4.25 Reader’s Noteboo

The Journalist and the Murder was such an intriguing and infuriating book. In my eyes, McGinniss is a viler human than MacDonald because it’s so difficult to decide whether or not MacDonald actually did it, but we know that McGinniss double-crossed his subject and seemed to think he did no wrong. And that is somewhat disgusting. There are a few lines in the book that really struck me, like the sentiment that a journalist’s job is to “report, not to invent”. Also, that some those on McGinniss’ side believed that lying was okay because it was necessary.

The conclusion mentioned something about a journalist having to work in moral anarchy, which is a puzzling statement. And frankly, I really can’t figure out what it exactly means. My favorite to lines are the following two:  “But the writer of nonfiction is only a renter, who must abide by the conditions of his lease, which stipulates that he leave the house – and its name Actuality – as he found it” and “What gives journalism its authenticity and vitality is the tension between the subject’s blind self-absorption and the journalist’s skepticism.” And I do believe a journalist should never be too trusting.


4.18 Reader’s Notebook

While skimming Ohio’s Sunshine Laws, it became clear to me that every Ohio citizen should do the same. Furthermore, journalists should dig even deeper into the document so that they can serve both their ethical standards and the public’s right to truth. However, I did take away that the media do not possess any higher rights than the general public, which should be taken into consideration when searching and publishing public records. From the stance of citizen, the sunshine laws provide governmental transparency, which breeds trust between constituents and institutions. Another important takeaway is that there are exemptions from public records because although transparency is important, so it confidentiality to all citizens.

The article about linking provides four good descriptions of journalism, in that it should be honest, transparent, laden with attributions and context. In most cases, I see unpublishing a story as an unfair concession where journalists may have their hands tied. If a journalist heeds to one request, they may lose firm credibility and have to agree to this request more in the future. I think it is more appropriate to offer an addendum or a follow-up, as the first Poynter article suggests. Rolling Stone’s statement on its UVA article is laudable but also may have come to late because of how explosive the reaction to the misdeed was. A situation like this is something that no journalist ever wants to find themselves in, yet if it does happen, we must be ready. The statement mentions judgement, which is such a subjective entity that a lapse in it might create negative consequences. We are human and humans do make mistakes, but many professions cannot afford to make any mistakes; journalism is one of these. I think it is better to make a correction that to try and cover up or ignore the mistake. Corrections build integrity within and without, and that is something all journalists constantly need.

4.11 Reader’s Notebook

Race is a touchy, if not the most sensitive, topic to be discussed, especially in the media. Since racism still lives in this country, it is important to highlight that when discussing topics of race. But race does not need to be brought into everything, if not relevant. Those other than whites have been demonized and criminalized in America, and sometimes the media can still do such a thing today. Black Lives Matter protesters are still treated as criminal – even uncivilized people – which is not the case. The pictures shown on TV of Trayvon Martin or Michael Brown were of them with their hoods up or middle fingers to the camera, but pictures of white kids who launch attacks on their schools are shown in suits and described as “good, smart kids”.

And African-American is considered the polite term, even though it isn’t. Because those with European descendants are not called European-Americans anymore. The term resurfaces all of the past oppression black people have faced in America and overgeneralizing with the term “African-American”. Race should not be an issue across the aisle because it is not a matter of different ideologies. At its core, it’s common sense and simple compassion for other human beings. Conservatives retort with “All Lives Matter”, but consider the lives of white males or even fetuses the only lives that do matter. Saying “all lives matter” ignores the current movement and the systemic racism that has plagued this country. It is an obvious fact that all lives matter, but that is not the relevant point at the moment.

As the SPJ articles point out, journalists need to be transparent, like mirrors to the truth. We seek trust from our audience, and that trust can only be fully gained through this transparency. But we also must not be too formal because this makes readers and viewers less likely to engage with us. We don’t want to be statues. It is still shocking that the journalist in the most prominent spot on television, Brian Williams, lied in such a grandiose way that now is entire legacy is tarnished. He should not be treated any lighter than any other journalist because of this; he should still have to follow the code of ethics. And we all should too.

4.4. Reader’s Notebook

I think this is an exciting time for journalism, but also a very scary one. The rules of the game, along with the definition of the game itself is drastically changing, and now there’s a divide between the younger and older generations. I think that anyone outside the realm of the field should not give their input, considering even the people in the field are confused on which path to take.

