Getting ready for Monday’s class

We are going to have a great class Monday. It will be even better if you come prepared.

First, Mark Garfinkel, a staff photographer for the Boston Herald, will be joining us at 1:30 p.m. to talk about the ethics of photojournalism. Please be on time. In addition to the reading on the syllabus, you will want to spend a little time with his website, Picture Boston.

Second, a little later in the class we will have a brief virtual discussion with Paul Bass, the founder and editor of the New Haven Independent, about the ethics of whether to identify the names of people who are being questioned by police but who haven’t been charged with a crime.

What prompted my invitation to Bass was a decision by most Boston media not to identify a Rhode Island man who is being investigated for his possible role in the alleged terrorist plot that ended in the shooting death of a Boston man on Tuesday.

To prepare for our discussion, I want you to read two pieces. The first is a short commentary I wrote for WGBH News on Thursday. The second is an excerpt from my book “The Wired City.” Although I hope you will read the entire excerpt, please zero in on the last section: “On naming (and not naming) names.”

Please come prepared with questions for Garfinkel and Bass.


Examining the news from Nowhere and from Somewhere

Quoting “both” sides (as if there were only two) versus doing the hard work of reporting in order to find what Watergate legend Carl Bernstein calls “the best obtainable version of the truth” — this is the essence of the dichotomy between the mindless objectivity disparaged by Jay Rosen as the View from Nowhere and the far superior View from Somewhere.

Last week you were asked to come up with examples of each. Here’s what you found.

Carly Metz offers two stories from The New York Times. The first, on abortion rights in Kansas, might be called a she-said/she-said article. The second, on a controversial rape case at Columbia University, makes a real attempt to find out what actually happened. “With its explaining of both sides, as well as providing more information and not mindless quoting of others that allows the journalist to get off scot-free, I felt that this story was a clear cut view from somewhere,” Metz writes.

Diane Keusseoglou found viewlessness in a BBC summary of a Washington Post story on gun violence in the United States — and a point of view in a Reuters article on climate change. Rather than simply quoting partisans, Keusseoglou tells us, “The report explains that the UN goals for climate change might be unachievable according to recent data, but that on the other hand there is still hope that certain goals can be met.”

Rather than comparing two stories, Lamaan Gallal has some thoughts on objectivity, writing that “it is not enough to report both sides of a story, without doing in depth reporting and investigative work. Depending on who is reading, a journalist will always be seen as taking sides or showing bias towards one side or another.”

Mackenzie Nichols highlights the value of personal experience by telling us about Charlene Smith, a journalist and sexual violence counselor who has written about her harrowing experience of being raped in South Africa. “Her ‘view from somewhere’ has been particularly influential as she educates her readers by using her own story of sexual violence,” Nichols says.

A recent BBC story on the debate in the U.S. Senate over the Patriot Act exemplifies the View from Nowhere, writes Molly Dunn: it is “well written and concise,” but “its focus is on the disagreements about the Act in the Senate, not on the Act itself.” By contrast, a recent opinion piece in The Boston Globe by Dante Ramos makes a strong argument that the Fung Wah bus line should be given another chance.

Here is Monica Cole‘s solution to the problems posed by overly simplistic notions about objectivity: “If something is wrong or unhelpful to people in understanding an issue, then it shouldn’t be reported on. Why give a voice to the misinformed when they are misinformed and simple journalistic research can be done to prove this?”

Sara Al Mheiri examines a BBC news story and a Washington Post opinion piece about a Supreme Court ruling that a young Muslim woman was discriminated against for wearing a hijab to a job interview at Abercrombie & Fitch. Al Mheiri saw value in both stories, but says of the commentary, “You get the feeling that the reporter is someone of similar ethnic background who somewhat deals with the same situations.”

When covering restrictive new voting laws, Tom Culman writes, The New York Times generally does a good job of explaining that such laws are aimed at solving a problem that doesn’t exist. But Culman cites an example of false balance in a Times story on the subject — and a response by the Times’ public editor, Margaret Sullivan.

Kareem Fahim of The New York Times betrays no hint of bias in reporting on political prisoners in Egypt, says Zeina Abu-Hijleh. By contrast, she notes that Peter Abraham of The Boston Globe indulges in rather caustic opinionating in describing the 2015 Red Sox. “It can be argued that maybe in sports one does not need to be objective,” Abu-Hijleh writes, “but at the end of the day, if you’re writing for the Boston Globe and you’re hating on the Red Sox, people aren’t really going to like you.”

Thinking (and blogging) about the Rolling Stone debacle

Please write a 200- to 300-word blog post in the form of a memo to Jann Wenner, publisher of Rolling Stone. It might be hard to contain your thoughts, so if you go over a little bit, that’s all right.

Imagine you are an outside consultant who’s been brought in to give Wenner advice on how to prevent something like the flawed UVA rape story from being published in the future. What are your recommendations? Be as far-ranging as you like. You could recommend anything from changes in reporting and editing techniques to personnel changes.

Make sure your post is up before class on Wednesday.

Your final project

For your final project, you will write a research paper on a topic of your choosing related to ethics in journalism. Your completed paper should be 2,500 to 3,000 words long. If you were printing it out, a paper of that length would comprise eight to 10 double-spaced pages. But you will be posting it to your blog.

You may select your topic and structure your paper however you see fit. The only rules are these:

  • Find a topic that has generated plenty of news coverage. Avoid cases we have discussed extensively in class.
  • Set forth a clear and specific argument.
  • Back up your argument with examples from your research.
  • Make sure your writing is polished and accurate, and that you proofread for errors.
  • Be sure to provide proper and full attribution, linking to your source material when possible or citing it in the text if it is not online.

Choosing a topic: Start by figuring out what aspect of journalism ethics interests you. You may choose any of the areas we have explored in class or anything else that is relevant to the practice of ethical journalism. One way to get the gears moving would be to review “The Elements of Journalism.” (The full text is available in hard copy and online through Snell Library.)

From there, narrow your focus and develop a particular angle by zeroing in on a specific ethics-related theme. If you are sure whether your topic will work, please run it by me. Part of the assignment, though, is for you to define an angle. Do not expect me to hand you a topic.

Format: Posted to your blog, including relevant photos, graphics or video.

Deadline: Your paper must be posted by Thursday, June 25, sent to me by email by Monday, June 29, at 10 a.m. Once I have returned your edited, graded paper, please post it on your blog.

My attribution: This assignment, including much of the wording, is based on one developed by Professor Alan Schroeder.

Important news about your final project

I have made a significant change to the syllabus that you need to be aware of. I have eliminated the requirement that you turn in a draft of your final project on June 11. Instead, your project must be posted on your blog by Thursday, June 24, at 10 a.m.

You are all free to visit me during office hours to discuss the progress of your project. We might also devote some class time to it.

I expect to post the details of the assignment in the very near future.