Archive for the ‘Ethics’ Category


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.

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.

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.

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.

The social question

There is no question that social media has challenged how audiences consume journalism, but it has raised several ethical concerns, notably surrounding the algorithm. But not enough is being done, nor is enough being asked about it.

That was a point Jon Snow, a presenter of Britain’s Channel 4 News, raised this week in Edinburgh, Scotland. Giving the James MacTaggart Memorial Lecture at the Edinburgh International TV Festival, Snow said that few questions have been raised by news organizations about the social network’s reach, despite the positives presented for organizations.

Snow said that two organizations had held such a monopoly over the world’s information – Facebook and Google.

“We are in an age where everyone from Trump downwards is a publisher,” Snow said. “In any given year, more photos and more information is published than in any decades of the 20th century.”

Snow said also that the reach is down to the whim of Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg, and raised concerns about the issue of accuracy versus viral content.

“He says he cares about news, but does he really?” Snow said. “Or does he care about keeping people on Facebook?”

Snow made a final call for action to Facebook to take action.

“Facebook has a moral duty to prioritize veracity over virality,” Snow said. “It is fundamental to our democracy.”

Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s CEO. Facebook has faced criticism for a lack of transparency surrounding its algorithm. (Photo: Anthony Quintano/Flickr)

At its F8 conference in California earlier this year, Facebook has acknowledged that it hasn’t been the best in communicating measures on the algorithm. But despite that acknowledgment, more needs to be done.

The Society’s Code of Ethics calls on journalists and media organizations to be accountable and transparent. Though Facebook itself is not by nature a traditional media company, it is the curator of much of the information that is published by other news organizations.

It therefore owes it to journalists, news organizations and audiences, to explain its algorithm in detail, why it does what it does, and the impact it has on the relationship between the social network and news organizations.

Today, it announced what is a small step in that direction, by hiring Liz Spayd, the former public editor of The New York Times. A Facebook spokesperson told the technology news publication Recode that Spayd would “help expand early moves to chronicle what it does related to everything from terrorism to fake news to privacy.”

Considering Spayd’s work as a public editor, as well as with top journalism publications, the insight she will provide will likely help Facebook develop its public face, especially when it comes to its relationship with journalists and news organizations.

The ultimate question is if Zuckerberg will take her suggestions seriously and implement them, and whether the priorities, as Snow put it, will be on news, or keeping people on Facebook.

These are questions that must be asked, and journalists should not be afraid to ask these questions – despite the relationship their employers have with the social network. Journalists would not be doing their job if these questions weren’t asked and ensuring Facebook is held to account. The rule also applies to Twitter, Google and other platforms where information is curated and disseminated.

There have been positives for news organizations when it comes to outreach on social media, whether it comes from exposure to new audiences or new ways to publish and disseminate the news. But the algorithm’s prioritizing of stories that no longer appear to be accurate is discourteous not just to the social networks, but also the profession and practice of journalism itself. It also is discourteous to democracy and to the audiences we serve.

The more these questions are asked, the more this is discussed. So let’s keep asking them – so that we as journalists can set out to do what we do each day, irrespective of platform – seek truth and report it.

Editor’s note: This post was updated at 3:34pm CT to reflect the hiring of Spayd by Facebook.

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.

An ethical education

President Trump will not change his behavior towards the media. It is down to us to educate the public about the importance of journalism. (Photo: Gage Skidmore/Flickr)

“I don’t know what to make of the news. But I promise we will cover it with fairness and without fear. We work for America.”

That is how Scott Simon, the longtime NPR correspondent and host of Weekend Edition Saturday, put it on Twitter at the end of a day where the relationship between the media and President Donald Trump was a lead story, coming off of a press conference that had been considered to be combative.

The press conference took place days after the attacks in Charlottesville, Virginia, amidst criticism of conflicting statements on the attacks from The White House.

Hours before that press conference, Trump had retweeted a tweet depicting a CNN journalist being run over by a train. The tweet has since been deleted.

Criticism of the media by Trump is not new, as he has utilized Twitter to criticize the media on multiple occasions. Indeed, as CNN’s Brian Stelter wrote in last night’s Reliable Sources newsletter, Trump was reported to be furious about media coverage of events Monday evening.

It has been clear for sometime that Trump’s behavior towards the media will not change, as my SPJ colleague, Ethics Committee chair Andrew Seaman wrote last month (for the record, I also serve on the Committee). As a result, the focus within the industry must shift towards educating the American people on the importance of journalism and its role in civic life, instead of responding to Trump’s criticism.

This education is necessary, but it is also quintessential in an age where Americans increasingly get their news online and on social media. New data from the Pew Research Center shows that roughly 9 out of 10 Americans get their news online, and social media is at the core of online news consumption.

Changes on attitudes towards the media will not change overnight, and it will take some time as well as many conversations, both internally and externally, to have an impact on the relationship with journalists and their audiences as the digital age.

Yet, SPJ’s Code of Ethics provides some ideas on how journalists can start this education with their audiences now. That said, here are some tips on how to best go about it.

  • Be honest with your audience. Whether it is uncertainty about a piece of information, or making a correction, tell them about it and explain why you did what you did.
  • It’s better to be right than first. Twitter and the web is seen as a race to be the first person with the story, but it isn’t. Take the time to get everything right before you hit publish.
  • Tell them about it. When you’re making a correction or decide to delay running with a story, have a conversation with your audience as to why this is so. An honest journalist is a credible journalist.
  • Cite early and often. Cite any reports from any organizations as you report a story. Corroborate any reports.
  • Verify everything. It’s so nice it’s worth saying twice! As the Code says, neither speed nor format excuses inaccuracy, so take the time to ensure everything is correct in your story. Remember – it is better to be right than first.