I think there needs to be a division between laws that survey print and online journalism because they are two different entities. I still believe there should be a narrow definition for journalist but the field of journalism should still be open to those who wish to engage. Furthermore, I do believe that social media has “swallowed” – as the CJR article suggests – all aspects of our lives. Now instead of letting news outlets control what news people see, social media giants now have the capability to do that. There are trending lists on Twitter and Facebook based on algorithms we will never understand to give us the best tailored news, but I don’t think it’s very well tailored. Everything is about attention now. Who has it, who wants it, who controls who gets it. Everything has become a game, but nobody taught us how to play it so now we’re left very confused and often ill-informed.

3.28 Reader’s Notebook

We live in a very sensitive world nowadays, in an era where everyone is connected through media and the internet. Maybe this connects our brains and beings more, but people are now more likely to take tepid steps around hard issues. The cartoons published were in the purview of free speech since they simply offended and weren’t directed at a specific person even. If we start censoring things like this, I believe our tolerance will actually begin to falter because we will then be exposed to more homogeneous and less edgy content. The world is not a safe space, so why should it be made out to be one in a lot of situations.

The NYT article highlights all of this, in that we have become such hypocritical people when it comes to tolerance that it’s become hard to express opinions without those opinions being criticized. Satirists and those who push the envelope deserve tolerance all their own, just like the content they present.

This country was meant to be built with a separation of church and state, but it’s hard to do when God is included in the Pledge of Allegiance and on the quarter. Religion is often blinding to everything from tolerance to common sense. Religions expect tolerance but are very wary to give it to others. The ThinkProgress piece showed that religion can take different forms within governments; it is almost a shapeshifting beast that latches onto whatever is relevant.

The second NPR article mentions “the big chill”, which might be only getting worse. Everything is taboo now except what should actually be taboo. Limiting the agenda of news so much that only the non-offensive content sees the light is not what journalism is about. It’s about sniffing something out and going for it, no matter the backlash. Because the backlash might get people talking, and that discussion might be the most valuable outcome.

3.21 Reader’s Notebook

In the case of the ABC v. Food Lion debate, I find it most interesting that the debate is now surrounding the journalists instead of the Food Lion employees. Yes, there should be a discussion over the practices used to obtain the truth, but there is still a duty to the public to both acknowledge and punish the company for its violations. ABC’s use of hidden cameras and undercover was for the sake of letting the public know of a wrongdoing, not to embarrass or debase anyone. There was due reason to use these tactics, but since they have been corrupted in the past, it is hard to give ABC the complete discretion to use them.

The second article discusses the use of undercover journalism in a more confidential, as well as outlining a more in-depth code of ethics “checklist”. Again, the debate becomes not about the wrongdoing of those investigated, but the wrongdoings of the journalists who were investigating. There are two types of codes, ones set by publications and one set by the individual journalist, but those may differ. This makes it much harder to determine what the black and white ethical procedure should be, which makes the journalist’s job an even more delicate one. The article says that a journalist should only use undercover tactics when all other means of obtaining the truth came up fruitless and when the journalist will disclose to all parties what went on after it occurred. The journalist in the opening case, Ken Silverstein, failed to do the latter, making his use of undercover journalism up for question. I think there should be a certain degree of input from the reader, considering they are the reason for the journalist’s investigation, and if they do not see any wrongdoings, the debate should cease.

The important piece of the NYT article about the Food Lion case is that the jury was asked to see what was uncovered as true and ignore the hidden cameras and only focus on the lies told by the journalists. This does eliminate the external factors we discussed, which may hurt the journalists because now they are simply being framed, in a way, as supposed liars. Still, the question remains whether the law of truth outweighs the law in general.

In the Columbia Journalism Review, the thing I took away from it was that there has been a precedent set. The precedent here is that countless journalists in current and previous eras have used undercover tactics to find out information and inform the public. Undercover journalism is definitely an “all-means possible” tactic, so does this give journalists the upper hand?  There is definitely a certain amount of pure common sense that should be applied when deciding whether or not to engage in such tactics, but still, the overall boundaries are still so blurred that judgment is often a lose-lose situation. In this, if a journalist sticks to “traditional” tactics, they may fail to give the public the truth since they were bound. On the other side, if the journalist goes undercover to get this complete truth, then their ethics may be questioned.

The Zacchini v. Scripps case decided that the press did not have full discretion to post a performer’s full act, likening the performer’s rights to a patent or copyright. Furthermore, states are not required to pass laws that shield journalists from liability in documenting acts because of the First and Fourteenth Amendment. Even though the act was done in public, the journalist may not have the right to take it and disseminate it to the mass media landscape. The precedent, Time v. Hill, dealt with a similar privacy issue, but focused more on a “false light” angle, instead of just broadcasting an act.

