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Fairness, Section 003, 9:30 a.m. class

Post your fairness comments here.

Categories: Uncategorized
  1. Megan Brincks
    September 27, 2009 at 11:10 am

    It must be very difficult as an editor to make decisions about when or when not to publish a story like the story about the Yale lab technician. On one hand, if he was found innocent, a paper cannot take back whatever it said about him. Retractions do not erase the initial message. Communication is completely irreversible, and by implicating someone who may be innocent, media take a big risk in being very wrong.

    However, if the person is found guilty and a medium does not report on it, it might be late with the news and behind other sources.

    In the case of the lab technician, I understand why Alicia Shepard of NPR argued for the release of his name. When the police chief announced the man’s name at in a public forum, it is only fair that the name is released to the public.

    However, I also think that everything should be backed up with a second source. If someone anonymously calls with a name of a “suspect” in a case, that is certainly not enough to run that name. If the name checks out with police, then perhaps it would be enough to publish it. In the case of Richard A. Jewell, obviously the medium didn’t have enough to run his name. With some rewording, they still could have a story without causing so many problems for Jewell.

    As an editor, it might have been difficult to not run Jewell’s name, but someone seemed to have had a serious lapse in judgment. What’s wrong with saying that police are investigating the security company, including several individual employees? I’m not sure what had been confirmed by police at the time, but something like this would have saved Jewell a lot of heartache, and it would have saved a lot of money.

    When I was in high school, a senior was killed in a drunken driving accident. Unfortunately, this was not a rare occurrence in my home town, but of course the newspaper still ran a story about it. The reporter described in detail exactly the scene of the incident. Although they omitted graphic details, there were several details I found disturbing. In particular, he or she reported the exact distance from the car her shoe was found. It might seem like an insignificant detail, but at the time I felt like the girl was betrayed by these little details. I felt like her death was violated. Some of those details should be private, I remember thinking. They should be between her and the road, not publicized for the world to see.

  2. Kat Ladwig
    September 27, 2009 at 1:13 pm

    An editor can publish the name of “a person of interest” and be considered more updated and on the ball. Or an editor can withhold the name in order to save that person possible humiliation as well as lawsuits, but then be considered less informed. It is a gamble.
    I do not think that it is fair and accurate to pinpoint someone as “a person of interest” regardless of who released the information. It may have been as innocent as being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Is it worth tarnishing an innocent reputation at the expense of being the first to offer up a name? It is easy to make that decision when your job is to sell newspapers. However, I do think another important aspect of being an editor is to realize that ethics should always outweigh newsworthiness.
    I can understand the choice of the NPR editors to allow Clark’s name to be published in the Yale case since police chief was the source of information. At the same time, though, police can be under a lot of pressure to list suspects, just as the article mentioned. So, I think editors should still tread carefully even with seemingly credible sources.
    Other fairness factors to consider when making editorial decisions involve the reporter covering the story. Do they have bias opinions that are showing up in their writing? Do they have relations with any subjects that could hinder fair and accurate reporting? I have seen examples of unfair reporting in local newspapers quite a bit. For example, my hometown in Minnesota had a reporter with a niece on some of the area sports teams. You can guess what name was mentioned the most in those articles.
    Overall, I think the most important things an editor can do is consult others in the newsroom for more opinions and place themselves in the shoes of those names published in the articles. History teaches important lessons and we do not want to repeat the days of Yellow Journalism when the news was so pointed and exaggerated that it forces readers not to believe what is being printed. If we stick to fair and accurate reporting, the media would be much more respected.

  3. Christa Masters
    September 27, 2009 at 10:21 pm

    For me, it seems like these calls about whether to publish “a person of interest” is easy, although, my inexperience may cause me to be naïve in these types of decision-makings. Accusations should not be made until the person is proven guilty. Therefore do not publish their names. If there is any question about publishing “a person of interest,” don’t publish the story. Falsely accusing a person could ruin the credibility of the news outlet and it could ruin that person’s life. You wouldn’t publish words like adverse or averse without knowing you were using them correctly in a sentence; similarly do not publish “a person of interest” until there are facts that the person is proven guilty of their crime. Do you want to publish false information? Is it worth the risk? What if your name was published as “a person of interest?” In routine stories, check the facts. Whether your editor decides to publish names, do not assume that every person is guilty when that person may only be “a person of interest.” It is not like “tomāto, tomäto.”

