Friday, August 22, 2014

Quantity vs. Quality: story quotas for journalists

Photo credit: Market !nc
It seems as though everywhere we turn today there are performance metrics or some sort of rubric in the workplace, especially in the United States. These management mechanisms of motivation have begun to spring up in a wide array of different industries and fields, from manufacturing, law enforcement, sales, and even in health care. For the most part though they have always been a staple of corporate America, big business, and our old friend capitalism. However, according to a Huffington Post article by Catherine Talbl, quotas have meandered all the way into the field of journalism. It seems that Sun-Times Media, a Chicago based publisher and media conglomerate, has enacted a quota for all of its journalists to the tune of 2.5 stories per day. If the journalists do not meet this quota they are subject to disciplinary action and possible termination. The Chicago Newspaper Guild, a local union made up of local media members and journalists, is calling for the quota to be dropped. Regardless of what the final outcome is, has a precedent already been set?

I don’t think that the creators and founders of the Pulitzer Prize nor the Peabody awards could have foreseen an age when a journalist’s job description would be encumbered with a quota requiring a set output of stories on a daily basis. Can you imagine if Warhol, Van Gogh, Jackson Pollack, or Mr. Wolfgang Mozart had worked under similar quotas? What that would have done to the quality and integrity of their works? What affect that would have had on their legacies and their acclaim, and how we regard them today? I believe that journalists much more closely resemble artists, painters and musicians, than they do salesman, assembly line workers, and call center nurses. When you factor in the role that journalists have and play in our society and in regards to the public, is it then not paramount for the purveyors and producers of our news, data, and enlightenment to be free of any shackle that would harm or impede their ability to be great at what they do?

It is yet to be seen what will come of the dispute between the Sun-Times Media group and the Chicago Newspaper Guild. Likewise, it remains unclear if the practice of assigning story quotas to journalists will become an adopted and accepted standard of mainstream media and journalism not only in the US, but globally as well. A famous Polish journalist, Ryszard Kapuscinski, once referred to journalism as the “blurred genre.” If quotas become the standard operating procedure for journalists, will this genre become even more blurred?

-William Korte

Sources:
The Huffington Post
The Tyee

Thursday, August 14, 2014

#IfTheyGunnedMeDown - Bias in Photojournalism

What story would the pictures of you tell?

Photo credit:
http://iftheygunnedmedown.tumblr.com/
In a response to the media coverage of another police shooting, this time of Michael Brown, an unarmed black 18 year old near St. Louis, Missouri, thousands of young African Americans have used twitter to ask the question "If they gunned me down which picture would they use?"

The hashtag users post one picture of themselves in a traditionally upstanding scene - wearing their military uniform, graduating from high school or college, or spending time with family members - and one picture of themselves, as ABC says, "in a less polished moment: holding up their hands in a way that the media often calls "gang signs," or drinking alcohol, or dancing in a suggestive way."

Photo credit: The Root


Participants have used the hashtag to draw attention to how the media's use of photos conveys a particular story, which might not be the whole truth.


Yesha Callahan, a writer for The Root, argued that #IfTheyGunnedMeDown was created: "to make a statement on how the media draws a biased narrative when it comes to telling the stories of black men and women. The following images [from #IfTheyGunnedMeDown] not only tell a truthful story but also prove that we, as black people, know what our narrative is, but we are also not blind to the fact that the media will, of course, be biased in showing the truth."

The creator of #IfTheyGunnedMeDown, a lawyer named CJ Lawrence, says "the hashtag poses a rhetorical question…'but in reality it's something we ask ourselves every day as African Americans.'"

CJ Lawrence, the creator of #IfTheyGunnedMeDown, in his original tweet.
The first photo is his speech at his University graduation alongside Bill Clinton,
the second was a halloween costume. Photo credit: BBC
Photojournalism can be an incredibly effective tool for the media, but it can also create bias and tell only half a story. Do you think the media has an ethical responsibility when they choose which photos to publish?

- Kate Davidson

Sources:
ABC News
NPR
BBC
The Root
IfTheyGunnedMeDown Tumblr

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Human vs. Robot journalists: Does it matter who writes what we read?

Photo credit: Orbit Media
At the end of June the Associated Press announced that it had reached a landmark deal with Artificial Insights, a North Carolina-based automation technology company, to write company earnings reports. The deal itself is not the major news story here, it’s that the reports will be compiled and written by robots. The concept of robots being an integral part of journalism is not a new concept. In fact, chances are if you have read anything on-line in the last few years, you have definitely feasted your eyes on the penmanship of a robot. According to a piece by Lance Unaoff on Mashable.com, Artificial Insights has created an artificial intelligence system called “Wordsmith” that is designed to “churn out hundreds of millions of stories every year.” According to the article, in 2013 Wordsmith was the creator of 300 million stories, “more than all the major media companies combined.” One can only assume there are many journalists out there, including myself, who after becoming acquainted with Wordsmith get just a little queasy when it comes to thinking about their future as a writer or about their job security.

