Posts Tagged ‘information’

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.

Ethics: Twitter style

Twitter has become essential for journalists, but the ethics rules haven’t changed. (Photo: Pixabay)

In spite of financial concerns outlined last week where its stock prices fell 11 percent, Twitter continues to play a dominant role in the world of journalism. Whether its consuming news, disseminating information or gathering material for a story, Twitter has become ubiquitous with journalism, while journalism has become an essential component of the business of social media.

Yet, while Twitter is still one of those new platforms, it isn’t exempt from the rules and ever-evolving practices of ethical journalism. Journalists need to remember to practice these ethics on the social networking platform, in an age where accusations of fake news and post-truth have had connotations for journalists working on the web.

The Society’s Code of Ethics encourages journalists to practice journalism through these four key principles – Seek truth and report it, minimize harm, act independently, and be accountable and transparent.

That said, here are five things to consider when disseminating information on Twitter – with a twist, done in 140 characters each (or less).

Be accurate: Neither speed nor format excuses inaccuracy, so take the time to make sure all of your facts are right before you post.

Be forthright: Don’t know something? Trying to confirm the accuracy of information? Tell your audience. An honest tweeter is a credible tweeter.

Be cautious: Ask yourself: Is the information you post helpful to your story? Will it inform? Or are you tweeting for the sake of tweeting?

Be accountable: We make mistakes – we’re human. If something is wrong, fix it. Issue a correction and explain what you did. Be upfront.

Be accurate: It’s so nice its worth saying twice! Remember the old maxim – it is better to be right than to be first.

Twitter can be helpful for journalists, but also hinder them. Keeping these key points in mind, you can make Twitter work for you and do the most important thing possible – 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.

Accuracy in an algorithmic age

In order for it to be effective with users, Facebook must present accurate and fair information. (Photo: Pixabay)

In order for it to be effective with users, Facebook must present accurate and fair information. (Photo: Pixabay)

This week, it emerged that the editors behind the Trending Topics section at Facebook had been fired, and that the algorithm would be at the core of finding stories that users would want to hear about.

It hasn’t gone quite as planned. The notable instance came last Saturday about a story surrounding the Fox News presenter Megyn Kelly. It had been reported that she had been removed from her position after she said she was supporting the Democratic presidential nominee, Hillary Clinton.

That story was not true, emerging from the EndingFed news web site, a web site that had not been listed on the trusted media sources list utilized by editors, according to a report from The Guardian newspaper in Britain.

There were also concerns of content that would be offensive also being a part of the trending topics, including a man filmed doing a questionable act with a McChicken sandwich from McDonald’s.

Many users around the world look to Facebook for news on the go, and to engage in conversation about that information with their friends. Because the social network is a significant platform in the dissemination, it is bound by the principles of journalistic ethics, even though it is not a media company itself. The principle extends to the information that is made available in the trending topics section.

The SPJ Code of Ethics says this about the release of information:

“Neither speed nor format excuses inaccuracy.”

The public are entitled to accurate information to help them over the course of their day, no matter the subject.

Yet, The Guardian report adds, the dismissal of the editors was said to be a long-term plan, with a source saying that the trending module would have learned from curators’ decisions and be fully automated.

The relationship that Facebook and the public has when it comes to the algorithm has proven to be controversial. While it is mutually beneficial for news organizations and the social network to have content appear for the purposes of engagement, the public are still entitled to accurate and fair journalism, no matter how they are consuming it.

It is therefore imperative that Facebook exercises these ethics and emphasizes the need for accurate and fair information. In spite of the toxic workplace concerns raised, the editors who helped curate those trending topics helped the social network do a service in ensuring the information that was made available was accurate.

If Facebook wants to have a better relationship with its users, and indeed the wider journalism community, not only must it be transparent, but it also must be an advocate for accurate information, and showcase it in its trending topics. Otherwise, Facebook will become simply something commonplace in digital media today — just another social network.

Alex Veeneman, a Chicago based SPJ member and founder of SPJ Digital, is SPJ’s Community Coordinator and is 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.

Data, Data Everywhere

My eyes and thumbs comb through medium after medium, prowling the Internet for the next sensational story, the latest updates from my friends, and the most cutting-edge scientific research.

