant.

Based on the conversations I had today and what I’ve heard, I’ll argue that the analogy applies to Katie’s work, in that no matter the changes that are ahead, or the answers that come from the debate on what journalism will be like – her support and her work will always remain a constant to continue to make journalism stronger.

So, here’s to you Katie. Thank you for being the supporter journalism needs more than ever. Thank you for being an idol, showing us that authentic and meaningful things can be done. Yet, most of all, thank you for being journalism’s friend.

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.

Matt Lauer and a transparent industry

NBC News has said it has fired Matt Lauer, the longtime co-host of the Today Show. In an email to staff, Andrew Lack, NBC News’ chairman, said a complaint was received on Monday night, and that a review of that complaint led to the termination of his employment.

Lack added that NBC News management was saddened about the events, and aimed to be as transparent about the news as possible.

Today co-anchor Savannah Guthrie made the announcement as the Today Show went live in the Eastern Time Zone.

Matt Lauer, seen here in 2012, was fired from NBC News this week for allegations of sexual harassment. (Photo: David Shankbone/Wikimedia Commons/CC)

The news of Lauer’s termination of employment comes a week after CBS fired Charlie Rose, the co-anchor of CBS This Morning, and that PBS terminated the distribution deal of his eponymous talk show.

While the subject can be difficult, it is necessary for journalists to be held to account. SPJ’s Code of Ethics encourages journalists and news organizations to be accountable and transparent. Producers at Today were right to make the announcement, and they handled it as they would other stories.

Indeed, as my colleague, Ethics Chair Committee Andrew Seaman, wrote last week, there is a need for journalists to be held accountable, and for journalists themselves to hold their newsrooms accountable. For the record, I also serve on the Ethics Committee.

Guthrie added that media organizations were going through a reckoning that is long overdue. Issues women in journalism have faced are limited to not just sexual harassment, but also issues of trolling and harassment on social networks, a debate that has reached no clear answer from social media companies.

NBC must keep its word to be open and transparent about this issue. Just because he is one of the most prominent journalists on the network does not excuse the behavior. Women enter journalism for the same reasons as men – to inform, engage and educate, and they should be able to do that in a workplace free from intimidation, bullying, or anything that impedes the ability to do just that.

The conversations about our industry are important ones to have, and companies must be transparent about it – whether the issue is sexual harassment allegations or whether its policies on trolling and the impact on the relationship journalists have with their audiences on social media – because transparency will benefit the public in the long run when it comes to trust in news organizations.

NBC can, and must be transparent, not just for its own sake, but for journalism’s. I hope they keep their word and do just that.

Editor’s note: This post was amended at 9:39am CT to amend a typo.

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 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.

Letting our principles lead the way in the time of social media

The alerts pop up in the right-hand corner of my screen in quick succession, each one more heartbreaking than the last.

“Possible attack in Barcelona.”

“In La Rambla and I think a car or van has driven through the pedestrian part.”

I begin tracking the accumulating tweets, reaching out in Spanish and English to scared and confused tourists and locals alike.

“Are you safe? Can you tell me what you saw?” I ask them.

Graphic videos come in without warning, showing motionless, bloodied bodies strewn across the famous boulevard. It’s difficult to imagine something so awful happening in the heart of one of the world’s most beautiful cities, but soon, it becomes clear: this is terrorism.

As a member of my network’s social newsgathering team, safely ensconced in a New York City newsroom, I can only glean the horror from my computer screen, in shaky cell phone videos, or over the phone with witnesses struggling to grasp what has just taken place. I, on the other hand, have seen this many times before.

As smartphones and apps have become so ingrained in our lives, news now breaks almost exclusively on social media. It is a blunt, yet indispensable tool in a network’s newsgathering efforts.

NBC’s Becky Bratu says we must not forget values of humanity when reporting on events through social media.

I am part of a 24/7 team that monitors the fire hose that is global social media for any inkling of an unfolding event – and there have been lots of late. These platforms have given us an ability to cover stories in areas not immediately accessible to a US based news operation.

We no longer need to fire up a satellite truck and camera crew to get to the news. We can watch it almost as it happens. On Facebook or Twitter, the distance between a reporter and her source disappears, but our journalistic ethics, standards, and professionalism shouldn’t.

Our team is trained to move fast, finding witnesses and verifying content from the scene in an event’s immediate aftermath, knowing that we are competing against reporters in newsrooms all across the world.

With shrinking attention spans (and news cycles), I wonder sometimes if these faraway fellow journalists also stop and think about our guiding principles: seeking the truth, being accountable and, perhaps most importantly, minimizing harm.