Lou Ferrera, the AP Managing editor, maintains that jobs, as well as the sanctity and integrity of journalism, are not in danger; that robots and artificially intelligent writings are merely for quantitative purposes only; that in essence using robots to write and compose mundane reports and pieces that do not require substantial analysis and insight will actually be of tremendous benefit for journalists and writers, allowing them to focus on stories and topics that require deeper introspection, postulation, and analytics. This sounds wonderful in theory, but to me it reminds me of the Twilight Zone episode where robots take over every industry and job once available to mankind and thus man is rendered obsolete and ultimately becomes surpassed and oppressed by those same robots. Which makes me wonder: Do media companies and journalistic enterprises have a moral or ethical obligation to ensure that only human beings do journalism? Furthermore, is Journalism really journalism if it is done through artificial intelligence and not by actual humans? Is the Associated Press committing an ethical crime by allowing robots to write reports? At the very least are they guilty of setting a very dangerous precedent.

It should be noted that Wordsmith‘s programmers and developers actively work to ensure that Wordsmith’s sentence and paragraph structure are more humanlike and that Wordsmith is taught about things like tone and grammar. But if Wordsmith can resemble a human, will humans be needed less? The article even references a study that was done where readers were given a story to read, where one version was written by a human and another version that was written by a robot, and then they were asked to identify which version was written by who. The study concluded that half of the participants were unable to distinguish the true author of the written story. One could contend that this is exciting and that it really is just another example of how technological advances can help make industries more efficient and effective. However, I believe that journalism is not an industry, but is actually a child of literature, and literature is best regarded as a form of art. I think the creation of art is something best left to humans. Do you agree?

- William Korte

Sources:
Benzinga
Mashable
Wikipedia

Sunday, July 13, 2014

STALEMATE: Ukraine can't win if it becomes what it already was

Photo credit: The Red Phoenix
The seemingly never-ending conflict between Ukraine and Russia is the sort of international chess match that makes political science scholars salivate. It's also the kind of story that has the subplot and all the actors that Tom Clancy would have loved to write a novel about. From Vladimir Putin championing Russia’s intent on becoming an economic superpower to the people of Ukraine fighting simultaneously against two tyrants, and who could forget the intervention of the West. Nevertheless, this is an important story, a story that has seen innocent people lose their lives with a literal tug of war over power. Throughout this drama Russia has been viewed by the Western public and media as the aggressor, a bully, while Ukraine has been cast as the defender, a victim. A recent proliferation of actions by Ukraine towards members of the media could be changing the lens through which this story is being viewed.

On May 18th Marat Saychenko and Oleg Sidyakin, two journalists working for Life News, were arrested by Ukrainian security forces. Several days later the Ukrainian National Guard detained Graham Phillips, a freelance journalist from the UK, “on suspicion of being a spy.” All of these men have ties to RT and Life News, organizations that have long been considered to be distributors of propaganda for Kremlin-Russian sponsored TV. The RT itself released a report claiming that Ukraine had denied some journalists entry into the country and had even refused to release information about the locations of several detained journalists within it’s borders

According to the BBC, "Life News has complained
that its reporters were mistreated by the Ukrainian military"
Photo credit: BBC
If Ukraine is looking to gain sympathizers within the international community, is this the best way to achieve that goal? Since December, when Ukrainians began clamoring in Kiev against the decision of President Yanukovych to demur his country’s inclusion into the EU, It seemed as though Ukraine was seeking a chance to evolve from their history. As Fred Kaplan wrote in a recent Slate.com article, “They were protesting their president’s retreat from a Western Future to the Eastern past.” The immediate past for people in Ukraine included being subject to what William Risch, a professor of history at Georgia College, called, “an Authoritarian regime, that did alienate many people across Ukraine.”

Is it a moral paradox for Ukraine to seek refuge and safety from an oppressive regime, as well as stave off imperialistic efforts by its supposedly repressive neighbor Russia, but then resort to the same types of behavior itself? By arresting journalists, refusing to disclose their locations, and denying the press entry into its borders, Ukraine is perpetuating an inherent contradiction. If the people leading Ukraine have learned anything from their past, they will ensure the freedom of all press with in their borders. If they don’t they will risk compromising the entire movement that has gripped their nation by resembling the abusive and oppressive conduct that they have been fighting against all along.