3.7 Reader’s Notebook

I have said that the journalist should value the truth over everything at all times – not just when it’s convenient. Murrow mentions that sometimes journalists fill their heads and the heads of their viewers with “decadence, escapism and insulation”, and the truth does not live in any of these sins. People want to be coddled and comforted, and the easiest way to do that as a journalist is to dilute and insulate what really needs to be said with what the people think they want to hear. It does scare me that if I turn on the news or read an article that it may be a watered down version of what the truth is, and as I move forward in my career, I will do everything in my power to push the envelope -like Murrow – and make the news a source of pure illumination again.

That being said, the news industry has become a business and a competition. If an owner or media conglomerate has money, they ultimately have the influence and control of news content, which breaks apart any impartiality still left standing. This country has become a polarized one, so much so that moderates are discouraged from participation, which cuts out a large portion of the population. Now, news outlets are simply feeding to those who agree with them content that they will agree with, instead of content that will make them think a little bit more. There needs to be a separation of news and state, say, so that they still may be in a symbiotic relationship in terms of coverage in content, but they should not be able to influence each other’s views and agendas.

The Politico article does mention that the influence of plutocrats on the media has greatly decreased, but still, it exists. And it shouldn’t. Especially in a time when anyone can consume the news, not just those who can afford it. The article also says that Adelson and his family have not used their new acquisition to attempt to influence Nevada politics yet, but just the sheer fact that they have the capability to is still the problem here.

If readers see that the news is not being shared in an impartial way, like in the case of the Review-Journal covering casinos when its owner also owns casinos, they will be less likely to view the media – and the world – in an equally impartial way. It is comforting though that the journalists working at the paper are terrified because that means they still have the will to fight this and keep their content the way they want it to be.

2.22 Reporter’s Notebook

The six cases this week all deal, again, with the first amendment, most of the focusing on the rights of minors. Oftentimes, it is believed that a student gives up much of their freedom of speech once they enter a school because of the strict and easily offended nature of the classroom. Viewpoints are stifled, mostly to keep parents happy and assure them that their children are safe while being educated.

The Pico case is interesting because of the harsh censorship the administration tried to impose. Even controversial books still have a learning aspect, oftentimes a social commentary. Especially with books like “Slaughterhouse Five”, there is a certain lesson to be learned because of its historical context. Removing books for simply being controversial is one of the worst forms of censorship there is because this hinders a student’s full capacity to learn and be educated on the world around them.

The Hazelwood case felt extremely relevant to me, as a journalism student, since I want to write stories that push the envelope and make people wonder. But there is a line to be drawn, as outlined in this case. The key here is to be fair to sources and to those directly affected by the content. It doesn’t have to be a “play nice” attitude, but it still should do them no wrong. I do agree with the decision of this case since a publication still must have guidelines and boundaries. Nothing is a completely open forum.

The Doyle case, if there had been the opposite ruling, would have eliminated any hierarchy in the workplace. Any employee could have claimed any reason for termination, and there would be a chance that the employer would be found at fault even though they weren’t.

The Pickering case, in my opinion, was a great win for free speech as a general citizen, not just an employee. It is wrong to assume a person should always be fully committed to their career, absent of any opinion outside of the workplace. The employer was another cog in the machine, but if he felt as if there was something wrong within the system, he had the right to express that view. Even the lowest employee is as important as the most powerful in any workplace, so it is fair to give employees the right to criticize the wrongdoing to avoid corruption or an uneven shift of power.

The Reno case is even more interesting when talked about in the internet age. The web is a very open place, and there are often few restrictions. It is very important to keep minors safe on the internet from inappropriate or sexual content. The decision that adults should not be censored at the expense of a minor’s safety is a solid one because one citizen’s free speech is not of greater value over another’s.

Finally, the Tinker case is another important case for students, especially in today’s America, where schools are looking to censor and coddle so that no one is offended in the end. Wearing arm bands as a form of protest isn’t violent, nor is it a cause that poses a danger to anyone. A school is an institution like anything else in America and a student is a citizen like anyone else in America, so there should be no outlawing of any nonthreatening free speech in any academic setting.

2.15 Reader’s Notebook

Curtis Publishing Co. v. Butts

Evidence: The evidence in this case is the Saturday Evening Post article that caused the suit in the first place. The article was an accusation that the coach of the University of Georgia football team fixed a game. This is a case of libel because it was written and seems to derogate the coach, but it was still questioned since the coach was not a public official.

