A new Australian report
paints a difficult picture for its newspapers but finds editors and senior journalists place a high priority on ethics and quality as they move into an era of greater digital presence.
The study by researchers from the University of Sydney and University of New South Wales interviewed 100 editors and senior journalists. It found them concerned about quality but committed to journalism as a form of public service. They also place a high priority on ethics in their pursuit of quality.
The report expressed concern about the decline of newspaper journalism, in particular, given its prominent role in enabling informed democratic participation. It said journalists need to broaden their discussions with the public "if they want them to take an interest in the future of quality journalism."
The report argues that more work is needed to define excellence in digital journalism, to set criteria and evaluate their success.
The conventional assumption is that online anonymity enables free-wheeling public comments that do not always enhance the level of discourse. Real-name policies, like the one introduced recently by YouTube in conjunction with Google, are largely considered helpful in encouraging civil discussion.
But TechCrunch contributor Gregory Ferenstein says
there is evidence to the contrary --- that, far from improving discourse, the presence of real-name policies might even work against it.
Ferenstein notes the experience of Korean websites that instituted real-name policies for larger operations. The policy didn't lead to a decrease in malicious comments, but it did lead to increased hacking. Further U.S. academic research actually found an increase in expletives, too.
Ferenstein concludes: "The presence of some phantom judgmental audience doesn’t seem to make us better versions of ourselves."
A new study published in the academic Communications Quarterly
suggests people believe information on Twitter is not as credible as information on websites.
The study asked people to view New York Times content in a Tweet, in a short story and in a longer story and to assess their credibility. Even though the content was the same, people preferred the website content over the Tweets as more important and credible.
The report authors, Penn State communications professor Michael Schmierbach and marketing strategist Anne Oeldorf-Hirsch counsel caution in the findings. Early, active users of Twitter likely have higher regard for it than do recent users.
Still, they note: "At an applied level, the study suggests the need for caution in the use of Twitter as a way to distribute news."
The Poynter Institute's Jeff Sonderman notes
that the findings might be important in the context of the Times' paywall and the effectiveness of deriving news from Tweets to get around it.
It may have come as a surprise to some this week to learn that some of the quotes attributed to the Obama and Romney presidential campaigns have first been submitted to them for checking and approval before publication.
The New York Times let us in on that information
and ever since there has been a renewed debate in the craft on whether, how and why this has an impact on journalism. The most direct criticism is that quote-approval permits a reconsideration and what emerges is a sanitized statement devoid of spontaneity.
But it has also emerged that some organizations have viewed this as sound practice, and not a new one, principally to ensure statements and assertions are accurately portrayed for the record. They view this as little different from the respected technique of fact-checking.
The public attention, though, has some rethinking their policies
. In an age of declining media trust, the debate continues on whether the approved quote is a boon or bane.
It is not a light question: What is journalism today?
The deliberations of the Canadian Association of Journalists ethics advisory committee (full disclosure: I am a former member) indicate the answer is neither easy nor bound to be comprehensive by nature. Rather, the committee has set out some principles on the working definition of journalism and its practitioners (in this case, the general public isn't particularly considered a participant).
This week the committee issued its report. Here are some of the conclusions, based in part on also asking what is not journalism:
1. Purpose: An act of journalism sets out to combine evidence-based research and verification with the creative act of storytelling. Its central purpose is to inform communities about topics or issues that they value.
2. Creation. All journalistic work -- whether words, photography or graphics -- contains an element of original production.
3. Methods. Journalistic work provides clear evidence of a self-conscious discipline calculated to provide an accurate and fair description of facts, opinion and debate at play within a situation.
Non-journalists will employ some of these attributes, but the committee believes that "for most purposes, the above three criteria create a three-way definitional 'veto'. That is, all three criteria must be met in order for an act to qualify as journalism. Failure to pass any one of these tests means that the act in question is not journalism, and only journalists will meet -- or, at least, attempt to meet -- all these criteria consistently, fully and deliberately."