- William Korte

Sources:
BBC
RT
Slate
The Red and Black

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Who is the madman under your nose? the Savile saga continues

He started his media career in 1958 as a disc jockey at Radio Luxembourg. In 1964, when he was already known as an eccentric, vibrant, and exuberant personality, he started working at the BBC, presenting the first edition of Top of the Pops. From 1975 until 1994, for almost 20 years, he presented a popular TV show, Jim’ll Fix It, where he made children’s wishes come true. He was knighted in 1990. In 2009, The Guardian described him as a “prodigious philanthropist.” On October 29, 2011, he died and everyone was deeply saddened.

Jimmy Savile. Photo credit: The Guardian
One year after his death hundreds of accusations including child sex abuse, sexual interference with corpses, and rape were revealed. Everyone was in shock. The BBC was outraged. The entire British population had been hoaxed for half a century by an eccentric sex offender. His nest was the BBC, where he got his fame and power, where he met influential people and learned to manipulate, where he, to put it in other words, grew as a personality.

Back in 2011, shortly after his death, many flattering words had been written. For instance, Daily Mail paid tribute to him and wrote:
Radio presenter Paul Burnett told Sky News that Sir Jimmy's charity work was a 'two way street', adding: 'He didn't have a family as such and so when he took on a charity, that became his family. He did a lot of work as a porter in the hospital that he collected money for. He would go there at night and work as a porter and I think he loved the people that he worked with, it wasn't just for the publicity, but he knew the charities were doing well out of it as well. He was capable of acts of great kindness. You didn't really ever get to know "the man" because he was a showman, and like so many showmen that's - that's their main thing in life and he did it brilliantly.”
Three years later, The Independent wrote that “Savile's victims at hospitals ranged from five-year-old children to 75-year-old pensioners and included men, women, boys and girls, who were patients, visitors and staff.”

But that is not all of it.

“JIMMY SAVILE beat and raped a 12-year-old girl during a secret satanic ritual in a hospital,” Express began one of its articles in January 2013. This is an excerpt from the article:
Dr. Sinason told the Sunday Express she first spoke to the victim in 1992.
“She had been a patient at Stoke Mandeville in 1975 when Savile was a regular visitor. She recalled being led into a room that was filled with candles on the lowest level of the hospital, somewhere that was not regularly used by staff. Several adults were there, including Jimmy Savile who, like the others, was wearing a robe and a mask.
She recognised him because of his distinctive voice and the fact that his blond hair was protruding from the side of the mask. He was not the leader but he was seen as important because of his fame.
She was molested, raped and beaten and heard words that sounded like ‘Ave Satanas’, a Latinised version of ‘Hail Satan’, being chanted. There was no mention of any other child being there and she cannot remember how long the attack lasted but she was left extremely frightened and shaken.”
Suddenly the hero had become the villain. Hundreds of complaints began to pour in. People from all corners of England started remembering their horror stories, stories that have been locked in the darkest corners of their memory for tens of years. At Leeds General Infirmary the number of allegations was up to 60.

The questions is: How did a single person, regardless of how influential and manipulative he was, manage to rape and sexually assault people, and have sexual intercourse with corpses numerous times, without anyone saying a single word?

Well, words have been said. But all in vain.

“Noami Stanley, a psychiatric nurse who treated patients who told her they had been abused by Savile at Broadmoor, said police and senior medical staff dismissed her concerns as an "irritation,” the BBC itself reported.

Savile also had free access to the mortuary in the ‘80s. Besides the promiscuous activity that took place, Savile had claimed that the “large rings he wore were ‘made from the glass eyes of dead bodies at the mortuary,’” the Mirror reports.

The Telegraph reported: “Julian Hartley, chief executive of Leeds Teaching Hospitals, said: "This is a profoundly shocking report in which for the first time we are able to gain a clear picture of the abuse perpetrated by Jimmy Savile during his involvement with our hospitals in Leeds, in particular the Leeds General Infirmary, which started in 1962 and continued through to late 2000s.”

Jim’ll Fix It.

