Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Journalism ethics: The old oxymoron

In a recent op-ed in the China Post, Joe Hung revisits an old argument in journalistic circles after two cable TV networks were disciplined for airing fabricated video footage, forcing senior staff to attend journalism ethics lectures.

“Most practicing journalists, including editors, consider school inculcation to be of no use and a sheer waste of time,” Hung writes. “Some academics, however, insist that professional ethics have to be taught, though they lament there are few qualified instructors and little literature in this specific field of study to draw on.”

The first half of Hung’s characterization has a measure of truth – an editor told me recently that journalism ethics is nothing more than “get it first, and get it right.”

But his lament is dated, not to mention inaccurate, as he asserts that the only graduate journalism ethics class is taught at his alma mater, Southern Illinois University.

Not so, as I’m about to realize as I take the class next semester at UBC.

But, more importantly, Hung’s analysis is rooted in an old mindset that sees journalism as just the making of a daily paper.

In today’s multimedia, instantaneous, user-generated, global world of journalism, there’s a lot more to think about than getting it first and getting it right. We’re revisioning journalism, and thankfully we’ve got forums to do it.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Online transparency

In an experimental move last week, Google News added a feature that allows story interviewees to post their comments alongside stories from news organizations around the world, ushering in a new era of transparency in reporting.

Although this move may sound like the solution to inaccurate quoting and journalists with their own agendas, it also undermines one of the core reasons journalists exist -- to filter through the spin of interviewees with their own agendas.

The comment section will be heavily regulated, requiring interviewees to email Google with contact information and proof that they were part of the story. But it could still become a mess of public relations spin and irate subjects lashing out at journalists.

It also appears as though Google might have its own agenda in implementing this device -- ousting its main competitor Digg, with its user-powered aggregation system and comment section as the web's most democratic site.