TwitterTumblrFacebookPinterestInstagramSnapchatGoogle … Repeat.

It’s hard to imagine living in such an age where we don’t know about the forthcoming announcement of (yet another) Republican presidential nominee, or the release of Apple’s latest music makeover.  Even the things we don’t really want to know, we know –– just who was Hillary Clinton emailing during her Secretary of State term?  What Harry Potter house were all 486 of your friends on Facebook sorted into, according to BuzzFeed’s evaluation of your taste in Getty Images?

In an information age as overwhelming as our own, the amount of data at our fingertips can seem just as mind-numbing.  What do we do with all of this information, present-day journalists ask themselves?  How can we tell these stories, with so much info on, often, so little a scope?

‘Data journalism’ seems to be the term savvy storytellers are throwing around these days to combat our fear of information overload.  Their jobs are to mine the spreadsheets of the latest census in search of interesting data sets, or track down the frequency of drivers running a red light in Los Angeles, California –– and make it into something an audience wants to look at.

Digesting data, and how to showcase that data for consumers, is a booming business right now.  Even the New York Times published a letter on their Upshot blog this week, called “Death to ‘Data Journalism.’”

Why death to data journalism, you ask?

Because ‘data journalism’ is, really, a false reality.  A new-fangled term coined for another face of modern storytelling.

Just because journalists are administering newly compiled and accessible data to a public hungry for news doesn’t mean the objective changes.  The game is still the same: create engaging, intellectually stimulating content for readers and viewers everywhere.

The interviewees in this short video on data journalism have it right: data journalism will soon (and hopefully) become just plain, old journalism again, once readers have gotten accustomed to writers with this much access to information.

We will soon come to expect that our country’s journalists have the tenacity to sort through piles of records requests, along with getting that saucy quote from the mayor and the damning image of his ex-wife.  It’s all part of the package, and that makes the stakes that much higher.

It’s an exciting new age of journalism.  Higher expectations, but a higher reward from the public you serve.

So don’t be confused by terms like ‘data journalism,’ ‘print journalism,’ even ‘photojournalism.’  Because in the end, it’s all part of the story.

Bethany N. Bella is studying Journalism, Environmental Studies and Sustainability Policy at Ohio University’s E.W. Scripps School of Journalism. Connect with her on Twitter @bethanynbella or browse her work at

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

Fund your digital media idea – there’s lots of money out there

Cross posted at the SPJ Works blog.

Anyone who listens to NPR more than once in a blue moon probably remembers the catchy plugs for sponsors such as the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, which has granted millions to public broadcasting (and others) to support journalism “ … in the digital age.”

Click image for Knight Foundation report

Click image for Knight Foundation report

Similarly, journalists and industry followers even mildly interested in digital media trends are likely familiar with the Knight Foundation’s popular Knight News Challenge, a five-year, $25 million initiative that annually seeks innovation submissions from journalism and information technology entrepreneurs.

Continuing its quest to research and fund digital-age projects supportive of quality journalism, Knight commissioned a study from Arabella Philanthropic Investment Advisors on 29 “media, information and communication contests.” Of course, the News Challenge is included in the analysis.

Some highlights:                           

-Knight currently gives away the most annually, with $5 million, though Google will soon supersede that with its $10 million Project 10100.

-The amount of submissions per contest ranges from a few dozen to over 12,000.

-Sponsors and funders come from all sectors, including government, non-profit, education, and for-profit. The sector that sponsors the most contests (not surprisingly) is foundations, followed by for-profit technology companies.

But the analysis is not a competition among groups vying for the title “best funder.” Rather, the report highlights (very concisely, in my opinion) the various funding opportunities for those interested in sharing information on constantly changing digital platforms.

Plus, it’s not all journalism. Many of the projects and programs highlighted are for the more technical-minded: application developers and telecommunications gurus.

But there’s a general theme: Sharing information – either through published/broadcast news reports or over social media networks – is a critical component in the Internet age. Whether journalism entrepreneurs or computer science whizzes seek the money is moot. The point is that there’s a lot being done to spur and spread information-sharing technology. And there’s plenty of room for more players, both funders and seekers.

Scott Leadingham is editor of SPJ’s Quill magazine and spends way too much time on Twitter (@scottleadingham) following industry news.


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