Imagine years ago, when a family would gather together around a radio for entertainment and news. Later in life, receiving news was reliant on television broadcasts or printed newspapers. Today, however, is very different. We obtain news in many different ways. Sure, you can watch news stations like Fox, CNN, or ABC. You could read a newspaper or listen to the radio. But you could also use linked stories on Facebook and Twitter, blogs, company produced websites, or apps on your cellphone.
If news can now be distributed in these various ways, what are the limits behind what can be reported?
News stations receive information or stories different ways. Bruce Scheid, retired announcer and reporter for KTIV, Sioux City’s NBC affiliate, was asked how he would get his stories when he worked in the media field. He said, “It was a combination of assignments and self-initiated coverage. More often than not, it was assignments.” A supervisor or editor often gave these to him. However, a blog for example, is subjective to the writer’s topic of choice. There is a difference of limits in both of these occasions. There are limits placed on news reporters, whether that be through an editor or another regulator, but there are very few limits on a blogger or social media sites.
Why does this matter? It matters because distinctive news outlets can influence the general public in numerous ways.
It is improper and unethical for the media, a body that is meant to report objectively to the public, in all of its forms, to hold so much power over the opinions of society without truly recognizing it. By this, I mean that so many people rely on the news provided on radios, television, newspapers, blogs, social media, online websites, and now apps that society can be shaped through the information provided on these outlets. It is important for each news source to recognize their role in society and use it in an ethical and objective manner. The question is… is that being done now? If not, then it is also important, as a news consumer, to be aware of potential factors affecting news like bias or subconscious opinions, filtering, or lack of regulations on publications.
This blog will address the issue presented above. It will also discuss newsgathering avenues and topics within the field while focusing on the avenues’ potential influences on society’s opinions regarding numerous issues. It will also talk about the ethics behind forms of reporting.
More interesting information about the shift of news can be found at this link: http://www.digitalnewsreport.org/essays/2015/the-rise-of-mobile-and-social-news/
With access to news becoming easier and faster, it is now becoming more crucial for broadcast reporters to get information to the public in a timely manner—timely, in this case, meaning as fast as possible. News stations want to be the first to report on a story. This goal could potentially lead to inaccurate reporting, which could be seen as unethical if it is not fact. News reports provide a key source of information for society. If that information is not accurate due to increased pressure to report quickly, then that has an affect on how society views those issues reported.
On January 22nd, 2016, I was on my way back from Washington DC on a bus filled with 51 other passengers. We hit a heavy snowstorm and then came across an accident on the Pennsylvania Turnpike that stopped traffic. We sat on the turnpike for almost 24 hours. While we were there, my bus, and several others, took part in the “Turnpike Mass.”
Everyone who attended mentioned it on social media using #turnpikemass and the story took off. Several news stations picked up the story, but there were many different versions out there. One said that the 500 people who attended all received communion with the 50 hosts they started with. Another story said that not everyone went to communion. Another said that Fr. Patrick Behm, of Le Mars, came up with the idea for the mass, while another stated it was someone from Minneapolis who arranged it. There were several stories out there all containing contradictory information. This affected many people’s perception of the event. I received several questions regarding the event—many containing inaccurate information or “facts.”
Another example of media accuracy gone wrong is the Sago Mine Disaster of 2006. In this case, there was a devastating mine explosion in Saga, West Virginia. Some media outlets got word that the miners had been found. They immediately reported that miners were found alive. Families and friends that had been waiting to hear news rejoiced when they heard that their loved ones were alive. There is a very interesting recollection of this incident and the feelings of the family members found on NPR. The media’s quick instinct to report the news about the incident led them to report it inaccurately, because there was actually only one survivor out of the 13 miners.
To some degree, this does show how the media influences the public. Consumers hear something from one source and do not continue following up with other information. In a Media Ethics course I am taking, we have discussed this idea. Many students agreed that it is the responsibility of the public to research information further. That is not what is happening, though. This is because, as consumers, it is the public’s expectation that the media be trustworthy and accurate. I am not saying that they aren’t, but the issue of speed vs. accuracy brings that into question.
These exact situations draw attention to the importance of speed vs. accuracy as priorities for media. In an article in the Washington Examiner, Federalist senior editor, Mollie Hemingway, told them:
“Even just 10 years ago, when I was a reporter covering a lot of government reports, even if you got a report at that time, you had at least a few hours to go through it, and now the news cycle is such that everyone’s competing with each other to get things out within a matter of minutes. That is a legitimate challenge because people are desperate for information.”
