Discussion questions for the October /November 2008 issue, along with suggestions for further readings on the ethics of befriending sources via social media, the handling of coarse language in stories, the future of newspapers and the digital transformation of National Public Radio.
Story 1: "To Friend or Not to Friend?" | Story 2: "Language Barriers" |
Story 3: "The Elite Newspaper of the Future"
Story 4: "The Transformation of NPR"
STORY 1: "To Friend or Not to Friend?: Should reporters befriend their sources via social media?" By Steven Mendoza
MORE INFO FROM
THE STORY: "Does becoming friends on social media sites change the reporter-source relationship?" Mendoza asks. Craig Whitney, the standards editor at the New York Times, argues that being a "friend" on Facebook is "essentially meaningless. ... So it's hard to imagine any real conflict of interest could arise." But, he adds, reporters shouldn't spell out their political views on social networking sites. Other reporters and editors offer cautions against getting too close to sources and avoiding even the appearance of a conflict of interest.
CLASS RESEARCH ASSIGNMENTS AND DISCUSSION:
Ask students to imagine that they're running a news Web site or other news-gathering operation. What guidelines would they put in place in an ethics manual for employees regarding allowable conduct on social networking sites? Students should not only draft their written guidelines, but include their reasoning. They should be prepared to discuss the language in class.
Invite in a panel of professional reporters and editors to talk about ethics in the digital age. Some possible topics: Should reporters "befriend" sources on social networking sites? Should reporters "lurk" in chat rooms for stories? Should they be permitted to go undercover in chat rooms for stories? (See OJR story linked below, from Robert I. Berkman.) Should reporters be permitted to have personal blogs outside the newsroom? Should reporters be permitted to blog opinions for their news organizations on topics they cover as beat reporters? (See link to Kevin Rector piece below.)
After the panel discussion, ask students to expand their ethics manual guidelines (see bullet one), to incorporate other digital-age topics.
RELATED COLUMNS AND STORIES:
- "Social Media Pose Digital Dilemmas for Journalists," by Professor Alfred Hermida, in the June 8, 2007, issue of Journalism Ethics for the Global Citizen at the University of British Columbia.
- "Virtual Communities Spark Coverage Ideas as Primary Season Ends," by Mallory Tenore, in the June 4, 2008, issue of PoynterOnline.
- "Murky Boundaries: What are the guidelines for the personal blogs of journalists who work for mainstream news organizations?" by Kevin Rector, in the June/July 2008 issue of AJR.
- "In Your Facebook: Why more and more journalists are signing up for the popular social networking site," by Kelly Wilson, in the February/March 2008 issue of AJR.
- "What Journalists Should Know When Using Social Networking Sites," by Al Tompkins, in the Oct. 17, 2007, issue of "Al's Morning Meeting" on PoynterOnline, with a 3-minute podcast of two media lawyers talking about invasion of privacy issues.
- "Found in (My)Space: Social networking sites like MySpace and Facebook are valuable sources of information for journalists," by Jason Spencer, in the October/November 2007 issue of AJR.
- "Is It Appropriate for Reporters to 'Lurk' in Online Chat Rooms?" by Robert I. Berkman, in the Feb. 18, 2004, issue of the Online Journalism Review.
STORY 2: "Language Barriers: The New York Times' handling of Jesse Jackson's crude remark about Barack Obama rekindles the debate about how news outlets should deal with coarse language." By Beth Macy
MORE INFO FROM
THE STORY: Macy reports that while the Los Angeles Times and the Chicago Tribune printed Jackson's complete remarks, the Washington Post said Jackson "wanted to castrate the presumptive Democratic nominee," while the New York Times simply described Jackson's remarks as "critical and crude" without quoting them. The coverage left journalists debating where the line against obscenities and vulgarities should be drawn. Did refusing to print crude remarks protect readers, or simply confuse them?
CLASS RESEARCH AND DISCUSSION:
Ask students to review obscenity and vulgarity policies at five major mainstream newspapers and Web sites of their choice. How do the publications define inappropriate language? In what instances - if ever - do they allow it in print? What exceptions have been made in the last three decades? Students should summarize their findings into a research paper, which they should be prepared to discuss with the class. Proper attribution and citations are required.
How do alternative magazines and weeklies - such as Rolling Stone and the Dallas Observer - handle
obscene and vulgar language? Arrange for a Skype videoconference
between at least one editor of an alternative publication and the class.
If the publication's guidelines are different than those of the mainstream media's, what reasons are given?
Does the class agree with them?
RELATED COLUMNS AND STORIES:
- "Numb Nuts; Newspapers Are Stupid," by Roy Peter Clark, in PoynterOnline's Writing Tools, July 15, 2008.
- "So Who the *#% & $+ Wants to Know? If an expletive makes print, shouldn't the Times print it? Whaddya think, Sam Zell?" column by Gustavo Arellano, Feb. 10, 2008, The Los Angeles Times, Opinion.
- "The Post Spreads the Word,"
column by ombudsman Michael Getler, in the Washington Post, July 4, 2004.
- "Language Barriers: What guidelines do news organizations use when it comes to publishing or airing offensive language?"
by Lori Robertson, in the November 2000 issue of AJR.
- "X-rated ratings?"
by J.D. Lasica, in the October 1997 issue of AJR.
