Rolling Stone is in hot water over Sean Penn’s interview with notorious Mexican drug lord Joaquín Guzmán Loera, also known as “El Chapo.” The interview, conducted in October and published last Saturday, has raised concerns over Penn and Rolling Stone’s approach to the interview, and whether they handled the situation in an ethical manner. Numerous people have accused the magazine and Penn of violating journalistic ethics with the interview, while they have insisted they did nothing wrong.
This post originally appeared in The Indy Star on November 2, 2015.
Anybody who has ever been lied to or betrayed by a friend or coworker knows just how difficult it is to re-establish trust in the offending party. Sometimes, credibility that is destroyed can never be fully restored. So it is with America’s news media, which recently got yet another dismal report on public perception of the journalism industry. The media face a stiff climb in order to get back in the citizenry’s good graces.
The annual Gallup survey of media trust shows only 40 percent of Americans have a great deal, or even a fair amount, of confidence that media report the news “fully, accurately and fairly.” That matches the historic low marks recorded in election years 2012 and 2014. Over the years of the Gallup research, the lowest citizen confidence in media has come during election years. This year, of course, is not a general election year. Almost a fourth of all Americans now say they have no trust in media reporting at all.
Respondents who report they are politically independent are turning against the media in big numbers. Only 33 percent of such citizens trust the journalism industry to be fair, down a staggering 22 points in just 16 years. Independents now view the media at about the same low level as Republicans, long considered the most distrustful of media.
The most disturbing component of the study is that younger adults, ages 18 to 49, have less media trust than adults over 50. Only 36 percent of younger adults have confidence in the media, down 17 points in the last 12 years. Young adults who already have a dim view of media fairness won’t be easily won back.
The decline of younger adults trusting the media is likely a factor in the dwindling number of people who seek careers as journalists. Enrollment in college journalism programs has dropped in recent years. The highly regarded Columbia University School of Journalism is cutting staff.
Of those students in college journalism and mass media programs, approximately 70 percent are studying advertising or public relations. There was a time when PR and advertising tracks were in the less prestigious hallways of j-schools. It is hard to blame college students, however, when public relations and advertising executives are viewed as more reputable than reporters. Beyond that, reporter salaries now average only two thirds of what a public relations specialist makes, and that gap is widening. The public thinks the journalism industry is weak now, and things will only get worse given that the best and brightest in colleges aren’t seeking news careers.
Beating up on the media is now a favorite sport of most political figures, and that sustained bludgeoning is surely a factor in sinking media trust assessments. President Obama, in spite of generally beneficial news coverage during his presidential campaigns, has fought the press on several fronts during his two terms, taking particular shots at Fox News.
The presidential candidates currently getting the most traction are all ripping into the media. Donald Trump and Ben Carson on the Republican side and Democrats Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton have all trashed the news media in recent weeks. Politicians’ complaining about bad press is nothing new, but the intensity and constancy of the animosity is noteworthy. It’s resonating with voters because it reinforces current public sentiment.
The American people no longer view reporters as the public surrogates they should be. Trust can’t be restored until news audiences look at reporters and sense that the journalists represent the public’s interests. Trust can’t be restored as long as the nation’s news agenda is saturated with sensational, yet low impact, stories about pop culture figures, such as Cecil the lion and a county clerk in Kentucky.
Trust can’t be restored as long as the public senses that the news media are driven more by bottom-line profit and ratings motivations than by a sense of public service, even though those two objectives are not mutually exclusive.
The trust gap between the public and media industry can be closed only when news organizations get the courage to change the vision and prevailing culture of their newsrooms. The news industry, and the nation, can’t afford another 10-point trust decline in the next 10 years. If that happens, there will no longer be a news industry. Whatever is left over will be merely part of the creative writing industry.
He had a “Muslim name.” He may have been depressed. Perhaps he was using drugs and alcohol. He visited Jordan in 2014. He had an upcoming court date for a DUI charge. And, above all, he was a Muslim.
Time is crucial when it comes to the news; every news agency wants to be the first to break a large story. To save time for journalists to focus on the big stories, template stories have been used for a basis for smaller stories. Journalists can type in the specific facts and then be on their way. But something further has been emerging in the field of journalism – robots.
For example, the L.A. Times uses an algorithm called QuakeBot to report each earthquake that happens, and the story appears online in three minutes, according to CNN. A company named Narrative Science has been marketing their software Quill, which works through data to create reports. In theory, this saves time for human journalists who can spend their time on analysis rather than wading through piles of data.
However, the software company believes that the software will soon develop to the point where it can provide analysis; the company’s chief scientists believe that writing software could even win the Pulitzer Prize within five years. While I find nothing wrong with saving journalists time in reporting earthquakes or crunching raw data, is passing off journalism to computer algorithms really right?
While the type of words can be programmed into computer software, can the code handle the sensitivity required in reporting stories that have affected many people, or know which facts might not be verified enough to report? If information is reported incorrectly – say, in the case of a libel lawsuit – is the computer algorithm responsible for that? You can’t prosecute software. Additionally, allowing software to write stories is also denying news consumers the human perspective on the issue. While stories written by software give us the raw facts, do we get the same level of analysis as a human can offer? Are the same potential solutions proposed? Can a computer write an op-ed?
In a time when robots and computers are replacing individuals in certain industries and threatening to eliminate the jobs in others (Google’s self-driving cars replacing taxi drivers, for example), one would think the job of a journalist would be relatively secure since society will always need news. Even if print media is in jeopardy, online media outlets still need content. Yet computer software can threaten the jobs of journalists worldwide.
While it seems unlikely to me that human journalists will have their jobs eliminated in the near future, the thought of our news media being run by computers is disconcerting. Journalists bring the news from a human perspective that I’m not sure can be programmed, in addition to acting in a surrogate role for the rest of the community who cannot be present for every breaking news event. While a computer can relay back facts, most people go to news for analysis and how it affects their lives rather than plain facts and details. Can computers truly adopt that role?
As the Ebola outbreak has progressed, public discourse of the matter has reached a fever pitch. From announcements that airports will screen for the disease to coverage of the growing number of cases in Dallas, we are inundated with coverage of the outbreak. And as some call for the closure of borders and bans on flights from West Africa, it is clear that our perception of the issue is at its most fearful, and indeed its most vulnerable, since the epidemic began.
Reddit is heralded as “The Front Page of the Internet”, but is now coming under increased scrutiny. T.C. Sottek writes.
As Reddit trips over itself trying to contain its stolen nude photo problem, CEO Yishan Wong finally addressed the controversy on Saturday by releasing a remarkably clueless manifesto. Reddit, he wrote, is “not just a company running a website where one can post links and discuss them, but the government of a new type of community.” So, then, what type of government is Reddit? It’s the kind any reasonable person would want to overthrow.
What’s the nude photo problem? During the celebrity nude photo leak, a redditor named “John”, created a sub-reddit to serve as a repository of these nude photos. Reddit refused to take the photos down in the name of Free Speech and not compelling virtuous behavior. When The Washington Post published information about the creator of the sub-reddit in a scathing expose , the redditor screamed privacy violation. Many redditors rallied to John’s defense. Which is why Sottek, says that Reddit’s Government is a failed state. It’s “a weak feudal system that’s actually run by a small group of angry warlords who use “free speech” as a weapon.”
The whole situation raises a host of interesting ethical issues.
- Is the value of free-speech so important that people should be entitled to post private, stolen images? (That seems to be the Reddit position)
- Did the Washington Post do something ethically wrong when they posted their piece criticizing John and divulging his personal information? (that’s something this article suggests)
Let us know what you think.