She said it accurately—this is a challenge. It is not ethical for those providing the public with information to put out news that is not verified as truthful simply to be the first to have the information. This affects the public’s views. They can hear the first story and miss the follow-up correction, if one is put out. Therefore, allowing viewers to be misinformed. This is not ethical.
The solution here would need to be industry-wide: to take on the goal to provide the most accurate information. While this is the majority of reporters’ goal currently, the emphasis to be first is overtaking it.
Look at this image. What words come to mind?
Thin. Pretty. Cheekbones. Model. Chic.
Anorexic. Unrealistic. Gross.
Some people look at this image and different words come to mind, but on thing is certain. Media is flooded with pictures and advertisements like this one.
This is an advertisement found in a magazine; this image is similar to many ads and photos found in most magazines. While the model is beautiful, it is images like this one that have affected the way society views beauty.
The way that news, especially entertainment news, presents the image of the human body can be unattainable, or even unhealthy for some; however, people still strive to look like models in the magazine. The influence that magazines have on society is strong. The greatest impact is on younger aged females. In fact, anorexia is 12 times more likely to cause death than any other condition among young women ages 15 to 24 (Anorexia, 2016). The National Eating Disorders Association reports that 90 to 95 percent of people who have anorexia are females. “That’s not surprising, given the cultural pressures modern women face and the modern representation of the ideal female body… Artists use sophisticated computer programs to trim away the curves on people who pose for magazine photographs” (Anorexia, 2016).
That is not to say that men do not have similar struggles. Images of male models often consist of slim men with either boyish figures or extremely muscular bodies. Often times the “manly” men are the leading roles or focal point with the slim ones, seen as the boyish type, as supporting roles (Femiano & Nickerson). They are shown wearing tight fitted clothing. In response, men have placed more emphasis on their appearance and physique than in the past, and it is partially due to the over exposure to that appearance of men in the media and magazines. The Center for Media Literacy touched on this very idea. Same Femiano and Mark Nickerson, writers for the site, said:
“Bravery, adventurousness, being able to think rationally, being strong and effective, for example, are all “manly” traits that are usually encouraged. So also are the ability to think independently and take the initiative. Media images supporting these behaviors include the strong, silent Marlboro man and military ads telling young men to “be all you can be.” (Young women, on the other hand, are urged to pursue beauty and sex appeal.)… These narrow masculine standards can lead to discrimination against those who deviate from them. But they can also prevent men themselves from living up to their full potential as human beings.”
With that being said, men tend to fit into societal expectations similarly to women.
This raises a question: what is the magazine’s goal? Is it to influence society, to make a profit, or simply to write juicy fun stories? For some reason I cannot picture the editor of Allure in a publishing meeting saying, “I want everyone to love skinny people and see them as the prettiest.” But even with this unintentional influence, entertainment news sources still have a responsibility to the public. It is unethical to ignore the influence that this form of media has on society.
Recognizing this, some magazines have begun printing advertisements using plus-size models. Take this photo for example.
The Vogue ad, starring a plus size model, is a rarity in the industry. Some similar advertisements, in fact, have received pushback from subscribers, but the goal for these ads is to highlight all forms of beauty. This approach to the societal influence is one to be modeled after. Companies are tackling this ethical dilemma by stepping out of the norm and presenting a plus size model even while receiving criticism for the decision. One issue that has been brought up as a criticism is that companies are “promoting” obesity. While this could be an issue similar to promoting an unhealthy skinny body image, the average woman is a size 12. So, encompassing larger woman targets more women, but it is important to find the middle ground between too small and obese. This is a similar idea to Aristotle’s Golden Mean ethical theory. This refers to the idea of finding the mean between two extremes of a choice. Here, there is the choice to use a model that is unhealthily small or one that falls under the obese category. The Golden Mean would recommend what was previously stated, which is using a model with an average body that represents the average person.
It is important to consider all publics and the affects that advertisements have on societal views and even personal health habits. This new advertisement approach would be a refreshing change to see become more popular and more widely accepted.
Politics are a controversial topic in society. My mother always told me, when meeting a new person, never bring up religion or politics. Why? Because people have strong views about each.