STORY 3: "The Elite Newspaper of the Future: A smaller, less frequently published version packed with analysis and investigative reporting and aimed at well-educated news junkies--that may well be a smart survival strategy for the beleaguered old print product. " By Philip Meyer
MORE INFO FROM THE STORY: Meyer writes that the Internet is "as disruptive to today's newspapers as Gutenberg's invention of movable type was to the town criers, the journalists of the 15th century." It moves information "with zero variable cost," and its entry costs are low. This makes it possible to make profits from publishing highly specialized information. To compete, Meyer argues, newspapers need to narrow their focus to areas least vulnerable to substitution, such as community influence. They gain and sustain this influence by being the trusted source for locally produced news, analysis and investigative reporting. Their audience need not be large, Meyer argues. Resources should be focused on producing evidence-based journalism for "the educated, opinion-leading, news-junkie core of the audience."
CLASS DISCUSSION AND RESEARCH:
Invite in editors and publishers from professional news publications
in the area for a panel discussion on the future of the business.
How do they predict their publications will look in five, 10 or 15 years? What content will likely be jettisoned? What readership will they be catering to?
What business models are likely for sustainability? Will they continue to publish both print and electronic products?
The Christian Science Monitor in April 2009 is expected to morph from a national daily newspaper to a weekly newspaper with an online publication that is updated continuously.
Is this switch likely for other publications? Why or why not? Ask students to talk to media analysts, publishers, academics and futurists to write a story or research paper
on the future of newspapers. This should be reported and researched, with proper attributions and citations.
RELATED STORIES, COLUMNS AND LINKS:
- "Don't Blame the Journalism," by Paul Farhi, in the October/November 2008 issue of AJR.
- "Murdoch to Cynics: Newspapers Will Survive," by the Associated Press, in the Nov. 17, 2008, issue of Editor & Publisher.
- "Maybe It Is Time to Panic," by Carl Sessions Stepp, in the April/May 2008 issue of AJR.
- "Newspapers: Bulky Blueprints for the Future," by Mallary Jean Tenore, in a Nov. 19, 2007, Centerpiece in PoynterOnline.
- "The Race. Newspapers have a bright future as print-digital hybrids after all — but they’d better hurry," by Robert Kuttner, in the March / April 2007 issue of Columbia Journalism Review.
- "Politico Mojo," by Kathy Kiely, in the February/March 2007 issue of AJR.
- "Learning to Love Lower Profits," by Philip Meyer, in the December 1995 issue of AJR.
STORY 4: "The Transformation of NPR: Long defined by its radio programming, National Public Radio is reinventing itself as a multiplatform force." By Jennifer Dorroh
MORE INFO FROM THE STORY: Dorroh reports that this year and next, NPR is asking all of its journalists to rethink the way they tell stories and interact with their audience. The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation gave NPR $1.5 million to train its 450 editorial employees in digital storytelling skills and to pay for substitutes to fill in for them while they learn. NPR is putting an additional $1 million into the training. NPR expects to overhaul its Web site by early next year and launch an open application programming interface that will allow independent Web publishers to use NPR content on their sites.
CLASS RESEARCH AND DISCUSSION:
At NPR, trained radio journalists are learning to expand their stories with photos, printed words and video. Are all of these skills necessary now for young journalists entering the job market? What primary skills are recruiters at major newspaper, TV stations and news Web sites recommending that students equip themselves with before entering the market? Ask 1/3 of the students in the class to call newspaper recruiters, 1/3 to call TV station recruiters and 1/3 to call news Web site recruiters to pose questions about skills necessary to land reporting, editing, production, design and photography jobs. What other recommendations do the hiring managers have for journalism students in the job hunt? Students should summarize their findings in a brief paper and be prepared to discuss them in class.
Although many of the job openings on sites such as JournalismJobs.com are still for reporters, editors, copy editors, graphic artists and page designers, other, more exotic job titles have worked their way in: "Live Discussions Producer" (Washingtonpost Newsweek Interative), "interactive journalist with attitude," (Northwest Herald), "Entertainment Programmer for Yahoo! Front Page," (Yahoo!) and "Home Page Producer," (NYTimes.com). Internet news consultants, such as washingtonpost.com co-founder Mark Potts, predict additional jobs will become increasingly necessary as more news is published digitally: search engine optimization expert; database expert; comments moderator and discussion leader, for instance. Ask students to write a research paper on some of the new types of journalistic jobs that have emerged over the last 10 years. The paper --which should include attribution and citations -- should detail what those jobs are and what skills are necessary to land them.
RELATED LINKS AND STORIES:
- "More Journalists Switching Platforms to Work Online," by Regina McCombs, published Nov. 17, 2008, on PoynterOnline.
- "Frequently Asked Questions on NPR's Knights in Training"
- Examples of some of the multimedia projects produced by NPR's trainees.
- "NPR's Digital Evolution: Social Networking, Open API and Training the Dinosaurs," by Chris Snyder, on Wired Blog Network, Sept. 30, 2008.
- "Knight Foundation Investments Intend to Speed the News Industry's Digital Transformation," press release from the foundation, published Sept. 17, 2007.
Teachers' guide written and produced by Chris Harvey, online bureau
director at the University of Maryland Philip Merrill College of Journalism and
a former managing editor of AJR.
First item for this issue written
Oct. 12, 2008. Second and third items added Nov. 16, 2008; final item added Nov. 17, 2008.
Copyright © 2008 University of Maryland Philip Merrill College of Journalism.
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to 100 copies of the most up-to-date version of this document, as long as the
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