Ethics. Let’s be honest.

Ethics:  a system of moral principles.  the rules of conduct recognized in respect to a particular class ofhuman actions or a particular group, culture.

Being ethical in the journalism industry is of most importance.  One of the most questionable lines journalist tend to cross in the line of fact and fiction.  In some instances, this line is clear as day, however, sometimes it is not as clear.  There are principles to help journalist navigate between these blurred waters.

1.  Be unobtrusive.  Work diligently to gain access to people and events so you are not on the outside looking in.  So you can obtain all of the facts clearly and avoid the “observer effect.”  The “observer effect” is a principle applied in physics, which states that by solely observing an event changes it.  So be in the event.  Live the moment.

2.  Avoid using anonymous sources.  Avoid it at all cost- except in cases where the news is very important and the source is especially vulnerable.  Whistleblowers quite often fall into this category, because they are exposing wrong doings.

3.  Never put something in your story that you have not checked out to be true.  There is always someone knowledgable and someone that knows the truth, so do not fall into the trap.  Check every detail out- you may find a story in that.

4.  Do not add.  Adding to a story is false and you can be held liable.  Career: over.

5.  Do not deceive.  This is obviously an ethical dilemma.  Be aware, sometimes you can deceive and not be aware you are.  Always check your word choice and how things come across.  My tip: read it aloud and let someone else read it.

What tips do you have for keeping yourself ethical 24/7?  What do you do in a sticky situation?  Have a great day and I look forward to your comments!

 

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Ethics in feature writing

We will be discussing ethics in feature writing in class today. Here are some links we’ll be using.

Here is he Janet Cooke story that won her a Pulitzer Prize until it was revealed the story was a fabrication. She acknowledged she never interviewed any of the people in the story and that she made it up based on composite information she had gleaned from other sources. Cooke sort of explained on the Phil Donahue show why she lied.

We will be discussing this story in the context of the ethical decisions that reporters make at every turn that lead to true and accurate reporting or breaches. It is important to remember that no one sets out to be unethical. These lapses start as a series of misplaced choices, much as one small lie may lead to larger untruths.

Be thinking about what small ethical lapses you may make that could lead to bigger gaps.

Ethics is also about journalists’ decision to be impartial or stay out of the lives of subjects. When should a journalist step in?

The Right and Wrong of the Words You Use

At school here, everyone in the Mass Communications and Journalism department is required to take a class called Media Law and Ethics. It is supposed to give us a background about the way courts work and basic mass media law like copyright and libel. Of course this is just a basic class, so we can’t learn absolutely everything there is to know in the field.

Having this reading really opened my eyes to what could be considered unethical writing. As journalists we are told not to put a bias in our writing, even for feature writing. We can elaborate a bit more and really paint a scene, but we can’t show any particular bias in what we say. However, a lot of things can actually cause a bias.

Choosing to include this quote over this quote, keeping this source in the story but not using this one, and even using some sources can lead to some unreliable reporting. Memories aren’t crystal clear, so a source could be lying or exaggerating certain events without even realizing it. It might just be how they remember things happening.

Even journalistic attribution isn’t perfect. Sure we say the name of the person and what qualifies them to comment on the subject, but that isn’t everything. If I were to write a story and use a quote from John Smith, a resident of Hattiesburg, that isn’t much help if there are five men with that name in the city. Basically, reporting isn’t perfect, and a writer has be really careful about what they do and do not include in their stories. You never know when the past can come back to get you.

Better writing comes from learning to edit yourself

If you really want to improve your writing, spend some time as an editor. Being an editor makes you read a story differently. Rather than seeing the story as a collective whole, editors see it as pieces (words, sentences, thoughts, ideas.) They learn to compartmentalize, reading for content first, and then going line by line to spot mistakes, clunkiness, lack of flow.

The best writers learn to use these editing tools on their own work. They distance themselves from their writing by “letting it gel,” or writing and then leaving their work before reading it again. Then they put on their editors’ hats and spot the problems.

You can give it try here by editing each of these sentences.

Outlines Will Save Your Life

Forgive me, for I have sinned. I have never written an outline for any of the stories or articles I have written. Outlining was always my least favorite part growing up and going through public-education English classes. I get it’s useful for some people, but I always ended up changing things from whatever was in my outline. It was all just a waste of time for me.

I might jot down a few short notes that make sense to me and only me, but I have never done a formal outline, which is apparently very helpful when writing and makes your writing better. See, a lot of people like organization. Even people who think in a very disorganized way (myself included) like organization when it comes to writing because it is all just easier to follow and understand. If the story is disorganized,  no one will understand what it is about and lose interest in the story.

So outlines are really good for keeping stories organized, apparently. First, you have to make sure you know what kind of story you are hoping to write, because you can’t outline a short feature story the same way you would a long news story. Then you can figure out what parts of the story are going to go where to make it a coherent story.

I know as I improve my writing it would probably be in my best interest to start outlining my stories instead of just diving in and writing it. It’s just quicker that way, so I like it better, and I rearrange the story as I go along. That’s the wonderful thing about using a computer with cut and paste capabilities. Essentially, if someone wants to be a good writer, they should not follow my example. They should outline.

What’s In a Lead?

Leads to a story can be tricky.  Sometimes, I’ll write the body of the story first and the lead last.  Leads should be enticing, interesting and compelling.  The reader should be drawn in to read the rest of the story.

The dramatic lead.

“His classmates called him “the leper,” because measles had left his 12-year-old body scarred.  His mother said children tended to blame him when things went wrong.  One day, distraught, the boy in Tromsoe, Norway, took a rope and hanged himself.”

This lead is from the Associated Press in 1983.  The story is about suicide among children, but aren’t you enticed?  They could have begun with statistics- which would be interesting- but doesn’t this really impact you?

The question lead.

“Acid rain- how much is falling and where?  Where does it come from?  Is the problem getting worse?  Are its effects cumulative?”

This is from the West Virginia University Alumni Magazine.  When I read this, I’m genuinely concerned about my area and I want to know if acid rain is coming near me.  The biggest rule about a question lead- it needs to be clearly answered in the article.  Again, CLEARLY answered.

The setting lead.

This lead should really set the scene.  The reader should have a vivid picture of where the story is and what’s happening.  These are generally filled with descriptive verbs and adjectives.

The combination lead.

Alright- let’s throw it all together!  Combine two and be creative.  Try something many different ways and see what you get.

Titles

Don’t forget your amazing heading!  A good title will draw in a magazine editor and the general reader.  Make your reader have to read the article- make them need to know the story.

Magazines: Specialization is Good?

It seems to be the case that magazine writing isn’t much different than writing features for a newspaper. If anything, writing for magazines allows the writer to specialize with their articles.

Interestingly enough, while the journalism field in general is racing away from specialization, the same cannot be said about magazine topics. People are gravitating less toward the general interest magazines and more toward specialized publications that concentrate on topics such as fashion or sports or video games.

Magazine writing allows the author to get more in depth and in detail with their topic than they would be able to with a newspaper because the audience has more of a background with that topic. For instance, a magazine about astronomy can go into a lot of detail about the make up of stars and planets, far beyond what the average person would know.

The great thing about these types of articles is that the write is able to tell more of a story. It’s not so much about spitting out facts and just giving a report of events. It’s about grabbing the interest of the reader and giving them a narrative. People take time when they read magazines. They are more willing to sit down and be given a story than if they were reading a newspaper. Feature writers would actually probably feel more at home writing for magazines in their topic of interest than they would writing for newspapers.  At the very least, it could be another source of income to have in mind for stories.