Well, this year, we are undergoing a presidential race. You know what that means: ads followed by more ads followed by news reports of the debates and much more. With this controversial topic, there are proper ways to go about reporting it. Bruce Scheid, former reporter for KTIV in Sioux City, IA, was asked about the best way to report on hard topics. He said:
“Controversial topics are difficult to cover. Mostly because it requires a great deal of research to make sure all sides are covered fairly. A house fire is straightforward. Often, quotes from authorities and witnesses will be enough. That is not true for some controversial subjects. They often need multiple comments from several sources, some of which would rather not talk to a reporter…”
The ethical issue behind this is fairly obvious. The media play a key role in what news consumers receive regarding presidential candidates and politics. With the information being filtered and some information going unreported, it is easy for viewers to sway towards a certain opinion based on what is being covered or reported on.
The media, especially in regards to politics, has a responsibility to remain objective at all times, avoid words and phrases that present bias, and report each side of a story. This is a responsibility of the news as well as a right of the public.
The goal of objectivity in political or controversial news should be a strong focus when it comes to reporting, as Scheid mentioned, however, it seems less and less attainable. On March 25th, CNN ran a story interviewing democratic and republican representatives regarding Ted Cruz and Donald Trump’s twitter fight. Donald Trump made a statement about Ted Cruz’s wife. It turned into a debate about Trump and his ability to run a country. The host was more responsive to the guests on the show that were not supporting Trump. The one woman who was giving strong points in favor for Trump was not given much time to speak and received condescending remarks. At one point, she wanted to make a comment and the host said, “If you can say it in 10 seconds then go ahead.” Yes, these interviews have time limits, but he gave the gentleman speaking against Trump a large amount of time to say closing remarks. Now, in this case, I do not believe that host was intentionally showing bias, however, it did come across that way.
The way that the media reports political news can be difficult. It often times is bias reporting hidden under facts. What I mean by that is, news reports can have accurate information and facts, but they are presented in such a way that still lead the reader to make similar conclusions that the reporter did. An NPR audio clip, discussing Donald Trump, states that the media is having a hard time reporting on Trump. For example, the Huffington Post, who formerly left Trump related news to celebrity or gossip reporting, now attaches an editor’s note to every article about Trump. The note calls him a “serial liar, rampant xenophobe, racist, misogynist, and bully.” Other reporters, however, have tried to avoid this form of labeling. Jill Abramson, former executive editor for the New York Times, states that labeling terms should not be used. She instead advocates for highlighting context. Abramson’s view is a wise one for all reporting, but especially political reporting.
Again, it is important for political reporters to be aware of their potential influence on society and adhere to the expectation and code of providing unbiased information.
(Other relevant information can be found here.)
The importance of objectivity with controversial topics has been discussed. There is no argument that news media should present factual unbiased opinions. However, a separate issue lies in the realistic nature of that expectation. Is there such thing as unbiased reporting? This post argues that there is no such thing as unbiased reporting, because subconsciously, everyone has bias.
According to several journalism professionals, unbiased reporting is not realistic. “Objective, unbiased, nonpartisan news is a unicorn. People claim to believe in it but it doesn’t exist.” This is because no matter the effort people put forth to gain all sides of a story and present information objectively, there is still one problem. It is PEOPLE writing the story. If robots were doing reporting then this could be a realistic expectation when looking at news, but because human beings are doing the writing, does true objectivity really exist?
Andrew Kirell, a senior editor at The Daily Beast, said, “Every journalist has a political point-of-view and they don’t magically check that at the door the minute they land a job… Every good journalist is informed about the subjects they cover and it would be near-impossible to be informed and not have an opinion.”
This poses a serious ethical dilemma in the media world. An expectation is for news to be reported so that the public can come to a personal opinion about it. Instead, some news outlets, and even specific reporters, leave out some sides of stories or interject bias. That is a problem, because it can have an affect on society’s view on issues.
Don’t agree? I don’t believe that this is done intentionally. Truly ethical journalists do not enter the media world to share their opinions and make everyone agree with them. But, as Kirell stated, people’s opinions do not simply disappear when they get a job in news. Some bias may be unintentional or even occur on a subconscious level.
I recently took a “test” in a class. My teacher had each student go to a Harvard website where there were several options to take various tests. The tests were supposed to reveal any bias. I decided to take a test about age, because I worked in a nursing home, took care of my great grandma, and volunteered with the elderly often. I have always said that I adore older people, BUT the test that I took, constructed by Harvard, revealed that I was slightly prejudiced towards elderly people. I would have argued that I wasn’t had I not taken the test. Yes, I do believe in its credibility, but if you don’t use the link provided to see if you have any bias.