    I can remember in high school, most of the newspaper staff had their own clique of friends. Reporters would routinely interview that group of friends. In our weekly papers, the same people could get interviewed two weeks in a row. Most stories published were more about gossip than news, which ruined the paper’s readership and credibility.

    Every newspaper is a business and needs to make money. Without the credibility, there is not readership. Without readership, how will a newspaper company make money? Is it worth taking those kinds of risks?

  4. Victoria Grdina
    September 27, 2009 at 11:25 pm

    The second story (from the New York Times) illustrates quite well why it might be best to leave out certain information and details of a case if they have not yet been confirmed. Jewell’s life is considerably tarnished, and may be for the rest of his life, because of a crime he didn’t even commit. Even though he was publicly cleared of charges, everyone still remembers him as being involved in the case.

    Somewhat related but comparable to that is an incident that gained national attention a few years ago. Everyone heard the story about the couple who found a finger in their chili at a Wendy’s, but not as many people are able to recall that the finger was planted in the chili by the couple who found it.

    Decades ago, the media were much more sensitive and protecting of the privacy and reputations of people, but nowadays, the media are much more cutthroat. Journalists are encouraged to dig deep for the details; the juicier the better. But where does an editor draw the line? Is every bit of accessible information fair game?

    I don’t really think so. I understand the mentality of en editor who wants to let his or her paper break the story first, but what’s the point of breaking a story that is really just speculation and not on much substantial evidence? This may gain the attention of more readers, but eventually it might be at the expense of the paper’s credibility. Too many reports based on weak facts will definitely affect whether readers will continue to trust the source or not, and therefore continue to buy or read the paper. Not only is the reputation of the person in question at stake, but the reputation of the news source as well.

    I think in most cases, it may be better to wait until substantial evidence of a person’s involvement with a case surfaces. I think most of the time, that information should come from a credible source, like an official statement from the police, rather than a leaked bit of information from a not-so-official source. Once something is public knowledge, then by all means print something about it, but I feel to begin including people in stories who may not have ties to the actual case before that time is often times a mistake, and unfair to the parties involved.

    Some stories and situations and stories are just plain unfortunate, and often times those are the ones that need to be reported the most, so embarrassment isn’t always something that’s avoidable. I think it is important to report these stories with caution, and use discretion. I think it is important for editors to know when to be sensitive and when to be brutal. Too much or too little of either can result in some very poor decisions.

    I was the co-editor-in-chief my senior year of high school, when Bill Callahan was fired, and Bo Pelini was hired. Like every other newspaper in the state, we recognized what a huge story this was and that it deserved a lot of coverage. My high school, however, had to approach the subject differently because Bill Callahan’s daughters were students there. As a staff, we decided to still report the story; nothing is a bigger deal in the state than that. But we took extra care to leave any kind of hurtful negativity out. I think our paper did the right thing, and I think a lot of cases could be handled in a similar manner: honest and truthful, but still sensitive to the situation.

  5. Lacey Mason
    September 28, 2009 at 1:49 pm

    Making an editorial call when a person is involved is always going to be difficult. On a human level, no writer or editor wants to be responsible for printing untrue or premature information, especially when it involves a person. I believe though that striving for accuracy should be the true goal. I believe that in the cases of Richard Jewell and Dr. Steven J. Hatfill, I would have run the names. I would have been more delicate in what I was saying, however. With Mr. Jewell, I might have preferred to stress that though he is a person of interest, he was also the person who found the bomb and assisted with guiding people to safety. In order to present accurate information, all facts need to be shared. That includes names but they need to given in the appropriate context. Newspapers can’t rely solely on what the Associated Press runs.
    Sometimes though, I feel the reporters do a better job of getting information to people than the authorities do. When my apartment was robbed and set on fire in 2007, I found out from journalstar.com when the boys responsible were found. I never received a phone call from police.
    When editors are making fairness calls about stories they should consider the collective impact to themselves and the citizens. Though a newspaper doesn’t want to have a reputation of publishing information that hurts someone, it also doesn’t need the reputation of waiting too long to report valuable news. I do believe names of victims and children should be left out. I think though, despite the slight risk of being wrong, a newspaper should print what they know if it presents a key point in the story.
    I remember when a California girl was found dead in a suitcase, her neighbor, Melissa Hukaby, was charged with her murder. Though she was the murderer, I remember a story about another woman named Melissa Hukaby with a similar description, who lived in the same city, received much ridicule. As unfortunate as this was for the “good” Hukaby, there wasn’t much the newspaper could do to prevent it. Newspapers need to live in the here-and-now. Being concerned with to many “what-if’s” will never get anything accomplished.

