Tag Archives: journalism

Case Study 7: Ethics of Twitter journalism and people watching

19 Mar

By: Gabriela Gonzalez

Twitter has encouraged a new kind of literary journalism.

The Andy Boyle report on the couple breaking up, ‘The Restaurant of Broken Dreams,” was fascinating. It is nothing we all haven’t walked by or witnessed ourselves. If we were to record bits of every conversation we hear while walking, riding the bus or going to the restroom, we would have so many interesting stories.

One time I was in the bathroom and I heard an entire conversation about a girl’s embarrassment when her atheist boyfriend decided to show up at her Methodist church, and he noisily walked in when they were in the middle of prayer.

I don’t think I was intruding on her privacy. Many people cite privacy as a big problem or violation in this type of journalism. My thoughts are that anything in public is free to use unless someone has an expectation of privacy. For example, if someone is on the phone and is trying to speak in hushed tones or separates themselves from a crowd in public, then obviously this person has an expectation of privacy. By law, there are other factors that determine expectation of privacy, such as the location of the person, for example, a residence or a closed items like posted mail.

If a person walks into a room talking on the phone like they are Julia Roberts or something, then obviously their conversation is like a show; something theatrical. This is free to be used because the person is not trying to withhold the information from you. The person knows there are ears all around.

Though the person may know others are listening, however, this does not mean recording is ethical. Recording is different from just hearing something in public. Recording has an extra element that is not on paper when the person who hears it records it. With a sound bite, a person’s voice is recorded and this means the person can be more easily identified. This is a problem if you have not asked the person for permission because it may be illegal in the state in which you live.

Photos were a bit much in this piece. A photo of the couple is creepy. A photo of the restaurant and where they were sitting is not. The couple knew people were watching them, and they game Boyle a show, so he took everything in a recorded it. Maybe it was wrong just for the simple fact that he was giving them the attention they wanted.

As this type of journalism grows and people make a name out of themselves for the stories they record and witness, the ethics of the whole ordeal will evolve. I don’t think what Boyle did was unethical after he took down the photo of the couple. Everything else was interesting, true and fair game. People are interesting. Things happen. Write about the moments that should not be forgotten.

And here, you see, I did it myself #UFtabernacle.

Linking: Why link?

28 Feb

By: Gabriela Gonzalez

There is a columnist who writes for The Star-Banner in Ocala who includes links in his columns, professor Edward Weston said. People send him hate mail, saying the links are annoying. His response is he puts them there for people who want to know more. Reader’s disapproval stems from the fact that this is an older, more traditional audience that does not like links.

Why should links be used in journalism? According to Jim Stovall, “links tap into the interactivity function of the web, allowing the users to have some control over what they see and how they navigate through the information that the journalist is providing.”

He said the knowledge required to add a link is minimal HTML, hypertext mark-up language. “The tag for linking is <a href=> followed by the web address of the information or page you want to link to,” he said.

Stovall continued: “This should be placed before the word or words that will appear as the link on the web page. Immediately after those words should be an end tag, in this case </a>. That’s it. That is all the technical expertise that is required.”

Professor Ronald Yaros of the University of Maryland’s Philip Merrill College of Journalism did a study where it was proven that stories with the links to explanatory text did best as far as readership goes. And not just any links were good; traditional links were the best.

According to the Editor’s Weblog website, linking provides collaboration in news. “Link or sink” is the philosophy. Linking also serves to promote and publicize.

Ryan Sholin said journalists link to provide readers with as much information at their fingertips, to be ethical and to connect to different aspects of the community, whether it be other businesses, news outlets, government institutions or organizations.

Josh Korr expands on the idea by saying that you do not overwhelm the reader by aggregating and providing links, but instead you give them a choice. If they choose to click, they are given more information.

It is key, Scott Rosenberg said, to remember that reporting is not finding links, and that original reporting does have its advantages. Linking is not a call to abandon all that is traditional or original in journalism. It is a call to expand beyond that.

Salon editor-in-chief Kerry Lauerman said the time it takes to aggregate really well is still time away from original reporting. “It’s kind of the worst of both worlds,” Lauerman said. “You’re spending a lot of time on someone else’s work. You’re more motivated when you’re pursuing your own work.”

The BBC, for example, has guidelines to linking. Links should be relevant, maintained, suitable for the audience and accurate.

Journalists should be cautious in the way they link to stories. The Miami Herald learned about this the hard way when its software linked to a pornography website mentioned in the story published.

Other disadvantages can be that links lead readers to other websites and they may find an outlet they like a lot more than yours. Also, linking can create a conflict when it comes to objectivity. Perhaps certain links would reveal a journalist or organization’s inclinations or leanings.

According to Robert Niles, journalists are now becoming advocates for something, instead of remaining unbiased. Linking would, perhaps, add to this dilemma. There needs to be a fairness in linking.

Though linking must be done with caution and it does not substitute reporting, it is necessary in online journalism. It provides more to those who choose to go beyond what is given, which creates and rewards a more educated readership.

Case Study 4: Google Alerts

15 Feb

By: Gabriela Gonzalez

Google Alerts can find some interesting stories and facts you may have never known about without its watchful eye.

“The service was created by Gideon Greenspan, a Ph.D. student at Israel’s Technion and long-time Macintosh developer,” said Jonathan Dube, of the Poynter Institue.

It just so happens that a Herald Reporter obtained news of a letter written to Florida Governor Charlie Crist asking him to pardon Jim Morrison of The Doors posthumously.

