Hostage situation raises question of withholding information

The EditorsWeblog considers the question of when news media might be right to withhold information from their audiences. The case in question concerned a New York Times reporter, his driver and another reporter who were taken hostage by the Taliban in Afghanistan. The blog reports that “Thanks to the efforts of New York Times executive editor Bill Keller, for seven months news of the kidnapping did not enter the public domain. Fellow newspapers understood that lives were at stake and nobody was willing to compromise Rohde’s safety by breaking the media silence. In addition, the Times attempted to keep information about the kidnappings from their reporter’s page on Wikipedia:

Within days of [David] Rohde’s abduction, attempts were made to edit Rohde’s Wiki page with the news and so it was that a virtual tug of war began between the NYT and the online encyclopaedia. For seven months, unidentified individuals tried to update Rohde’s entry with the information only to have this erased. Eventually, a joint effort involving Catherine J. Mathis, chief spokeswoman for the NYT and Wikipedia CEO Jimmy Wales, among others, led to a temporary freeze of Rohde’s page, making editing impossible. No sooner was the function reinstated that new efforts were made to add the details.

The blog asks an important question about the Times’ efforts:

The media blackout that took place is probably to be credited for delivering Rohde to safety, but what does it say about the media’s lack of partiality? Keller and his colleagues thought long and hard about their options, ultimately concluding that a hostage as currency is worth less without the exposure. Yet, did this decision represent a disservice to other reporters in the region? Were their lives at risk because of NYT’s choice to look after one man? A reasoned answer is that if news organisations were able to keep the news from spreading, they were very likely able to inform colleagues on a need-to-know basis, particularly if any employees were operating in the same area without risking any leaks.

Of more concern is the inconsistency of news outlets when it comes to dealing with kidnappings when a terrorist organisation is at the helm, as the Poynter Institute’s Bob Steele points out: “Would a news organization apply different standards in the case of a government diplomat or a business executive or a tourist than they would one of their own?” asks the ethics instructor. Invariably the answer seems to be yes, insofar as non-media hostages make the headlines, although often with the support of the relevant families. In this particular case, the NYT made the best decision it was able to under the circumstances and perhaps saved their man in the process. After all, a human life is always worth more than a newspaper’s quest to remain impartial.

Reuter posts handbook of journalism online

The internationally known news service Reuters recently posted its Handbook of Journalism online. The handbook covers a range of topics, and is broken down into six main sections:

  • Standards and Values
  • Guide to Operations
  • General Style Guide
  • Sports Style Guide
  • Specialised Guidance
  • Links

(Thanks to Stacy Spaulding for the link!)

The Journalist’s Guide to Facebook

Many journalists have Facebook accounts, but not so many realize that there are many ways to use that account for journalistic purposes. In an informative post, Leah Betancourt discusses how to find leads and sources, reach audiences and much more via Facebook. She notes:

Journalists and the institutions they write for are finding Facebook to be an important resource in conducting the reporting that they do. Reporters and media companies are using Facebook to engage with their audience, connect with sources and build their brands.

The post also includes a great deal of useful information on ethics of social media use.

Guidelines for journalists using social networks

Increasing use of Twitter, Facebook and other social networking sites by journalists has some news organizations setting ground rules and others just taking a wait-and-see approach, reports Editor & Publisher. Bill Keller, executive editor of The New York Times, told E&P: “I have asked people to use common sense and respect the workplace and assume whatever they tweet will be tied to the paper….Even when they are tweeting personal information to their followers, they are still representing The New York Times.”

The Wall Street Journal’s guidelines for social media use were regarded by some as completely missing the point of social Media. BeatBlogging.org noted:

This memo should have been titled the 1990s newspaper refrain of the decade, “Don’t scoop yourself!” But this is the Web. No one seriously talks about scooping themselves anymore.

Crossing the ethical line with photo retouching

“10 News photos that took retouching too far” looks at notable cases in which “retouching has been pushed too far, changing the original intent or accuracy of the photo ” National Geographic, Time and major news organizations are among the culprits.

Online journalism brings the evolution of ethics

For years journalists followed a strict code of ethics applying to print journalism. With more and more news being published online the code of ethics needs to be change along with the news industry, according to Robert Niles of the Online Journalism Review. If journalists are not willing to adapt their thinking to the ever changing industry, then there will be even an even smaller pool of readers and advertisers supporting journalists.
Niles writes:

I’m not suggesting that journalists should change their core beliefs about this field when they switch media. The central tenet of journalism ethics (in my opinion) remains: Do what’s best to empower your readers with truthful information. Everything we do ought to flow from that goal.

He discusses three widely accepted tenets of journalism and his proposed changes to these tenets.

When a quote is not quite the quote

In “Quote, Unquote,” The Washington Post’s Ombudsman, Deborah Howell, discusses the misuse of quotes among journalists. Journalists frequently will “clean up” quotes to avoid “embarrass[ing] someone whose command of grammar is weak,’ says Emilio Garcia-Ruiz, assistant managing editor for sports at The Washington Post. Many sports journalists take this approach; however, Howell’s view is plain:

Quotes should not be changed. If coaches or athletes are routinely “cleaned up,” that should stop. Simply put, quotes should be and sound authentic. And The Post needs to set this particular record straight. Wise’s Portis quote should be restored to its original form. The rough draft of history is still history.