  6. Bethany Trueblood
    September 28, 2009 at 6:34 pm

    One of the most important things an editor should strive for when reporting is accuracy. Readers want to know that they can trust a paper, and if the paper is not accurate in what it reports, then readers are going to stop trusting and eventually stop reading. This is why editors need to be especially careful when choosing whether or not to run a name. In the articles we read, I do not see why it was necessary at all to publish those names. It doesn’t make sense to me that an editor would choose to do that when it’s only a “person of interest.” In Richard Jewell’s case, his entire life was ruined because an editor chose to publish his name when he was only a “person of interest” and had not been convicted or charged. Jewell said that he is more cynical now and has lost trust in people, something that he will probably never fully gain back. Editors need to consider how the decisions they make will affect people in their stories in the long-run. They need to be careful about the details they select so that they do not lose the trust of the people they write about and the people that read the stories.

  7. Elizabeth Venrick
    September 28, 2009 at 9:30 pm

    A journalist’s job is to print accurate and reliable information. Readers believe what the paper writes, because they are suppose to be right.
    I understand the want to print information of names and leads first, or just period, but you cannot assume in journalism and you certainly pin point or rule anyone in or out, especially with the law is involved.
    These cases bring up good points. It’s a tough decision. However, it’s also tough reading your name in the paper and being nationally known for a crime or a reputation that you didn’t do, or that’s not you.
    As writers and editors, it’s imperative to remember your audience. Remember, that the person who’s name you may be printing will be reading your paper and unless you have all your facts 100% right, you may want to put yourself in his or her shoes, and imagine yourself reading your name as “a person of interest” in something you weren’t involved.

  8. Laura Maricle
    September 28, 2009 at 9:36 pm

    Editing for fairness is a difficult task, especially when news organizations are in competition for the most interesting take on a story. Editing for fairness has to be balanced with the effort to include juicy details. Editors need to consider how the people’s lives who are in the story will be affected. Editors should ask themselves, “Could I be sued, and how much will I be sued for if I have the facts wrong?” If it is a lot, I would think twice. A big lawsuit indicates someone in the story has suffered severe damages from the reporting. Even if a news organization isn’t sued, editors should think about how people will be affected by the story. Who are the stakeholders in the issue, and how will they react to the story?

    A recent article published by Time Magazine titled “Getting Real About the High Price of Cheap Food” caught extensive heat from the agriculture industry for being unfair. The author, Bryan Walsh, was interviewed on the AgriTalk radio show by Thomas Quaife on August 31, 2009. When asked about the one-sided slant on the anti-agriculture story, Walsh admitted the story was written to reflect his opinion and did not present both sides. Walsh said Time has given its authors more liberty to insert their opinion into stories to allow Time “to be part of the conversation”. I disagree with this ideology of reporting entirely. It is not Time Magazine’s job to be part of the conversation. Time should present the facts and let its readers participate in the conversation.

    Editors should be careful not to fall into the trap Time Magazine did. Although they had an interesting story, it was one-sided and unfair. American food consumers read one person’s opinion and now believe it to be fact. Time Magazine’s editors failed in their duty to present unbiased facts to their readers.

  9. Becky Gailey
    September 28, 2009 at 10:09 pm

    I think a person of interest should be identified by name only when police have released the name. There should be no exceptions to this because once one exception is made, newspapers will become more tempted to use names that should not be released. In the case of the Yale slaying, police named Raymond Clark III at a press conference, so the media had every right to use his name; however, it is very important to stress that a person of interest is not a suspect nor has he or she been charged with a crime.
    A subject’s name should be released, but only if the name comes from a reliable source. In the cases of Richard Jewell and Steven Hatfield, the media received anonymous tips that each man was a person of interest. Both Jewell and Hatfield were innocent, and Jewell sued several news outlets for libel after his life was ruined. No news source wants to be sued, but even more importantly, no legitimate news source should want to ruin the life of an innocent person.
    Another problem I have with naming a person of interest is that in many cases the name comes from an anonymous source. Anonymous sources are unreliable, as Jewell’s and Hatfield’s cases prove, and they can cause more problems than they solve. Also, the Constitution gives people the right to face their accusers, which is impossible to do when newspapers use anonymous sources.
    When determining if it is fair to publish a piece of information, I think an editor should ask a few key questions. Is the information vital to the story? Will someone be negatively affected by the information? If so, does the public benefit enough from this specific piece of information to warrant its publication? At my work, we recently had a discussion over whether or not to use a quote in a story. It is one of the most hilarious quotes I’ve ever read, and it pertained to the article; however, it would probably cause a rift between two factions in the town. In the end, we decided to not use the quote because it could create drama in the town, and it was not vital to the article.

