By Melena Masson
Publish first, ask permission afterward — that’s what seemed to happen with the photo of British Parliament member Alec Shelbrooke that BBC Newsbeat tweeted.
At a trade union debate in early September, BBC captured a photo of Shelbrooke appearing to doze off during the debate. The British Parliament member was not sleeping but had been leaning towards a speaker because of Shelbrooke’s partial deafness. He had blinked his eyes when the photo was taken, and BBC later had to apologize to Shelbrooke for the tweet.
That media practice is a problem, said Mat Honan, Buzzfeed’s San Francisco Bureau chief and a “New media, new ethics” panelist at the 2015 ASNE-APME conference this weekend.
Honan said that “accuracy, fairness, completeness and fact-checking” should be what guide journalists when covering a story. That’s what needed to happen with the BBC tweet.
Journalism ethics require a journalist to be accurate, fair and thorough, and an ethical journalist should act with integrity, according to the Society of Professional Journalists and the Radio Television Digital News Association’s codes of ethics.
“You need to make sure you know what you’re writing is to be true” said Kristen Go, managing editor at the San Francisco Chronicle, also on the “New media, new ethics” panel.
In early October, Buzzfeed posted an article about a man who died in a Michigan county jail from untreated drug withdrawal. Although the article included other details surrounding David Stojcevski’s jail time, it focused on his last agonized moments of life, including a 55-second video before he died. While the article was informative, Tran Ha, a student of the Institute of Design at Stanford University and panelist on the ASNE-APME convention’s “Next generation news habits,” believes that the video was unnecessary and voyeuristic.
“The nature of how quickly information can be shared and just the digital landscape of news and information as it is right now – that’s the reason for ethically questionable content that gets online,” Ha said in an interview before Saturday’s panel. “Some of the other ethical breaches that we might think of are as a result of news organizations trying to compete with each other that are trying to grab as large of an audience as possible.”
Ha wouldn’t necessarily connect the inappropriate use of ethics to the millennials. However, millennials became the largest demographic in the country this year and will be for years to come, said Jesse Holcomb, associate director of research at Pew Research Center.
Millennials want to be entertained; they want to be surprised by something, Holcomb said. It’s not necessarily the inappropriate use of ethics in journalism and media, but “journalism that elicits and takes advantage of those kinds of elements.”
“That’s journalism that probably has a better chance of succeeding,” Holcomb said.
For example, “humor and visual stories do well at capturing the attention of younger generations, said Jennifer Maerz, former editor-in-chief of Gannett’s innovative new media project The Bold Italic. “Visual stories give people different ways of approaching topics. Some degree of interaction.”