- Paula Munteanu

Sources:
The Guardian
Daily Mail
The Independent
Daily Express
BBC
Mirror
The Telegraph

Saturday, June 28, 2014

"Journalism is not a crime"

Mother of Abdullah Elshamy,
one of the imprisoned Al Jazeera journalists.
Photo credit: Al Jazeera
Journalism is not only a career, for most, it is a passion. The majority of journalists travel on little means, receive meager compensation, and entrench themselves in the deadliest of situations in order to bring awareness to the public. Sometimes the ethics that surround journalism are not about the characters in the articles, but rather the character of the person writing. The general public may not be aware that journalism can be a dangerous and deadly business. Throughout the world journalists are spied upon, imprisoned, abducted, disappeared, and/or killed while pursuing the truths hidden by those in power. For example, in 2013, 70 people lost their lives for reporting on the news, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. Currently there are over 200 journalists imprisoned for reasons ranging from charges of subversion to fabricated charges used as a silencer. Such is the case when it comes to the trial of three English Al-Jazeera journalists who have spent more than 115 days in jail for "spreading news and belonging to the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood." Correspondent Peter Greste and producers Mohammed Fahmy and Baher Mohamed, are not the only ones currently being held in Cairo for the crime of being journalists. Abdullah Elshamy, also of Al-Jazeera, has been held in Egyptian prisons for over 250 days and has been on a hunger strike for the last 90.

In some countries there is a belief of an inherent right to the freedom of the press. Turkey, who is currently trying to join the European Union, has been denied admission partly due to their abominable track record in terms of journalistic suppression. In 2012 and 2013 they were the country that imprisoned the most journalists. As the world continues to become a closer knit community, as information spreads at the speed of a click, the role of journalists is increasing in need every second. Some claim that governments have the right to suppress information that may be harmful to the public. CIME blog author Hamroz Abduhoshimov wrote about a law in China that states “social network and internet users who post false rumors that gain more than 500 re-posts or are visited by 5,000 internet users will be sentenced to three years in jail.” While rumors can be malicious, the law in China could be just another tool used by governments in order to silence those who are believed to be against them. As journalism evolves with changing technology, so to should the protections afforded to those behind the words.

As you write and publish works in various countries, what laws and policies have you come across that are meant to derail or silence your work? Moreover, how do you think journalism as a profession and as a livelihood are going to evolve in the coming years with the advent of new technologies and the scrutiny of media rising throughout the world?

- Carol Davey

Sources:
Committee to Protect Journalists - 70 journalists killed in 2013
Al-Jazeera - Afghanistan's journalists betrayed
Committee to Protect Journalists
Committee to Protect Journalists - 2013 prison census
Al Jazeera - Journalists' trial adjourned again
Al Jazeera - Elshamy marks 250 days in jail
Al Jazeera - Crackdown on journalists
The Guardian
CIME blog - China's new law
CNN
Reporters without borders

Sunday, June 22, 2014

A Doctored Documentary

Photo credit: Deadline
When the Robert Redford produced documentary “Chicagoland” was first made public it was as a mosaic, a “nonfiction-ensemble,” and a hybrid. It was to be a “behind-the-scenes” look at the city of Chicago and the people who define it. The documentary promised an elevated level of access; a never before seen glimpse into what makes the city tick. CNN centered the 8 episode series on Chicago’s charismatic Mayor Rahm Emmanuel, and his efforts to make Chicago the most American of all American Cities. The series was touted as being a reality show that allowed audiences from all over the world to understand what Chicago is all about and showcase the Mayor as well as some of the everyday citizens that make up Chicago’s identity. When the show was first announced, many members of the media who were allowed to screen it questioned its validity and whether it truly was reality TV. A report has seemed to validate those initial concerns, and depict the series as a major conflict of interest.
proclaimed

A recent Chicago Tribune article by Bill Ruthhart suggests that the Chicagoland series was anything but a documentary. The report is based off of 700 emails that were exchanged between producers, Mayor Emmanuel’s Aides, and others involved in the creative process. The Chicago Tribune obtained the emails through a Freedom of Information request. The emails show that the producers were not always granted the access they desired; they illustrate that the mayor’s staff worked together with the producers on the storylines and cinematography, and even reviewed the press releases and advertisements promoting the show before they could be disseminated.

The Chicago Tribune asked show creator Marc Levin about the emails and the Emmanuel editorial control that may have been involved. "Everything the mayor does is stage-managed. Everything. I would be the first to acknowledge that you don't get into Chicago and get access without having to do a certain dance.” Amid the controversy, Emmanuel spokeswoman Sarah Hamilton issued a statement saying that work done between CNN and the mayor was typical. Is this type of relationship to be expected when a news media conglomerate – saddled with the priority of making profits and ratings – attempts to make a foray into the business of making a documentary?

By definition a documentary is a record or documentation of fact, but in this case the Chicagoland series does not seem to fit that criteria. If CNN was willing to sacrifice journalistic integrity when making a documentary, does that mean that they and the people involved in the creative process are willing to compromise their integrity in other areas too? Is it simply something that we should have seen coming, just another cautionary tale of greed vs. ethics?

One thing is for sure; when you mix reality TV with the news media and politics, you never can be sure what you’re going to get.

- William Korte

Sources:
The Hollywood Reporter
LA Times
Chicago Tribune
"Documentary" definition