In the wake of a mass shooting in rural Texas this month, Dallas Morning News reporter Lauren McGaughy wrote that the media that descended upon the small community of Sutherland Springs in such large numbers and with so many satellite trucks in tow, owed the grieving town an apology.

“You’re more than a hashtag,” she said.

“As journalists, our role as observers and investigators in times of tragedy is important. But so is our empathy and our humanity. As a profession, we must have a conversation about how best to chronicle horrors like this. We can do better.”

We should do better. As social platforms have given us access to an infinite amount of sources and stories, regardless of our organizational resources, we must not forget our humanity. We should bring compassion for those struck by tragedy or involved in traumatic events, even as we work from behind a Twitter avatar.

In an effort to establish a set of common principles and in accordance with our company’s practices, a colleague and I developed a social newsgathering ‘boot camp’ with an emphasis on the standards that should be met in our reporting.

Teaching it to dozens of people throughout the company, we highlighted the importance of making sure people are safe before we ask them to tweet at us, as well as the need to protect a source’s personal information. I am hopeful that this small initiative, as well as broader ones led by nonprofit groups such as First Draft, will better equip us to, in their words, “address challenges relating to trust and truth in the digital age.”

As the attack in Barcelona unfolded, I managed to connect on the phone with a life-long resident who had witnessed the carnage up close. I hoped to honor his generosity (and courage) in sharing his first-hand account with our audience, as our mission remains, first and foremost, to inform the public.

Social media gives us a new toolkit in serving this mission, but our principles should lead the way.

Becky Bratu is a reporter based in New York. She has been working with NBC News for more than six years in various roles, most recently as a reporter on the social newsgathering team. She has also written for NBCNews.com on topics ranging from Catholicism to wine investment. She can conduct interviews in five languages, one of them her native Romanian. Bratu holds a Master’s degree from Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism. In her spare time,
she has been learning to code. You can interact with her on Twitter here

The views expressed 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.

Twitter and the truth

Two tube stations within London’s Underground were reopened after reports emerged that shots were fired on Oxford Street in central London. In a message on Twitter, British Transport Police, which looks after trains and the subway network, said there was no such evidence of gunfire.

Transport Police responded alongside officers with the Metropolitan Police. According to a statement from the Met, they responded as if the incident was terrorism related. The cause of what happened is under investigation.

News organizations in Britain and internationally began reporting on the incident, as Oxford Circus’ tube station is known to be one of the busiest in the system, and central to much of London’s shopping areas and cultural life. As that news was reported, many saw the information disseminated on Twitter.

Twitter has become a way for audiences to get information quickly and to stay informed in a fast paced news environment. Yet, while there have been pros for journalists in using Twitter, there also have been cons – particularly on whether or not its credible, whether the tweet comes from a civilian or a British pop star known for a song in which his heart skipped a beat.

No matter who the person is receiving (or trying to disseminate) news, getting the right information out is essential. SPJ’s Code of Ethics encourages journalists to seek truth and report it, to cross every t and dot every i, and advises that neither speed nor format excuses inaccuracy. This applies to all platforms, including and especially social media outlets like Twitter.

If you’re reporting a breaking news story on Twitter, here are some tips to remember:

  • Verify everything: If its a photo or testimonial, try to contact the user behind that to verify what happened. Vet the material before you use it, whether in an article or on the air.
  • Cite with caution: If you come across a report about a story you’re covering, consider if it will be helpful to you in your coverage. If you cite it, mention the report as you try to confirm information.
  • Be transparent: A forthright journalist is a credible journalist. If you get something wrong, correct it. If you’re not running with something because of uncertainty, explain why. Even if you’re retweeting a report, add a note at the top of the tweet for clarity and explain why its important.
  • Don’t tweet for tweeting’s sake: As mentioned above, if you find a report, consider if it will be helpful to you in your coverage. Will it help more than harm? Will it help the public as you tell the story? Would it benefit your friends, family or neighbors if you were telling them? Think twice before retweeting.
  • Verify everything: It’s so nice it’s worth saying twice! You have an obligation to get the most accurate information out to the public possible. Remember, it is better to be right than be first.

In the world where the news cycle has become fast paced, the goal of getting accurate information out to the public has not. So when you take to Twitter, and bear these tips in mind, you can show anyone, even that pop star, why the need to seek truth and report accurately is crucial.

You’ll also reduce the amount of skipping heartbeats along the way.

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 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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