We are truth seekers – and in the digital age, the truth is more important than ever. We owe it to ourselves to remember the importance of ethics, to talk about ethics and to not be afraid to do the most important tasks of all as journalists – informing, educating and engaging our audience.

As Simon said, we work for America – and it is for them, and no one else, that we get up each day, sit down, and do what journalists set out to do – seek truth and report it.

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.

The pros of verifying

Twitter has become important for disseminating information, but you need to make sure its accurate before publishing. (Photo: Pixabay)

Last Thursday, the UK held a general election which saw a hung parliament. It also saw negotiations begin on a minority government between Prime Minister Theresa May and the Conservatives, and the Democratic Unionist Party in Northern Ireland.

But as the news of the election results came down, so did a statistic on youth voter turnout – which indicated that 72 percent of voters between 18 and 24 voted.

There was widespread praise as the statistic was tweeted near and far, as the issue of young people participating in elections had been raised over the course of the campaign.

There was one problem though – it wasn’t proven to be true. As a result, it raised many questions by journalists and from other observers as to its origins, which began from a voting organization that supports the youth vote, and later tweeted by MPs, political advocates and others.

When all was said and done, it was a talking point on Twitter, and it got the attention of many news organizations, as attempts to verify the claim were made.

Twitter has its pros and cons when it comes to journalism, but one of the issues is that of the quality of information. The Society’s Code of Ethics encourages journalists to seek truth and report it, but most of all, neither speed nor format excuses inaccuracy.

What happened on Twitter that election night serves as a reminder that verifying information is important, even more so in this digital age where anyone can publish anything, whether its true or not.

Here is a guide when it comes to publishing verified information, especially on Twitter.

Don’t run on first instinct: If you’re aware of reports of something, be it politics, business or otherwise, don’t assume its right. Just because Twitter and other platforms are new doesn’t mean the rules surrounding ethics change.

Be honest and forthright: Tell your audience you are trying to confirm the information. Then make inquiries and try to figure out what is going on. Being forthright allows you to be a more credible journalist to your followers and beyond.

Don’t be afraid to cite: Be specific about the reports – you can either quote the tweet or cite the user. Explain to audiences how you’ve spotted the claim and anything you’ve been able to find. Yet, don’t cite endlessly, cite when you feel it is warranted.

Once you’ve confirmed it, tweet it: You have sought the truth, and you now know it is true. Now report it.

Disseminating information on social media is a part of journalism today – ensuring its verified helps ethical journalism thrive on social media. Credibility on the platform is important more than ever, and if you take the time to ensure everything is accurate, people will come back to you for the truth.

When faced with dealing with information that may not be true, remember – it is better to be right than be first. You’ll be a better journalist as a result of it.

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.

Ethics by algorithm

Facebook needs to be more open about its work to help journalism thrive. (Photo: Pixabay)

Facebook’s annual F8 conference began today in San Jose, California. F8 is a two-day conference designed to examine and look ahead to new features for developers and other parties who want to use the social network as part of their work.

The business of journalism and the business of social media have been synonymous. As I wrote on this blog last month, content is king, and with benefits also came questions, notably that of the algorithm, and how it judges the content that users see. Criticism had been made of Facebook for not being transparent enough about it, and news organizations had raised concerns about the algorithm.

The most recent concerns came from Kurt Gessler, Deputy Editor for Digital News at the Chicago Tribune. In a piece published today on Poynter’s web site, Gessler raised concerns about the algorithm as the Tribune worked to engage its audience on Facebook, noting that a third of the Tribune’s posts were not being surfaced by Facebook, causing a decline in the organic reach of the newspaper. This occurred despite a growth in the number of people who like the Tribune’s Facebook page.

Adam Mosseri, speaking today at F8, acknowledged that Facebook had not been the best in communicating its changes to news organizations and publishers. Mosseri also shared some insight into how the algorithm determines what content goes to users.

Mosseri also said that Facebook was training the algorithm to detect content and flag content, in light of the video that emerged this week from Cleveland where a man allegedly shot an elderly person – something my SPJ colleague, Ethics Committee chair Andrew Seaman, wrote about on Sunday. (Disclosure: I’m a member of SPJ’s Ethics Committee.)

Mosseri said that the social network needed to react more quickly.

Mosseri also said that the social network was considering a new discovery tab that for content audiences might be interested in.

While its uncertain if the Discovery tab will come to fruition, it will likely again cause changes to social strategies for news organizations when it comes to their relationship with Facebook.

Facebook’s role in journalism is unprecedented, and today’s discussions were a step forward in helping understand a couple of important aspects about its role, and what is ahead. However, more needs to be done.

SPJ’s Code of Ethics calls for journalists and news organizations to be accountable and transparent. Though it is not referred to as a media company, Facebook is by nature a media company, and it too should be transparent, whether it comes to issues about its algorithm, its news feed, or new features.

This transparency helps not just journalists who look to Facebook every day as a way to disseminate the news (be it through posts on pages or via Facebook Live), but also audiences who consume news, a reason why Facebook continues to have a significant amount of users.

The business of social media has become a core part of the future of journalism. In order for it to be at its best, it must be open about what it does. While today’s discussions are a step forward, more questions need to be answered and more conversations must be conducted, led by either journalists or Facebook, in order to help journalism thrive as we try to assess its future in the digital age.

We must also do this for journalists’ most important task of all – that irrespective of platform, journalists continue to do what the Code of Ethics encourages from the start – seek truth and report it.

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

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

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

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