  10. Erin Starkebaum
    September 28, 2009 at 10:50 pm

    I think it was right to publish Raymond Clark III’s name as a person of interest in the Yale killing since the police chief had already named him at a press conference. At that point, so many other news organizations would have picked the name up and ran with it, one more outlet doing the same wouldn’t make much of a difference. Organizations should have their own set of rules and standards though, and stick to them. This would be one of those tricky situations that would have to be discussed among editors before they decide to publish the name or not. Since the police had very publicly named Clark, the investigators must have been convinced to a fairly high degree that he was responsible.

    Editors should have kept in mind though that since it was such a high-profile case, the police were under a lot of pressure to provide answers very quickly. That could have affected their decision to give names before they had reason enough to do so. Had Clark not been arrested and charged with the murder of Annie Le, it would have ruined Clark’s chance to continue life as he had lived it before as was the case for Richard Jewell.

    I don’t think Jewell’s name should have been published as the focus an investigation by The Atlanta Journal since it was reported with no attribution. And it is unclear if he became a person of interest before it was reported or if he was investigated after his name was published. It most certainly should not have been reported that he “fits the profile of the lone bomber” if that had not been confirmed by a nameable source.

    Editors should keep the credibility of their sources in mind as well as the consequences of their actions. One article led to many more that ruined the life of Richard Jewell. Editors should consider how much action is being taken by authorities as well. If an anonymous tip says someone will be investigated, that person’s name shouldn’t be reported until they actually do become the focus of an investigation. If a person is named, they should have the chance to share their side of the story in an effort to clear their name.

    To make routine stories fair, editors should make sure all sides are given the opportunity to share their viewpoints and equal time should be allotted. If that means waiting on a story to give someone a chance to respond, then that’s what should happen. No specific articles come to mind that I have found to be unfair, but I do not doubt that I have read some that were unfair to a certain degree and I just failed to notice.

  11. Pat Radigan
    September 29, 2009 at 6:41 am

    I think that whenever there is a case of this magnitude it is important that every decision made by an editor be carefully considered. Its easy to make a call from a newsroom about something, but what is important to think about is putting yourself in the shoes of the person who a decision might affect and thinking of what the consequences of publishing or not publishing might be. It may seem like the decisions just apply to the paper one is working for, but what is unseen is how the decision to publish can greatly affect those involved.

    Both sides of that idea were on display in the articles we read. There was one case (Jewell) where the decision to go to press practically ruined the life one man had and will affect him for the rest of his life, and on the other hand there is the Yale case where it seems that although his name was published early, it seems as though he is the one who committed the crime so it appears that was the correct call. With both these cases, however, there are many little factors that need to be carefully analyzed in making the call to publish or not publish. For example in the Yale case, even though he was not named as a suspect police had still labeled him as a person of interest, and so there were many reasons why it was a good idea to publish the information. In the case of Jewell, going off of an anonymous tip or pinning a crime on someone when the police haven’t even formally addressed that person are two practices that seemingly caused the error of making him seem guilty. Hindsight may be 20/20 but the choices those editors made can never truly be taken back, and his life will never be the same.

    I think beyond making the decision to publish or not to publish, there are other factors that dictate fairness. Things like making sure both sides of the story are presented and having all of the facts and information available for a reader to understand a topic. In addition, in some cases to be fair it is proper to provide context to properly characterize certain stories. One story I can remember that seemed very unfair to me was the coverage of the Michael Vick situation. I read the entire 16-page indictment in the case, and every time it mentioned Vick it was in relation to a financial situation, or with him simply monitoring fights and/or training. The parts where animals were drowned or electrocuted or tortured in other way were credited only to his co-conspirators, yet in the media many stories tied Vick in with the torture and killing of the animals. Yes, Michael Vick did horrible things, but he wasn’t the one killing or torturing the animals, which is why many people were so outraged. I think even when someone has done something wrong like this they deserve the right to have the proper story told.