He got an awesome story that no one else had because he had alerts on the governor.

Signing up is free, and it only takes a moment. When you sign up, articles, blogs and whatever other news outlets you choose with your keyword are delivered directly to your inbox.

Google Alerts goes through about 4,500 news sources a day, Dube said. That is power.

The New York Times has an alert-tracking system, but it became a subscription service. Yahoo offers free alerts, but it seems no system can beat the Google Alert.

For financial news, Dube said Forbes and Market Watch also have an alert system that is free.

So, why use Google Alerts or any other tracking system for any other reason other than the fact that you want to be the reporter with the story no one else has?

Alerts can be used for many things, said Melinda Storrs, who gives online tips for marketing entrepreneurs. Other than helping you keep tabs on certain subjects or even teams, they can help you keep track of yourself and your online profile.

Not only can alerts help you keep track of yourself and offer new story ideas, but they could point to potential sources and new interests.

The most important and obvious reason why Google Alerts and other alert systems are so useful is because they save you time. They send to your inbox what you could only perhaps find by sitting at a table reading for the rest of your life.

We don’t have 1,000 hours in a day to read every newspaper and look for those keywords we are so interested in or the words that pertain to our beat, Dube said. It is impossible.

How being a skeptic can save face

30 Jan

By: Gabriela Gonzalez

If you don’t fact check, you may publish something embarrassing.

Latina Magazine does this all the time. Though I love the magazine, I cringe when it writes that someone is Mexican, when the person is actually Colombian, or something like that. Sometimes it runs corrections. If it runs a correction, it simply edits it, and it doesn’t announce it.  If normal people know this kind of stuff, why can’t a magazine that specializes in Latino(a) people and culture get it right?

It turns out Latina isn’t the only one with correction and fact-checking issues. There was a study done in 2007 stating that “over half of all newspaper articles have some form of mistake in them.” Also, only 2 percent of them are actually corrected.

A paper liker Der Spiegel has 70 full-time fact checkers, while the New Yorker only has 16 fact checkers.

The Slate said in an article that newspapers should expand their area for corrections by 50 percent. For example, The New York Times is known for its constant and “ferocious” rate of misspelling of names.

The New York Times Public Editor Clark Hoyt estimates the paper misspells about 269 names a year.

For help in fact checking, there are websites dedicated to dispelling urban legends and letting you know whether people are dead or alive. There is even a website to find out whether someone is really a veteran. Others have a list of errors in books, quotes, etc.

Of course, websites are not always necessary to avoid serious mistakes. Sometimes, it is just a matter of taking the time to recalculate to make sure something adds up, or check the spelling with an official document.

When you look at lists or tips for avoiding mistakes, the key to avoiding many of the mistakes is simply, if you aren’t sure enough to put your life on it, don’t be lazy, and check it out. In fact, even if you would put your life on it, check it out. We are humans, and we make mistakes. It is crucial to catch the mistakes before they are diffused into the general public as truth, because once this happens, the cycle of error continues until someone is skeptical enough to check it.

Case Study: “Jimmy’s World”

30 Jan

By: Gabriela Gonzalez

“Jimmy’s World” may have seemed like a moving piece with Pulitzer Prize potential to Janet Cooke. But it quickly became much more than that.

The descriptive piece about the 8-year-old heroin addict put people in motion.

David A. Maraniss of the Washington Post wrote, “Upon publication, the Jimmy article prompted a strong and immediate response in the city. Mayor Marion Barry and Chief of Police Burtell Jefferson assigned a task force of police and social workers to locate the 8-year-old cited in the city and to obtain medical treatment for him. When the child could not be located, Barry and Jefferson voiced deep skepticism about the validity of the story. Barry said he believed “Jimmy” did not exist, or was a composite of several different youngsters.”

Not only did this happen, but later it was discovered that Janet Cooke didn’t graduate magna cum laude from Vassar College like she said. She also did not receive a master’s degree from University of Toledo in Ohio.

She was creative from the very beginning.

Reid MaCluggage said that a story does not need an advocate, but instead someone who will put it on the witness stand and tear it apart. In “Jimmy’s World,” by the time this was done, it was too late.

After I read the article, I was impressed by the descriptiveness of it all. At second glance, I came up with these questions:

1.      How did social services allow this child to stay at home when he obviously wasn’t hiding? Didn’t the school notice?


2.      There weren’t a great amount of credible sources linked to the family. The only ones who were “named” are the ones in the family, but no one else knows them or talks about them. The nameless fat woman doesn’t cut it. Who is the fat woman?


3.      Did any of the doctors ask about the boy and/or offer to treat him?


4.      How did the journalist find the family? How did Cooke gain such inside access (watching them “shoot up”)?


5.       Was law enforcement involved somehow?


Unfortunately, “Jimmy’s World” has not been the last case of fabrication, and it has not been the last piece that has had a lack of skeptical adversaries before publication. There was the “memoir” which quickly became popular called “A Million Little Pieces.” This was also an addict’s memoir.

Many of the things in the book ended up being embellished details and fictionalized accounts. Of course, this was discovered after it sat at The New York Times Bestseller List for nonfiction paperbacks thanks to Oprah Winfrey’s endorsement. She made this book part of her book club reading list. Ironically, when you walk into any bookstore you can still find the book in the biography section.

People are lazy and creative.  It is because of this that editors and journalists must be on their guard. Not just editors, but the public, too, because apparently we editors are missing some serious slip-ups. It is important to be skeptical. Try all of the facts.
If not, you may end up with “A Million Little Lies.”