With all this being said, even if bias is unintentional, does that make it okay?
This unintentional bias reporting can be done in several ways. Information simply may not be included in an article. Or a journalist may not fact check both sides of an argument. This was a discussion that was presented in my senior capstone class. During one of our discussions, someone said that often times opinions or bias in reports are not intentional; the majority of the class agreed that it is hard for people to be completely objective with no forms of bias.
To provide an example, think about a time you read through an argument on a topic you had strong feelings about. If you agreed with the statements being made, would you research it further or would you nod your head in agreement? If the information was persuasive but was opposing your stance, would you just accept the information or would you look into it to disprove the facts? This can relate to journalists, too, and their fact checking process. If a journalist agrees with a story, would they not take it as it is? Generally, if the story or situation opposes their views, they may look into it further.
While the lack of truly unbiased information is an ethical issue, what can be done? I believe it is a matter of the public staying informed and looking into all information or following numerous media sites (if they are only presenting one side) in order to get a variety of information regarding the topics.
First of all, in order to prove the relevance of a discussion on blogs as a credible news source, it is important to define what news is and if blogs apply.
News is defined in the Merriam-Webster Dictionary as being “new information or a report about something that has happened recently,” “information that is reported in a newspaper, magazine, television news program, etc.,” or “someone of something that is exciting and in the news.” Under these terms, some blogs would be considered news and other would not. Many blogs are used as formats to share opinions or simply write about personal experiences. Others, however, are used as news information sites.
The Guardian, would be an example of a news blog. It provides information and current events from around the world. However, there are many well-known blogs that are based on opinion. This article will consider all forms of blogs in the analysis of credibility and ethical influence.
The ethics called into question in this case would be is it ethical for blog administrators to use popular blog platforms to write opinion that could potentially influence society? Opinion can be used to sway public views, however, blogs are often lacking factual information.
A webpage dedicated to facts regarding blogs, states, 98% of U.S. online consumers trust information and advice from blogs. Just kidding!! You thought that was a real statistic though, didn’t you? It is actually only 81% of people. But, many blogs do not even provide such statistics and yet people still trust them. What makes them so credible? Should they hold weight on issues?
There are blogs that are run by experts in the field. In this case, the blogs can be seen as credible even though there is opinion interjected into the posts. Other blogs are dedicated to trivial purposes such as complaining about irrelevant issues or writing information that has no way of being proven. This is not an ethical use of a blog, because blogs, regardless of their credibility, are seen as trustworthy, as stated previously.
In fact, blogs are the 3rd trusted outlet consumers rely on. This is compared against journalists, religious leaders, brands, politicians, religious leaders, and other ways of finding information. The top two are friends and family, but blogs are in third place. This information is based off of an article crediting an independent survey of UK consumers.
A quote, found in the above article, says, “The fact consumers look to bloggers to provide them with information about areas of specific interest, goes right to the heart of the evolution of digital marketing. The question for bloggers is now how they go about building on this trust, maintain editorial integrity, and at the same time, monetise their site.”
While opinion based blogs may affect societal views, who is to blame for that? That poses a separate question all together. Is it the blogger, or is it the consumer that does not recognize the information as inaccurate. (Warning: opinion being stated). I would argue that it is a little of both. Bloggers are responsible for providing accurate information. This does not mean that opinions can’t be included. That is the format for blogs and the reason many people like them. They are unregulated. With that being said, a blogger should not use the platform for personal agendas to influence society based solely on opinion. Consumers of information are also responsible for following up on information stated within blogs. If they are influenced by someone’s opinion without any information, then they are to blame as well.
Another issue, which was briefly mentioned in the previous paragraph is that blogs are not regulated. Other news outlets, like television broadcasts, have watchdogs. According to Collins English Dictionary, a watchdog is “a person or group of persons that acts as a protector or guardian against inefficiencies, illegal practices, etc.” In most cases, this role can be done by the editor or even other media outlets who fact check published or broadcasted information. Blogs do not have this. Most often, a blog is a single party or small group managing a site focusing around one topic or mission. Who is checking their information? Do the writers care if it is checked or accurate? Again, this could go back to the point about the public being responsible for knowing the information that is being given to them. Does that make the public the watchdogs of blogs then? This is a good question… one that I do not have the answer to. I do believe, though, that the lack of regulation or rules that blog writers operate under (including myself) is something to be aware of when considering them as credible sources or persuasive pieces of writing.