Issue: Again, the issue is whether or not the Post article could be seen as libel because Butts was not a public official.

Precedent: The precedent in this case was NYT v. Sullivan, so some ground was already set on the definition of libel and public official. Butts was only a public figure, so the accusation of libel could not be accurately applied, only defamation. The evidence in this case set its own precedent, centered around the definition of what could be considered libel against someone who was a private individual, even though NYT had already set up the foundation.

Conclusion: The first conclusion in this case was that the first amendment protected publications from libel when printing things against public officials, but there was a higher degree of accountability when doing the same against public or private individuals.

Action: The action was a settlement reached that awarded money to Butts for damages.

Did the outcome fit?: The outcome did fit because a public official is much different than a private individual. Public officials are elected and have accepted the media attention they may have gotten. They have a direct relationship with the media, whereas a public figure my not have had the same autonomy to choose this relationship. Public officials, in a sense, give the media their content, and the media should not be held responsible for any defamatory content that arises about them.

Gertz v. Welch

Evidence: A piece in American Opinion was published that accused the lawyer representing the Nelson family of having a Communist agenda. The article purported that the lawyer, Gertz, was framing Nuccio, the cop who killed the Nelson boy, as a part of a leftist conspiracy. There is extrinsic evidence in this case because it was during the Cold War era, and a few years after the Red Scare. If this wasn’t a relevant factor anymore, there is a good chance this case never would have occurred.

Precedent: Again, the precedent is the NYT v. Sullivan case because it set up the basis of libel. The Curtis v. Butts case could serve as a supplemental precedent because it outlined the difference between a public official an a public figure. This case is a little bit different because Gertz was a private individual, so the two aforementioned cases could not be directly applied.

Conclusion: This case considered the article libel since Gertz was only a private individual and did not have the same breadth of “fame” or responsibility as a public official, like in the Sullivan case. The term “actual malice” was, again, brought up because there was no direct evidence that Gertz had suffered because of the article.

Action: Gertz was awarded for punitive damages against him

Did the outcome fit?: The outcome did fit because a public publication attacking a private individual is stepping outside the purview of the NYT v. Sullivan case. If a publication was allowed to publish defamatory content against anyone in the country, that would give them too much power and influence where they do not deserve it.

Hustler v. Falwell

Evidence: An ad for a liquor was placed in Hustler magazine, which detailed a tongue-in-cheek interview with a preacher, Jerry Falwell. He was a public figure, so he sued the magazine, citing defamation against him as the reason. Furthermore, he claimed there was an invasion of privacy and “intentional infliction of emotional distress”. Larry Flynt, who worked for Hustler, claimed that the ad was legal because of the NYT case.

Precedent: NYT v. Sullivan set a precedent by outlining how far a publication could go in publishing defamatory content towards a person. Since Falwell wasn’t a public figure, the case could not be applied to him. The evidence fits the precedence because Falwell can accurately claim defamation since he was not an elected public official and Hustler was not protected by the NYT v. Sullivan ruling. The Curtis v. Butts case is more applicable here since Falwell was considered a public figure.

Conclusion: The Fourth Circuit court sided with Hustler on the claims of defamation and invasion of privacy because a reader is very likely to not think the advertisement was true, and since Falwell was a public figure, he could not claim that the ad invaded his privacy. The court did side with Falwell on the claim of “emotional distress” however. The “actual malice” clause was brought up when deciding whether or not the ad was obscene enough to be negated by the First Amendment.

Action: The court reversed the Fourth Circuit ruling because the claims made in the ad were not implied as true, so it did not meet the actual malice standard.

Did the outcome fit?: The outcome of the Supreme Court did fit because the ad did not show any malice towards Falwell. The ad was outrageous, yes, but it was also such a satirical parody that it was not misleading to the audience.


2.8 Post-class Discussion

Our discussion on political leanings of media sources was an interesting – and frustrating – one. This country has become a nation polarized by the two-party system, which makes exposure to media even more polarized. Now, people only see what they want to see, and the media only gives people what they want to see. This is an injustice to citizens and to the media as professionals, as they are both watering down or “skewing” what they are being shown or presenting.

This is an even more interesting and relevant discussion in the context of the primary season, since most news media dedicate a lot of their airtime, newspaper space, or web content to the ongoing election year. But it is mostly about the horse race, or the “he said, she said” moments. Little is dedicated to the fact-checking and holding the politicians accountable for what they say. And that should scare Americans because if the media, the conduit and middleman, cannot exercise this power anymore, than who ever will?