Let the debate persist.
It was the turn of Roy Greenslade, the conscientious media writer for The Guardian, to appear before the Leveson inquiry into press ethics. And he delivered an idea
: Journalists should sign a "conscience clause" in their contracts to permit them to avoid breaching their codes of conduct.
Greenslade, a professor at City University in London, said journalists should know what they should not be doing and not have their employment threatened when they opt not to do so.
The inquiry is examining press ethics and determining what to do following the much-maligned phone-hacking scandal that called into question media standards and practices in the United Kingdom. But the wider world is watching what the inquiry proposes because press standards elsewhere are under scrutiny.
One of the factors in public trust of media is journalism's ability to challenge assertions. The Nieman Journalism Lab reports on new software
from a developer working at The Boston Globe that can assess the truthfulness of claims in online content. The aim is to tackle dubious claims as they're being consumed.
Dan Schultz, an MIT graduate now working as a Knight-Mozilla Fellow at the Globe, developed Truth Goggles.
It applies about 5,500 fact-checked claims from a database created by PolitiFacts to match information in online content. As you read a story, it presents a colour-coded reading over the particular claim.
Presumably the database will expand as the software develops. Schultz acknowledges there are early limitations to the scale, user interface and detection of paraphrases.
The engaging blogger, Felix Salmon of Reuters, has taken on the task
of assessing journalism ethics and concluded the focus of attention is all wrong.
Salmon says journalism is spending far too much time articulating and enforcing rules and too little time examining what constitutes ethical practice ---- that is, what sorts of things journalists can do to make the craft more ethically sound.
Which is not to say he believes there should not be boundaries.
"I don’t have a problem with those rules existing, but I worry that an unintended consequence of putting those rules in place is that journalists end up worrying much more about the rules, and what side of the rules they’re on, than they do about the underlying ethics of what it is that they’re doing, or not doing," he said.
Salmon would like more discussion on a broader plane that serves to improve the craft and not necessarily just the practices of the craftspeople.
"I’d particularly love to see that conversation take place in the context of an increasingly social world, where friendships and relationships are more out in the open than they have been in the past, and where grown-ups recognize that conflicts are a fact of life, rather than something which should always be avoided," he writes.
A new Gallup poll
indicates American confidence in television news has reached an all-time low. Trust in newspapers is not as bad, but not much better.
The poll suggests only 21 per cent of Americans have confidence in television news, one point below last year's finding and down 25 points from Gallup's original research in 1963. Confidence in newspapers dropped to 25 per cent this year, down from 28 per cent last year and half of the 50-per-cent confidence rate of 1980.
Interestingly, those who identify themselves as liberals were among those whose confidence most declined, rivaling low-confidence levels by those who identify themselves as conservatives.
Gallup could not conclude why television news confidence dropped as it did, but noted the poll was taken before recent cable news mishaps involving the Supreme Court decision on health care legislation --- meaning, the results might even be lower today.
Gallup suggests all networks "will have to renew their efforts to show Americans that they deserve a higher level of confidence than what they enjoy today."
Among the 16 institutions Gallup studied
, confidence in newspapers ranked tenth and television news eleventh. The military, small business, the police, organized religion, the medical system, the presidency, the Supreme Court, public schools and the justice system ranked ahead of them. Only organized labour, banks, big business, health maintenance organizations (HMOs) and Congress ranked lower.
Of interest to journalism should be a U.S. court case that is setting some new boundaries on the degree of privacy and legal obligation for Tweets.
In this case, a New York court has ruled that Twitter must release about three months of Tweets from Occupy movement protester Malcolm Harris. Police argue those Tweets would help in their cases.
The case is of significance because only now are courts beginning to identify the extent to which prosecutors and defendants have rights to social media. Are they someone's personal property, protected by the terms of service of a social media platform? Or are they public and subject to prosecutorial whim?
Many media have weighed in, but this Christian Science Monitor
item has a strong sense of the issue's context.