  12. Michael Todd
    September 29, 2009 at 7:32 am

    Like most debates about morality, editors would have to consider fairness on an article-by-article basis. Cut-and-dried isn’t in the vernacular when it comes to being fair, newsworthy and profitable at the same time.

    First, being fair seems like one of those gut responses. Sure, anyone would say they support fairness in the news media. But what exactly does that mean? Should there be strict policies set by precedent now, or is the issue ever-changing?

    In the three cases mentioned, it would seem that those suspected of committing the crimes, if they weren’t guilty, were caught in the wrong place at the wrong time. Once police released their names to the public, newspapers had to consider keeping up with other outlets, as well as being fair to those named.

    And so, being newsworthy is an issue that crops up in instances like these. While, say, NPR might garner some respect for not printing a name that turns out later to not be involved, it would receive a considerable amount of heat from its readership if it turns out the suspect was guilty. In such a time-crunched environment, issues of fairness can’t be deliberated as much as they probably need to be.

    Being newsworthy lends itself to being profitable, which is that somewhat insidious, but ever-so vital factor that leads outlets to publish facts that might not be facts just yet.

    Thinking back, early in the morning as it is, when my mental cogs are still going slowly in first gear, I can’t think of one particular outside example. But I’m sure issues like these on a smaller scale happen everyday under our noses. While editors don’t have to make such huge decisions concerning fairness everyday as the Jewell, the anthrax, or the Yale cases, people can be nonetheless hurt in the community when fairness isn’t taken fully into consideration.

  13. Andrew J. McClure
    September 29, 2009 at 7:36 am

    Editors, as the top representatives of the material that enters their newspapers, need to be careful with what goes into print. There may be many factors to consider when an editor makes a decision on the “fairness” of a story, but the most important of these is to consider the potential damage to the paper. If a story is run that accuses someone of something they did not do, the paper loses credibility and the person does as well.
    While making a mistake in a small police report in a paper is still a regrettable mistake, the naming of Richard Jewell as the bomber at the Atlanta Olympics was one of the most extreme examples of unconfirmed reporting. An unnamed person had pointed to Jewell as being a “person of interest” in the case. Why a paper would run a story on information from an unnamed person is puzzling. If you have no way to confirm whether he is the bomber or not, the paper should not use his name in the story.
    One case that comes to mind that highlights a newspaper running a story based on false information was the first story that the “Omaha World Herald” ran about former Nebraska football player Thunder Collins. Originally, they ran an unconfirmed story that Collins had been shot and killed. However, it turns out he had been the one who had killed several people. Collins held a press conference for himself that said he had not been shot and that the media was incorrect.
    Even though Collins was a criminal, it is just as much of a crime for a paper to rely on false information to print a story. Not only does this open the door for lawsuits, but also ruins newspapers credibility. Without it, they have nothing.

  14. Taylor Kessner
    September 29, 2009 at 8:08 am

    I would argue that an error in judgment could cause much more damage to a news source, than most spelling errors and other style mistakes. It goes without question that these men, Richard Jewell and Dr. Steven J. Hatfill, suffered when a handful of media outlets jumped the gun. I think in the most recent of these cases, with suspect Raymond Clark III, that media handled the situation in a way that was fair to the individual. The source was not anonymous, but rather the New Haven chief of police. The information could hardly help being covered anyway, due to the case being so high profile.
    I think the main point made in this article is to be wary of anonymous sources and unconfirmed data. In most cases, it simply doesn’t belong in a news article.
    There are many factors other than what and what not to publish involved in creating a fair and accurate story. We have talked in class about avoiding sexism and stereotypes. Never say anything about a woman’s appearance and character you wouldn’t say about a man and vice versa. Also, how a news source uses quotes can become a problem. It’s very easy to make someone sound dumb or arrogant, simply through the arrangement of quotations. Balance is also very important. Both sides of a story must be present in the article, even if one declines to comment or cannot be reached. Readers need to know that the news source is trying its best to present a fair and accurate story.
    I think a good example of a story that got a lot (and I mean a lot) of unfair play, was the death of Michael Jackson. It took a while before the incident was ruled a homicide investigation, but with it being such a monumental event, people speculated. The media was as at the forefront of that. Accusations against Jackson’s personal physician Conrad Murray ran rampant long before the coroner actually confirmed a manslaughter investigation.

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